All posts filed under: Culture Wars

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 …

Buying Fentanyl on the Streets of San Francisco—An Interview with Heather Mac Donald

Heather Mac Donald has written one of the most important essays on homelessness in recent memory for City Journal. In it, she argues that we’ve misunderstood the homelessness problem as a problem of poverty when it is, in reality, a problem of family breakdown and the erosion of social norms. While I don’t agree with all of what she’s written, I admire her fieldwork. She interviewed homeless people in San Francisco and even bought fentanyl, the synthetic opiate that resulted in over 17,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States last year, to investigate how easy it was. Such fieldwork is rarer than it should be among journalists and advocates alike. I thought her contribution to the growing debate over homelessness, particularly in California but nationally and globally as well, was so important, I requested a telephone interview for Quillette. It has been edited for length. Quillette: What’s a nice lady like you doing buying fentanyl from drug dealers on the streets of San Francisco? Heather Mac Donald: I wanted to test how easy it …

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity—A Review

A review of The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray, Bloomsbury, 280 pages (September, 2019). Elias Canetti was awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize in Literature for his fiction. But the Bulgarian-born German-language novelist also was noted for his non-fiction work about mob violence, religion and tyranny. In the opening paragraphs of his 1960 book on the subject, Crowds and Power, he observed: The crowd, suddenly there where there was nothing before, is a mysterious and universal phenomenon. A few people may have been standing together—five, ten or twelve, not more; nothing has been announced, nothing is expected. Suddenly everywhere is black with people and more come streaming from all sides as though streets had only one direction. Most of them do not know what has happened and, if questioned, have no answer; but they hurry to be there where most other people are. Douglas Murray, an Associate Editor of Britain’s Spectator magazine, has become fascinated by these same themes. In two recently published books, Murray has described (and criticized) this same …

The Dangerous Life of an Anthropologist

Limping in crutches, his broken leg shielded in plaster following a jogging accident, the distinguished biologist Edward O. Wilson made his way slowly toward the stage at a convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1978. Climbing the stairs, taking his seat, and shuffling his notes, a sudden burst of activity punctuated the silence as the entire front row of the audience leapt onto the stage hurling insults. They jostled Wilson and then poured iced water over his head. The protesters would turn out to be Marxists, incensed by the publication of Wilson’s book Sociobiology. This story has become a familiar feature of the nature/nurture debate, used to illustrate the vitriolic hostility expressed by ideological groups scrambling to silence what most people already take to be an incontrovertible fact: that humans, just like every other species on earth, have a nature. As crowds abandoned Wilson to evacuate the auditorium that day, one man at the back of the room tried to push his way forward against the multitude heading towards the …

The Cancelation of Shane Gillis Provides the Mob with Another Win

I used to have a joke where I said the word “faggot.” I wasn’t trying to be hateful. It was a kind of cheap joke where I said the word in the voice of the bigot. In my comedy act, I would talk about how in Texas the state motto was, “Don’t mess with Texas”—the only state where the motto was a threat. I then would imitate the meeting they must have had when coming up with it, and then conclude, “If that’s the motto they went with, imagine what they rejected.” Cue southern drawl. “How about…‘Texas! You better back the fuck up, faggot!’ ” Laugh laugh laugh. I’m hilarious. I had a large LGBT audience and talked a ton about same-sex marriage. (This was when George W. Bush was still in office. I was woke when being woke meant fighting for people’s rights, not trying to stick someone’s head on your Twitter trophy wall.) The joke always got an applause break, and no one thought I actually was the type of person who used …

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 …