All posts filed under: Culture Wars

Resisting the Mourner’s Veto

Controversy recently erupted at Penguin Random House when it was announced that the company would be publishing Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson’s forthcoming book. Peterson rose to prominence in 2016 when he posted a series of videos on YouTube denouncing a Canadian law that, he claimed, would compel citizens to use gender-neutral pronouns upon demand. His forthright opposition to political correctness won him admiration and notoriety, transforming him into a lightning rod for the culture wars—admirers flocked to him as an icon of resistance to creeping left-wing authoritarianism and censorship, while detractors condemned him as a transphobe, a bigot, and even a white supremacist. In 2018, Peterson published his phenomenally successful self-help manual 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos before embarking on an international speaking tour of packed venues amid a cacophony of adulation and consternation. Now, Peterson is back following a period spent recuperating from poor health and his new book, entitled Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, will almost certainly repeat the success of its predecessor. However, some of the …

The Flawed Reasoning of the Techlash and Progressive Movements

Around the globe, governments are looking for ways to tax, fine, regulate, or break up Big Tech—part of a reaction against companies like Google and Amazon that has become known as the “techlash.” This represents a huge shift in economic policy thinking, potentially the most significant in the West since the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s. Although they may seem unrelated, there are striking parallels between this techlash and progressive activism (so-called “woke” culture) that attempts to radically alter Western social norms. On their own terms, both movements rest on similar reasoning concerning moral responsibility, fairness, and protection of the vulnerable from the powerful. In other words, even though their proponents only partly overlap (the techlash has notably gained significant traction on the Right), similar underlying forces appear to be driving both movements. Tales of oppressors and oppressed Both progressive activism on the Left and the techlash on the Right view the world as one in which privileged individuals or corporations unfairly oppress an unfortunate minority (the works of Hegel and Marx loom large).  Consider the following self-descriptions. …

Reinventing Racism—A Review

A review of Reinventing Racism by Jonathan D. Church. Rowman & Littlefield, 250 pages (December 2020) If the release of Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism launched her into orbit, this past summer’s “racial reckoning” has made her a star. The book has been on the New York Times best-sellers list for a staggering 116 weeks in a row (and counting), while DiAngelo has been busy hosting workshops at universities and fortune 500 companies at perversely exorbitant fees. She gave an address to 184 Democratic members of Congress in the summer, and even made an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It would be an understatement to say that her work has polarized opinion. In the introduction to White Fragility, Georgetown University professor and public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson called DiAngelo the “new racial sheriff in town.” On the other side of the debate, the linguist and writer John McWhorter has called the book a “racist tract” that treats black people like …

I’m a Professor from an Immigrant Family. Please Stop Telling Me That My University Is Racist

On June 24th, the University of Calgary leadership team published its response to an open letter, dated June 9th, from hundreds of students, alumni, and faculty. The original letter had called on the university to make a series of anti-racist statements, and commit to a series of actions to address racism on campus. The specific statements and actions were helpfully catalogued in the open letter. While the university president declined to give details on his plan of action, he declared in his June 24th response that “it is no longer adequate to simply not be racist, it is time to be anti-racist”; and that “systemic racism exists, and we allow it to live on when we fail to address it meaningfully and with urgency. There is systemic racism at UCalgary, and it is incumbent upon us to tackle this challenge with vigour and purpose.” This is all very familiar. In recent months, we have seen countless organizations re-affirm their commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), tout all the good work they have already done …

Robin DiAngelo’s Misreading of Michel Foucault

This article is lightly adapted from the author’s new book Reinventing Racism: Why ‘White Fragility’ Is the Wrong Way to Think about Racial Inequality published by Rowman and Littlefield. Robin DiAngelo’s academic papers have consistently shown a tendency for indoctrination over debate. This tendency reflects a distrust of objectivity that stems from the influence of philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.1 While this is not the place for a deep dive into philosophy, the basic idea for DiAngelo is that power and knowledge are so profoundly connected that it is virtually, if not entirely, impossible to make an objective claim about what we know, because knowledge is never neutral. This view conflates objectivity and neutrality. It is also wrong. In the 2012 book she co-authored with Özlem Sensoy entitled Is Everyone Really Equal?, DiAngelo invokes Foucault’s panopticon to illustrate how “[p]ower in the context of understanding social justice refers to the ideological, technical, and discursive elements by which those in authority impose their ideas and interests on everyone.” For example, she writes about …

Victimhood or Development?

On October 20th, Brown University professor of economics Glenn Loury and Columbia University professor of linguistics John McWhorter were joined on Loury’s Bloggingheads podcast The Glenn Show by Shelby and Eli Steele to discuss the new documentary What Killed Michael Brown? The film is written and narrated by Shelby, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an award-winning writer, and directed by his son, Eli. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that discussion. LOURY: What Killed Michael Brown? has already produced a lot of controversy. I hear that Amazon was a little bit reluctant to let you guys put your film up at their streaming service. I don’t know what that’s about, but the reviews that I have read are very positive, including the review that I offered here with John in our last conversation. So where did the idea for making this film come from? S. STEELE: This film came from the realization that we had a body dead in the street. We felt the whole American racial situation was somehow concretized, …

Towards Shared Identities

When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, many Jews in the Russian Empire hoped for a French victory. Napoleon had eliminated barriers to Jewish integration and advancement in France; the Russian regime and its policies, by contrast, were thoroughly infused with anti-Jewish discrimination and hostility. But one prominent Hasidic leader disagreed with those cheering Bonaparte. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founding Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect, fervently supported Russia’s Tsar Alexander I. Publicly, Schneur Zalman argued that the Tsar served God while Napoleon served only himself. Privately, however, the rabbi had another reason. Writing to a friend, he explained that if Napoleon were victorious, conditions would greatly improve for the Jews and this would weaken their commitment to God, whereas if the Tsar prevailed, Jews would suffer but remain religiously committed as a result. Closing his letter, he quoted Psalm 119: “‘Princes have persecuted me without cause; But my heart stands in awe of Your words.’ And for God’s sake: Burn this letter.” I thought of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s secret reasoning while reading Ezra Klein’s 2019 book, Why We’re …

R.M. Vaughan (1965–2020): A Beautiful Mind Silently Extinguished in a Time of Fear

We were extremely close for about five years. He was my confidante and my support system. We were best friends. Never lovers—though many thought we were. It was a dark time for me, and I needed him. Canadian gay writer Richard Murray Vaughan (1965–2020) was found dead by police in Fredericton, New Brunswick on October 23rd—10 days after being reported missing. No foul play is suspected. This is in part a remembrance of R.M. (as he was widely known, including to his friends), but also a reminder that the campaign against COVID-19 can create its own kind of harm. I don’t pretend that this essay is one Richard would have authored (though he did write about COVID-19 and mental health shortly before his death). He and I were different men and different writers. But I do think my old friend would have agreed with at least some of what I have to say. I met Richard when he entered my office at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre—142 George Street, Toronto—in 1991. Initially we talked about …

For Five Months, BLM Protestors Trashed America’s Cities. After the Election, Things May Only Get Worse

This week marks the first time in living memory that widespread violence was widely viewed as a foreseeable, and even expected, outcome of an American national election. The votes are being counted just days after riots broke out in Philadelphia, causing the governor to deploy the National Guard in the largest city of a key battleground state. Since June, in fact, such scenes have been a common phenomenon in dozens of American cities. The Transition Integrity Project (TIP), a group that has opposed Donald Trump, ran simulations that foresee disruptions caused by pro-Trump actors. “During TIP’s exercises, Team Biden almost always called for and relied on mass protests to demonstrate the public’s commitment to a ‘legitimate outcome,’ with the objective of hardening the resolve of Democratic elected officials,” the group (somewhat predictably) reported. On the other side of the spectrum, the Texas Public Policy Center (TPPC) and the Claremont Institute cast TIP’s prediction as a “candid admission of the high likelihood of Team Biden encouraging street demonstrations that might spiral out of control.” The Claremont-TPPC’s …

‘Nobody Likes the Other Guy’: On the Road With Donald Trump’s Diehards

I sent my friend Robert a note that I might not be around when he gets to New Orleans. He’s moving from Kansas to start a new life, arriving November 2nd, the day before the presidential election. I told Robert I had been hearing from some friends that there was going to be armed violence in the streets. These friends are Trump supporters. They work in the housing trade—painters, carpenters, furniture movers. More of them are mixed race than not. A couple are white. The point is, they aren’t media people. They aren’t well-educated, generally. But they’re the main people in my life these days, the people I interact with day to day. They believe things that seem crazy to me. But I spent the last 20 years in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles around well educated, ambitious liberals. And those people aren’t so great either. So when a Trump supporter complains about the racist treatment of Amy Barrett’s children, I understand where they’re coming from. There’s certainly enough racism to go around. …