All posts filed under: Politics

Moral Pollution In Place of Reasoned Critique

I was chief researcher and in-house editor for The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. In the book, we outline three misguided principles (“Great Untruths”) that form the foundation of the new moral culture we are seeing on some college campuses: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.  The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people. We also trace six explanatory threads—cultural trends and practices that explain why this new moral culture, which we call “safetyism,” seemed to emerge so rapidly between 2013 and 2015: Rising teen depression and anxiety. The damaging effects of overprotection and social media. The loss of play in childhood. The polarization of the country. New ideas about justice. The bureaucratization of higher education. As we compiled story after story, we noticed that rather than making counterarguments to disfavored claims, students (and sometimes professors) seemed to focus on discrediting the speaker or writer instead. They …

Notes from the Eye of a State-Sponsored Social Media Storm

When Twitter finally decided to shutter the accounts of countless bots using its platform to manipulate the flow and integrity of information, the leaders of repressive regimes saw an immediate—not to mention revealing—drop in their follower counts. Javad Zarif, foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran took to Twitter to demand that the company clamp down instead on users tweeting under the #IranRegimeChange hashtag: Hello @Jack. Twitter has shuttered accounts of real Iranians, incl TV presenters & students, for supposedly being part of an 'influence op'. How about looking at actual bots in Tirana used to prop up 'regime change' propaganda spewed out of DC? #YouAreBots https://t.co/dTs0diYrM4 — Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 16, 2018 This hashtag—among others—has become popular since late December 2017, when Iranians throughout the country began a series of anti-regime protests, strikes, and other acts of civil disobedience. It has been the most widespread and sustained revolt against Iran’s theocratic tyranny since the 1979 revolution brought it to power. And so, naturally, Zarif at once declared anti-regime tweeters to be fakes …

Don’t Get Fooled Again: The Continuing Necessity of Anti-Communism

Socialism is having an unprecedented moment in America: opinion polls show its increasing popularity, especially among youths; membership in the Democratic Socialists of America continues to swell; mainstream publications, such as the Washington Post, publish pieces arguing that it is time to give socialism a try; and academics articulate the merits of taking an anti-anti-communist stance. The root cause of each is the same: all people in all times are concerned with flourishing to the greatest extent possible and in darker times the ever-optimistic views of socialism’s proponents have an attractive force not unlike that of the flame to the moth. As history has shown, this attraction is equally dangerous. Most contemporary socialists—such as Kristen R. Ghodsee and Scott Sehon, in defense of their anti-anti-communism position—do not dismiss the historical crimes of communist states and recognize that “states governed under communist ideology did many bad things.” Instead, they seek to defend Marxist socialism against the charge that it is inherently authoritarian, meaning that all such experiments “will always and inevitably end with the gulag,” and thereby to …

A New Kind of Economy—An Interview with Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang is a 43-year-old American entrepreneur who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020. His campaign focuses on solving the problem of job losses to automation—an issue many politicians seem happy to ignore. Starting right now, Yang wants to create a whole new kind of economy from the ground up, in which automation is transformed from a threat into the foundation for widespread human flourishing. Briefly, his policy proposals include implementing a form of Universal Basic Income (also known as UBI, or what he calls the “Freedom Dividend”), universal healthcare, a “digital social currency,” and a redefinition of GDP that more accurately reflect the health of the nation. If this sounds like socialism then, according to Yang, your thinking about the economy might be antiquated. He contends that the capitalism/socialism spectrum is no longer relevant or useful if we take an honest look at the modern world. The following is a transcription of my phone conversation with Andrew Yang, lightly edited for length and clarity. *     *     * Peter …

A Liberal’s Plea for a Moderate Immigration Policy

Recently, my family was mentioned in an article in the Washington Post Magazine about our dear Salvadoran friends, and their struggles associated with the impending wholesale cancellation of Temporary Protected (TPS) status. As the piece details, my friends stand to be kicked out of the country and forced to make the difficult choice of whether to leave their citizen children behind, or subject them to risk-filled futures in an unstable country. They are faced with this terrible decision because of the Trump administration’s policies, which have ranged from arbitrary to cruelly invidious—policies that have left many people rightly outraged. The answer to this problem though, is not to be found in the growing calls on the Left to “abolish ICE.” The suggestion that we don’t need any border enforcement is as unrealistic as that rhetoric is politically self-defeating. Rather than making practical policy proposals in a sincere effort to solve immigration issues, the loudest voices on both sides of these issues seem content to simply signal purity to their respective bases. This problem is not …

The Purity Spiral of Canada’s Music Industry

In 2015, the Canadian music world erupted in controversy when a Calgary post-punk band named Viet Cong came to slight prominence with the release of their debut album. The name was deemed culturally appropriative, insensitive and racist. And the band endured concert cancellations and protests throughout a North American tour for its self-titled debut album, with some activists claiming that the band’s name was enough to cause them full-blown emotional trauma. Finally, in late 2015, members of the band announced they would change the name, unveiling “Preoccupations” in 2016 (under whose banner the band has released two further albums). One might think the band would be lauded for this move: The members took the protests seriously, spoke to those involved—even if they may have bristled at the accusations of outright racism, and pushed back against the level of scorn they were receiving. Having chosen “Viet Cong” in an unserious moment during an early rehearsal session, the band eventually concluded that four guys from Alberta, none with any personal connection to Vietnam, might want to pick …

The Soviets and the JFK Conspiracy Theorists

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from Fred Litwin’s new book, I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak. For further information, please visit www.conspiracyfreak.com. It’s an open question whether the Russians successfully tilted the 2016 American election to Donald Trump. We know they did their best, but we’ll probably never know if their attempts really shifted the vote. What is certain is that Russian attempts to influence American politics and public opinion are not new. Back in the 1960s and the 1970s, the Soviets tried to convince people that the CIA was behind the JFK assassination. 45 years later, we are still learning about the full extent of these efforts. In the following extract from my new book, I look at just three of these Soviet disinformation campaigns. They have had a demonstrable effect on the thinking and arguments of conspiracy theorists, and these, in turn, have gradually seeped into the wider popular culture and helped shape public misperceptions about the assassination. The Mark Lane Connection Some of the evidence of Soviet interference comes from …

How An Anonymous Accusation Derailed My Life

In early October, 2017, following the emergence of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, a writer and activist living in Brooklyn named Moira Donegan created a Google Doc entitled “Shitty Media Men.” She sent it to female friends working in media and encouraged them to add to it and forward it on. The idea was to spread the word about predatory men in the business so that women would be forewarned. Anyone with access to the link could edit and add to the list. At the top of the spreadsheet were the following instructions: “Log out of gmail in order to edit anonymously, never name an accuser, never share the document with any men.” In the first column was this disclaimer: “This document is only a collection of misconduct allegations and rumors. Take everything with a grain of salt.” Nobody did. The list had only been live for 12 hours when word reached Donegan that Buzzfeed were preparing to publish a story about it. She immediately closed it down. By that time, there were already 74 entries. …

Amidst the YouTube Junkies of MythCon, I Witnessed a New Kind of Radical Centrism

Late Saturday afternoon, police ordered the evacuation of the historic Pabst Theater in downtown Milwaukee because of a bomb threat. Along with hundreds of other MythCon attendees, I filed out in orderly fashion. While most of the crowd milled around City Hall, I went up to my hotel room at the neighbouring Intercontinental. But that building, too, was evacuated by police, because it sits adjacent to the Pabst. Across the street, a bride in white shuffled around nervously with her family. Her wedding reception was scheduled to begin shortly in the Intercontinental ballroom. These are the ordinary people who suffer when idiots phone in bomb threats. Eventually, we were all let back into the Pabst, and our conference resumed, amidst much gossip about what had motivated the bomb hoax. It says a lot about the ideologically heterodox nature of MythCon—a secular humanist and atheist meet-up organized by self-described “mythicists” seeking “to promote dialogue about culture, religion and freedom of thought”—that no one could be quite sure. The headliner was a popular YouTuber named Sargon of …

Suffragists Fought for the Female Sex

It is not so much the cause of feminism to provide a shining walkway for a female leader, as… to arrive at a governance that takes issues that affect women seriously. ~Rae Story In the quote above, writer and activist Rae Story offers a stark warning of the dangers of tokenism and co-optation in an era where ‘feminism’ has become part of many a politician’s personal brand. Story’s statement also functions as a timely reminder of the suffragists’ objective: governance that takes women’s issues seriously. This is why I included the quote in a recent poster campaign I started in Wellington, New Zealand as a way to be heard in the current climate that has become increasingly hostile and repressive towards women’s views. I created three posters: one featured Story, another featured Iranian activist Masih Alinejad stating, “In all religions and in all societies, first they come for the women.” A third featured local feminist Chelsea Geddes asking, “If you think women are wrong, how do you know the only way to win the argument is to silence …