All posts filed under: Politics

How the Trans-Rights Movement Is Turning Philosophers Into Activists

On July 3, I received an innocuous-seeming email from the Digital Content Editor of a London-based arts organization called the Institute for Art and Ideas. She asked if I might set out my views on the question, “How can philosophy change the way we understand the transgender experience and identity?” As the expected response was supposed to be only 200 words in length, the task didn’t seem particularly demanding. So I agreed, and sent along a brief answer in which I focused on the now common assumption that everyone has a “gender identity.” I provided some (necessarily) brief objections to the concept as it is currently being advanced by some trans rights activists, and ended by commenting that philosophers can help people to “understand what a gender identity might be, and whether it’s a fitting characteristic to replace sex in law.” The gender wars in philosophy had been heated since May, igniting with University of Sussex philosopher Kathleen Stock’s Medium post asking why academic philosophers—feminist philosophers, in particular—weren’t contributing to the discussion about Britain’s Gender …

Michel Houellebecq: Populism’s Prophet

In the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, more newspaper op-eds and opinion pieces in magazines catering to the “well-informed public” have been written about the populist phenomenon than any other topic. Populism has been unpacked, dissected, defined, and analysed, and the results have all been discouraging. Identifying the cause or causes of populism is no simple matter. Does populism stem from dissatisfaction with the economy, immigration, or some combination of issues? When surveys are taken of populist voters, these broad categories are used to determine the reason for a voter’s decision. Lost in these statistical analyses of populism, however, is any real understanding of the lives and motivations of the individuals who end up making political decisions. In an age of ubiquitous scientific polling and surveying, of commentary and opinion, it is curious that perhaps the most powerful and accurate examination of the forces behind the modern populist groundswell should come from a French novelist. In the press, Michel Houellebecq has held the distinction of being France’s literary, right-wing enfant terrible. …

In the U.S. Campus Speech Wars, Palestinian Advocacy Is a Blind Spot

In 2015, a group of undergraduates applied to establish Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as a club at Fordham University in New York City. In accordance with the school’s policies, the students submitted paperwork stating that their goal was to “build support in the Fordham community among people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds for the promotion of justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for the indigenous Palestinian people.” The applicants also stated that the club would participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In 2016, Fordham’s Dean of Education denied the club’s application on the grounds that it would likely be polarizing, singling out its support for BDS. The students took Fordham to court. In August, a New York judge struck down the Dean’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious.” The court’s verdict was a win for the Fordham students. But the fact that setting up their club required four years and a lawsuit is telling. As the judge noted, Fordham has clear rules about creating clubs, and they don’t …

Understanding America’s Cultural and Political Realignment

Understanding American politics has become increasingly confusing as the old party labels have lost much of their meaning. A simplistic Left vs. Right worldview no longer captures the complexity of what’s going on. As the authors of the October 2017 “Pew Survey of American Political Typologies” write, “[I]n a political landscape increasingly fractured by partisanship, the divisions within the Republican and Democratic coalitions may be as important a factor in American politics as the divisions between them.” To understand our politics, we need to understand the cultural values that drive it. The integral cultural map developed by philosopher Ken Wilber identifies nine global cultural value systems including the archaic (survival), tribal (shaman), warrior (warlords and gangs), traditional (fundamentalist faith in God), modern (democracy and capitalism), and postmodern (world-centric pluralism). When combined with Pew’s voter typologies, Wilber’s cultural levels offer a new map of America’s political landscape. Of Wilber’s nine global value systems, the Traditional, Modern, and Postmodern categories are most useful to understanding our moment. Traditional culture values disciplined adherence to assigned gender and social …

Europe’s Virtues Will Be Its Undoing

Terrible is the temptation to be good. ~Bertolt Brecht We often forget that contemporary Europe was not born, as the United States was, in the euphoria of new beginnings, but in a sinking sense of its own abjection. The crimes of the Nazis affected the entire Old World, like a cancer that had long been growing inside it. Thus, the European victors over the Third Reich were contaminated by the enemy they had helped defeat, in contrast to the Americans and Soviets, who emerged from the conflict crowned in glory. Ever since, all of Europe—the East as well as the West—has carried the burden of Nazi guilt, as others would have us bear the guilt of North American slavery and Jim Crow. It has left us sullied to the very depths of our culture. Isn’t this what the Martinique poet Aimé Césaire contends when he de-Germanizes Hitler and makes him the very metaphor of the white man in general? In 1955, in his Discours sur le Colonialisme, Césaire points to: [The] very distinguished, very humanist, …

Greece: Tensions Rise Again As Migrant Crisis Escalates

For debt-stricken Greece, the migrant crisis is hardly over. The new center-right government is grappling with a surge in migration and deteriorating conditions in the country’s asylum centers. Migration in the Mediterranean has increased in recent weeks to the highest level since the EU-Turkey deal in March, 2016, and Greece is back to being the main entry point for hopeful migrants. So far this year, some 36,000 people have entered the country through its sea and land borders, already surpassing last year’s influx of roughly 32,000. By contrast, the other two European frontline countries, Spain and Italy—both economically and politically less fragile than Greece—have received a total of 26,000 migrants together in 2019. The situation could escalate even further; Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatens to re-open the route for migrants into Europe, if he does not receive adequate international support for his plan to resettle one million asylum seekers from Turkey to northern Syria. (Turkey has nearly 4 million Syrians, by far the biggest group of refugees.) Meanwhile, conditions are worsening at Greek asylum centers. …

In Praise of Renoir’s Male Gaze

Renoir took such presumptuous, slavering joy in looking at naked women. ~Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker The Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir faces stern moral criticisms in Peter Schjeldahl’s recent New Yorker essay “Renoir’s Problem Nudes” for paintings deemed to be too adoring of women as soft fleshy creatures. On this basis, Schjeldahl argues, Renoir should be dismissed from canonical art. The evident pleasure Renoir took in painting female bodies represents his moral failure—the sexist and unethical “male gaze.” Renoir’s patriarchal attitudes, Schjeldahl writes, “may be worse than misogyny, which at least credits women with power as antagonists.” The scandal of Renoir’s nudes is that his canvases express his love of women’s bodies: “Sex and art figured for him as practically interchangeable rewards for living. An argument is often made that we shouldn’t judge the past by the values of the present, but that’s a hard sell in a case as primordial as Renoir’s.” The man evidently enjoyed the female form, and thought that sex and art were good things. What a monster. Schjeldahl’s description …

War at the Tip of a Rhino Horn

Giraffe and zebra scatter as the shadow of our helicopter passes over Kruger Park. Treetops whip and hornbills fly away. We are low now, and begin to circle as nearby elephants trumpet in defiance. A Ranger called Neels pulls the starboard helo door open and leans out with his gun. Our headsets are full of chatter, and everyone’s in a hurry. It’s been a full hour since a local Ranger reported hearing the shot—a .458, popular among rhino poachers. By now, it’s likely the poachers already have cut the rhino’s face and taken the horn. And then we see it, between the Ironwood and Marula trees: a mother and calf. The mother is dead, but her horn is intact, the poachers having been scared off before we’d approached. The surviving calf, a young male, nuzzles his dead mother for protection from the helicopter. Rhino calves are known to stay by their mother even as hyenas eat her body from the inside out. This was at least the fourth such call received today by Rangers at …

The Political Excommunication of Erin Weir Betrays the Face of Modern Political Cowardice

Erin Weir is not well-known outside of Canada. Even many Canadian readers won’t recognize the politician’s name. But the story of how he was smeared and excommunicated by his own political party presents a stunning indictment of political cowardice in the age of #MeToo. And what happened to him could happen to virtually anyone who runs for office. Weir is a federal Member of Parliament (MP), having been elected in 2015 to represent the Saskatchewan riding of Regina-Lewvan. He ran in that election as a candidate for the New Democratic Party (NDP), which sits to the political left of Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberals, and constitutes the third-largest party in the Canadian parliament. His downfall began on January 30, 2018, the day he announced his candidacy for NDP caucus chair by sending an email to other NDP MPs, and to the leader of the federal NDP, Jagmeet Singh (who, at the time, had not yet become a Member of Parliament). The email set off a chain of events that eventually led to his expulsion from the …

The Return to Archaic Forms of Power—An Interview with Marianne Stidsen

The #MeToo movement has had an exceptionally deep impact in the Scandinavian countries, says Marianne Stidsen, associate professor of literature at the University of Copenhagen and a member of the Danish Academy. Quillette’s Paulina Neuding spoke to her about her recent book The Nordic MeToo Revolution 2018 – And Its Negative Impact (U Press Denmark, 2019). Paulina Neuding: The Nordics are often regarded as hallmarks of gender equality – known, historically at least, for low levels of violence, progressive views on sexuality, and generous welfare provisions. Do you think that the egalitarian Nordics might have provided particularly fertile ground for a movement like #MeToo? Marianne Stidsen: The #MeToo movement has had an exceptionally deep impact in the Nordic countries – just think of the cancellation last year of the Nobel Prize in literature, one of Sweden’s most esteemed institutions. But I actually don’t think that the explanation lies simply in Scandinavian gender equality. It is like any other historic revolutionary movement – many factors have to coincide to cause this sudden social and political upheaval …