All posts filed under: Culture Wars

From South American Anthropology to Gender-Crit Cancel Culture: My Strange Feminist Journey

I’m one of the many academics who’ve been “canceled” for having the wrong sort of opinion—or quasi-canceled, at least. As of this writing, I remain an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta. Since July 2019, I had also served as the department’s undergraduate programs chair. It was supposed to be a three-year appointment. But in late March, I was dismissed from that position due to informal student complaints to the effect that I had made them feel “unsafe” by articulating feminist critiques of current theories of gender. Earlier this month, my colleague Carolyn Sale wrote up an account of my case for the Centre for Free Expression blog at Ryerson University. As tends to be the case with these controversies, this in turn caused students and colleagues to scour my social media accounts in search of yet more “gender-critical” commentary. When they found it, they demanded that I be fired from my tenured position and charged with hate speech. Articles of the type you are now reading typically channel great anger, resentment, …

America Has Problems. Tearing Down Statues Won’t Solve Them

Earlier this week, a group of protesters involved in Black Lives Matter demonstrations spray-painted a statue of Winston Churchill in historic Parliament Square, adding the words “was a racist” under Churchill’s name. As critics of Churchill are quick to remind us, the former British prime minister supported the use of chemical weapons against rebellious Kurds and Afghans (though whether he advocated for the use of lethal gas is a subject of historical dispute). Churchill also supported Britain’s colonial grip over the Indian subcontinent. When Mohandas Gandhi began his series of hunger strikes in protest of British rule, Churchill’s casually morbid reply sounded like something you’d hear from an action-movie villain: “We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died.” Yet even Gandhi no longer gets a pass, apparently. In Washington, D.C., which also has witnessed protests, vandals defaced a Gandhi statue outside the Indian embassy. The motivations aren’t clear, but it’s believed they relate to Gandhi’s prejudiced views toward black Africans during his time as a South …

Meet Critical Theorists’ Latest Target: Critical Theorists

Ole Wæver, a professor of International Relations at the University of Copenhagen, would seem like an unlikely subject of academic controversy. He’s written extensively on Conflict Studies, and served as a member of the Danish Government’s Commission on Security and Disarmament Affairs, as well as the Danish Institute of International Affairs. He also is widely recognized as the co-founder of a discipline known as Securitization Theory, along with British international-relations professor Barry Buzan. “Securitisation theory shows us that national security policy is not a natural given, but carefully designated by politicians and decision-makers,” reads one introductory online text. “According to securitisation theory, political issues are constituted as extreme security issues to be dealt with urgently when they have been labelled as ‘dangerous,’ ‘menacing,’ ‘threatening,’ ‘alarming’, and so on by a ‘securitising actor’ who has the social and institutional power to move the issue ‘beyond politics.’ So, security issues are not simply ‘out there,’ but rather must be articulated as problems by securitising actors. Calling immigration a ‘threat to national security,’ for instance, shifts immigration from …

Immigration and Inequality

A big problem with the mass immigration that began in the United States in the 1970s was that it bred inequality. Its role in creating the highly stratified American social structure of the twenty-first century was as significant as that of other factors more commonly blamed: information technology, world trade, tax cuts. In 1995, the economist George Borjas, writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, modeled the actual effects of immigration on Americans. He found that while immigration might have caused an increase in economic activity of $2.1 trillion, virtually all of those gains—98 percent—went to the immigrants themselves. When economists talk about “gains” from immigration to the receiving country, they are talking about the remaining 2 percent—about $50 billion. This $50 billion “surplus” disguises an extraordinary transfer of income and wealth: Native capitalists gain $566 billion. Native workers lose $516 billion. One way of describing mass immigration is as a verdict on the pay structure that had arisen in the West by the 1970s: on trade unions, prevailing-wage laws, defined-benefit pension plans, long vacations, …

Romance, Race, and Retribution

I “This is a crisis of epic proportions,” wrote an alarmed Romance Writers of America (RWA) board member on Christmas Eve as the scenery started to collapse.1 Longstanding tensions within the trade organization had detonated the previous day when novelist Alyssa Cole revealed that RWA’s board of directors had suspended her friend Courtney Milan. The decision provoked a hurricane of condemnation from the membership, mass resignations from the board, and a spectacularly vicious frenzy of internecine bloodletting online. Milan’s suspension has been widely reported as the latest indignity suffered by a woman of color in an ongoing battle between RWA’s old guard and minority authors struggling against marginalization. In this version of events, Milan had exposed and confronted the scourge of racism within RWA and been crucified for it. For a few days, the 40-year old organization looked like it might tear itself to pieces, until what remained of the board agreed to commission an independent review of the events that led to Milan’s suspension. RWA retained multinational law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP …

Racial Slurs and Deferential Condescension

Over the last week, Western University (where I am currently enrolled) has been mired in scandal over an instructor’s decision to utter a racial slur during a discussion of popular culture in his English literature class. More specifically, the instructor (Andrew Wenaus) suggested that Will Smith’s use of the phrase “home butler,” in a 20-something year old episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, may have been a subtle reference (sanitized for consumption on syndicated television) to the phrase “house nigger,” which was, during the pre-emancipation period, used to refer to black slaves who worked in the household. It is, I suppose, debatable whether Smith’s use of the phrase “home butler” was in fact intended by the show’s writers as a reference to the aforementioned slur. It is not, however, debatable whether or not this slur was used to refer to black slaves who worked in the household. That is a straightforward historical fact. For daring to articulate this fact in his classroom, Wenaus has been dragged on social media (and by the local press) as racially …

Science Fiction Purges its Problematic Past

Since 1991, the James Tiptree Junior Award has been given annually to a work of “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” The award was founded by two women science fiction writers, Pat Murphy and Karen Jay Fowler. From next year, it will be called the Otherwise Award. James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon. Born Alice Bradley in 1915, she travelled the world with her parents as a young child. In 1940, after a brief unhappy marriage, she joined the women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and worked in intelligence. She married Huntington “Ting” Sheldon in 1945, and in 1952 they both joined the CIA. She later earned her doctorate and took up writing. She wrote short stories and novels, but it is the former that stand out as truly remarkable. With prose as subtle and precise as the most refined literary fiction, she penned imaginative tales like “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and “The Girl Who was Plugged In,” which became classics of science fiction and also important …

The Return of the ‘Witch Hunt’ Analogy

The political slur “witch hunt” is back. After continually using the term to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation—84 times over a seven-month period of tweets, by one reporter’s count—President Trump has invoked the term anew to defend against the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, went one step further in an interview on October 8, 2019, with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham. Referring to the Salem witch trials of 1692, Giuliani said that the impeachment inquiry is “worse than a witch hunt.” The accused witches back then “had more rights”; the court “required witnesses to face the witch and some witches were acquitted.” Giuliani claimed he was so angered by the House Democrats’ recent actions that he “went back to read two books about the Salem witch trials.” If so, he either picked deficient accounts, or else he failed to read them very carefully. In truth, all twenty-three individuals who were tried by the specially empowered witchcraft court at Salem were convicted. Nineteen of these were executed by hanging (along with …

It’s Time for ‘LGB’ and ‘T’ to Go Their Separate Ways

The growing rift between increasingly radicalized transgender-rights activists and the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) communities has finally come out into the open. This week, Europe’s biggest LGBT-rights organization, the London-based Stonewall charity, was publicly accused of subordinating LGB rights to the group’s increasingly single-minded goal of replacing sex with gender as a marker of identity. As Helen Joyce recently wrote in Standpoint, “Stonewall went all in for gender self-ID. Its online glossary now describes biological sex as ‘assigned at birth’ (presumably by a midwife with a Hogwarts-style Sorting Hat). ‘Gay’ and ‘lesbian’ now mean same-gender, not same-sex, attraction. ‘Transphobia’ is the ‘fear or dislike of someone based on the fact that they are trans, including the denial/refusal to accept their gender identity.’ At a stroke, anyone who declares themselves exclusively attracted to people of the same sex has become a bigot.” As a gay man who lives in the United States, I have no direct stake in Britain’s intra-LGBT politics. (“LGB/T” might now be a more apt term.) But I am surprised that it …

The Defenestration of Domingo

The #MeToo movement has ended the U.S. career of legendary 78-year-old Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, one of classical music’s greatest ambassadors and impresarios. For nearly half a century, Domingo’s intense stage presence and warm, soaring voice captivated opera audiences; during the 1990s, he reached millions of new listeners as a member of the itinerant Three Tenors. In recent years, long after most singers have retired from the stage, he has continued a grueling international performance schedule, now singing baritone roles with remarkable pitch control and legato. Domingo’s entrepreneurial drive has been as untiring as his stage career. He was pivotal in creating Los Angeles’s first full-time opera company, LA Opera, the culmination of two decades of artistic diplomacy in Southern California. As LA Opera’s general director, he wooed philanthropic support from philistine Hollywood and the city’s political class. In 1993, he founded the international opera competition, Operalia, one of several institutions he has established to promote young singers. He led the Washington National Opera as general director from 1996 to 2011, and his conducting career …