All posts filed under: Politics

Keep Social-Justice Indoctrination Out of the Therapist’s Office

One of the earliest stains on the legacy of psychiatry, my medical specialty, dates to the American 1840 census, when the US government first began systematically collecting information on “idiocy” and “insanity.” According to the results, the purported rates of mental illness among free blacks in northern cities were deemed to exceed those among enslaved blacks in the south by an 11-to-one ratio. South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, a notoriously strident defender of slavery, seized upon the results as “proof” that “the African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to him to give this guardianship and protection from mental death.” Five years later, the American Statistical Association published a new analysis of the census data, in which it illuminated what distinguished American psychiatrist Edward Jarvis called the “inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehoods” of the original. Jarvis’s own review revealed recording errors and deliberate misuse of data. Yet many citizens in pro-slavery states continued to believe that enslaved blacks were less inclined toward insanity because …

Gaslighting the Concerned Parents of Trans Children—A Psychotherapist’s View

I first met Jo and Carol in Manchester two years ago, when I spoke as a clinician on a panel at what is believed to be the first conference dedicated to the issue of detransitioners (people who once presented themselves as transgender, but then decided to live in accordance with their biological sex). At this event, seven young women spoke publicly about why they transitioned, why it wasn’t successful, and how they came to the decision to detransition. All of these women had undergone mastectomies, and some had hysterectomies and even oophorectomies (the removal of both ovaries). They had all taken testosterone, which permanently deepened their voices, and gave rise to new forms of body and facial hair. Although they had experienced much in their lives, none was over the age of 25. As you might imagine, these testimonials were shocking and harrowing. Jo and Carol both have daughters embroiled in the trans-activist cause. (As at all points in this piece, I am using terms such as “girl,” “boy,” “son,” and “daughter” in reference to …

When Will Activists (and the Media) Get Honest About Police Shootings?

Minutes before Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three counts of murder and manslaughter, Ma’Khia Bryant, a black teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, was shot dead by police. Almost immediately, enraged protestors gathered outside police headquarters. “Say Her Name!” they chanted. The New York Times reported that the girl’s grieving mother, Paula Bryant, had told WBNS that her daughter was “a very loving, peaceful little girl.” In an attempt to correct a tendentious version of events immediately promoted by civil rights attorney Ben Crump (and uncritically repeated by the Times) in which the young victim was described as unarmed, the Columbus police department took the unusual step of releasing the officer’s body-worn camera video the same day. During a briefing at which the footage was exhibited for the press, police played the video twice, the second time in slow motion—because events on the ground escalated with such rapidity that it’s the only way to follow what happened: The police officer gets out of his squad car and approaches a group of people milling about in …

Remembering John Ball, the Writer Who Gave Us Virgil Tibbs

Sidney Poitier, who retired from acting 20 years ago, turned in many unforgettable screen performances over a career that spanned the entire second half of the 20th century. But his best known is almost certainly his portrayal of police officer Virgil Tibbs, the protagonist of Norman Jewison’s 1967 film In the Heat of the Night, one of the first films to impress the combined issues of policing and racism on popular culture. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best movie lines of all time places Poitier’s “They call me Mister Tibbs!” at number 16 (right between “E.T., phone home.” and “Rosebud”). As portrayed in the film, Tibbs is a Philadelphia detective who happens to be passing through a small Mississippi town when a murdered body is discovered by the police. A racist local cop goes to the station to see if anyone might be trying to hastily catch a train out of town. There he finds Tibbs who, after visiting his mother in …

The White of the AI

“It is a truth little acknowledged that a machine in possession of intelligence must be white.” I do appreciate a Jane Austen reference and so I read on, hoping to find a stylish argument, only to be disappointed. The very next lines of the paper by Stephen Cave & Kanta Dihal in Philosophy and Technology said this: In this paper, we problematize the often unnoticed and unremarked-upon fact that intelligent machines are predominantly conceived and portrayed as White. We argue that this Whiteness both illuminates particularities of what (Anglophone Western) society hopes for and fears from these machines, and situates these affects within long-standing ideological structures that relate race and technology. The paper is entitled “The Whiteness of AI,” and the authors explain that they will use “white” and “black” for colour and “White” and “Black” for race. They go on to argue that AI is White on the basis that images of AI have a lot of white in them. This Whiteness, the authors suggest, discourages non-Whites from getting into AI. They say their article aims to …

The Ugly History of Rape Panics

The abduction and murder of Sarah Everard in London on March 3rd created a wave of outrage and protest. It is easy to understand why a crime like this would generate reflexive disgust, but less straightforward to explain why society chooses to focus so intently on a small minority of crimes like these, while largely ignoring the majority. In this case, the answer partly lies with the identity of both victim and perpetrator, which fit neatly into prevailing activist narratives. The worrying slide of British society (including much of the mainstream media) into tribalistic, identity-based thinking has led repeatedly to episodes of selective outrage. But such moments are dangerous for civil liberties, and inevitably provide activists and opportunists with an opportunity to advance self-serving and authoritarian political agendas. The first time I remember encountering an identity narrative was in my teens. I was leaving school with a friend, and we bumped into two older boys, who stopped us and asked if we were interested in joining the National Front. My friend and I were both …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part IV: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the fourth instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series.   The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Queen Menno is a gay man in his early 40s—Dutch by birth and a Londoner by choice. He’s “gender critical,” meaning that he rejects the fashionable belief that self-declared gender overrides the reality of biological sex. His YouTube channel features a satirical listing of newly conceived pronouns, set to the tune of The Sound of Music’s Do-Re-Mi; a song about pop star Sam Smith’s non-binary identity, modelled on Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee from the musical Grease; and a reworked version of Kylie Minogue’s Locomotion, in which a pharmaceutical pied piper …

Stopped Cold: Remembering Russia’s Catastrophic 1939 Campaign Against Finland

While the Germans had been flexible on the fine print of their August 23rd, 1939 non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin had been meticulous with his own territorial claims. By insisting on Soviet predominance in Finland and the Baltic states, Stalin could not only recover Russia’s old Tsarist borders in the north-west but also acquire naval bases to project Soviet power further into the Baltic Sea, whence came numerous stores vital to the Nazi war effort, from Swedish iron ore and timber to Finnish nickel. Compounding the economic leverage Stalin enjoyed over his partner in Berlin—owing to Hitler’s need for Soviet oil, manganese, cotton, and grain, as well as rubber transshipments from Asia—Soviet domination of the Baltic, Stalin believed, would turn Nazi Germany into a virtual economic vassal of the USSR. The one thing Stalin had not reckoned on was that any of these neighbors might object. Certainly he did not expect resistance from the Baltic states. As early as September 24th, 1939, three days before Warsaw surrendered to Germany, Soviet Foreign Minister …

Europe, China, and the New Global Hierarchy

Seen from Beijing, Europe is an Asian peninsula. ~Angela Merkel For more than 20 years the Chinese Communist Party engaged the world wearing the mask of smiling diplomacy, and for more than 20 years the world was fooled. We believed in such unlikely concepts as “Chimerica” and “Chindia,” and we trusted the sickly-sweet promise of “win-win co-operation.” There were always isolated voices warning us of Beijing’s intentions throughout those years—Cassandras who knew what lay ahead—but we chose to ignore them, for the most part. This began to change in 2017 with the Trump administration, which refused to accept Beijing at face value. And 2020 was the year the Party’s mask finally slipped. It became impossible to ignore the volumes—the libraries—of evidence pointing to genocide in the concentration camps of Xinjiang. Meanwhile 30 years’ worth of promises about Hong Kong’s political and civil liberties proved to be emptier than a Xinjiang mosque, as that once-free city was abruptly swallowed into the totalitarian motherland. By the end of 2020, China’s relationships with the US and Australia had …

Australian Indigenous Activists Call Out White Feminism’s Deadly Blind Spot

In March, three Indigenous women flew to Canberra in an attempt to draw attention to a horror story playing out in their communities. These were Alice Springs Deputy Mayor Jacinta Price, who heads up the Indigenous Research Program at the Centre for Independent Studies; and Cheron and Meesha Long, cousins of 15-year-old Layla Leering, who died in 2017 after apparently being sexually assaulted in the Northern Territory. Layla’s death—along with that of two other girls, Fionica Yarranganlagi James and Keturah Cheralyn Mamarika—has been the subject of a coroner’s inquest, and has brought renewed attention to the threat that Indigenous girls and women face within their own communities. Unfortunately, the scope of that attention has been limited, because the narrative of intra-Indigenous abuse is seen as unfashionable to report. Since reporting my own story of childhood sexual assault, I’ve been closely attuned to the many other survivors who’ve shared their own. I’ve also observed how these stories are variously ignored or signal-boosted according to the political and cultural agenda of journalists and politicians—adding another layer of …