All posts filed under: Politics

What Can Artificial Intelligence Teach Us About Political Polarization?

It’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the exponential progress that’s been made in the field of artificial intelligence. From self-driving cars to nearly flawless speech synthesis, things most of us thought impossible only a decade ago are now a practical reality. Virtually all of these developments have exploited what has turned out to be one of the most fruitful analogies ever made: that of the human brain to a computer. In particular, the development of neural networks—arguably the most successful family of artificial intelligence models—was explicitly inspired by the structure and function of the brain. For about a decade, we’ve exploited the brain/computer analogy by drawing inspiration from the brain to build better and better AI systems. But now that our technology has in many respects caught up to, and even exceeded, human performance, it’s worth asking the question in reverse: what insights can we borrow from artificial intelligence, to better understand our own brains and reasoning processes, and how they can go wrong? As it turns out, there are quite a few, and they …

Challenging the Campus Rape Narrative

What do senior university administrators chat about when they attend overseas conferences with others of their kind? Surely when vice-chancellors hobnob with American college presidents the conversation must sometimes stray to their troubles—particularly the costly business of managing the so-called “campus rape crisis.” So how come these smart leaders from the Australian higher education sector haven’t twigged to the dangers ahead? Ripples from the fallout of the campus rape frenzy on American college campuses have travelled across the world. Back in the 1990s, there were campus protests with furious young women brandishing placards claiming one in four students are raped. The alarmist 2015 propaganda movie The Hunting Ground was screened across the country, showing serial rapists preying on college women. By 2011, the activists had achieved their main goal, with Obama requiring all publicly-funded universities to set up tribunals for determining sexual assault cases. So American universities got into the criminal investigation business, with lower standards of proof greatly increasing the chances of conviction in date rape cases. Such cases remain a stumbling block in …

The Unspoken Homophobia Propelling the Transgender Movement in Children

When I was a Ph.D. student in sexology, I had a conversation with a colleague that forever cemented, in my mind, why I needed to speak out against the transitioning of children with gender dysphoria. Nowadays, every left-leaning parent and educator seems content to take a child’s word at face value if they say they were born in the wrong body, not realizing that by doing so, an important conversation is being brushed aside. On the day in question, our research lab had just finished our weekly meeting, and I chatted with my colleague as I packed up my things to head back to my office. He had told me previously about his son, who from the moment he was born, announced that a mistake had been made—“I’m a girl,” he would say. As a little boy, his son loved playing with dolls. He would wear his mother’s dresses and high heels, and wanted to grow his hair long like Princess Jasmine from the movie, “Aladdin.” At school, he preferred the company of girls to …

The Onward March of Christian Political Power

Fifty years ago, in conscientious reaction to the perceived erosion of biblical norms in society, religious conservatives began operationalizing the teachings of Christianity into a vigorous political program. Society’s accelerated liberalization in the 1960s—which featured the sexual revolution, drug experimentation, and enforced racial integration—prompted religious leaders to harness the power of “Judeo-Christian values” to build an electorally formidable monolith. They succeeded. A ritual in Republican politics now involves presidential hopefuls prostrating themselves before religious conservatives in order to be anointed the next Great Godly Leader by the Christian masses. In other words, to even have a prayer in Republican politics, these candidates need their prayers. Today, though the individual battles are waged on different fronts, the nature of the conflict—the sociocultural clash between Christian political power and its rival frameworks—remains fundamentally the same. The debates over school prayer, stem cells, and evolution, have evolved into debates over religious liberty, transgender rights, and whether or not employees for functionally atheological corporate entities should be compelled to provide customers with a religiously-laden greeting during the winter holidays. …

The Spectrum of Black Contrarianism

African-American politics are, it is often supposed, monolithic. Since the late 1960s, following the signing of landmark civil rights legislation by a Democratic president, the Democrats support of The Great Society, the anti-Civil Rights Act campaign of a Republican presidential nominee in 1964, the adoption of the “Southern Strategy” by Republican operatives in the latter part of the decade, and the decline of the Northeastern liberal wing of the GOP, black voters have emerged as the most reliably partisan voting bloc in American politics. They are the cornerstone of the Democratic coalition. This near monopoly of African-American party affiliation however does serve to obscure broad and diverse fissures within the philosophical landscape of the black community. There is wide-ranging discontent with the status quo of African-American politics and relatively little passion for the establishment liberalism that guides it. The question is, could this diversity of opinion allow for the realignment of political forces within the black community? Or are these dispersed frustrations inalterably resistant to meaningful coalitional rearrangement? On October 11 2018, rapper Kanye West visited …

Consent Isn’t Everything and Sex Is Not Like Tea

“Whether it’s tea or sex, consent is everything.” This we learn from the closing statement of a video entitled “Tea and Consent,” created by the Thames Valley Police. Over the last few years, this short and clever educational video has made its way around the internet, and Baylor University even began showing it to incoming freshmen. The video analogises an offer of tea with seduction. You only make someone tea if that person explicitly expresses a desire for tea and—the video tells us—sex is no different. While the video aims to educate men on the importance of receiving explicit verbal consent for sexual activity, it does so via a clumsy and unhelpful characterization of sex as a simple transaction. The video’s conclusion, “Consent is everything,” and the subtitle, “Consent, it’s simple as tea,” are both false: the complex human activity of sex cannot simply be reduced to matters of consent and it is nowhere near as simple as tea. To pretend otherwise is to endorse a crudely transactional view of sex that favors men and, …

Trans Activists’ Campaign Against ‘TERFs’ has Become an Attack on Science

In a recent article for Forbes, “The Vaccination Debacle,” I discussed the frightening rise in the number of European measles cases. The reason for the spike is simple: Fed a daily online diet of nonsense and ideologically motivated activism, many people have come to reject mainstream medical science—including the science behind vaccinations. You’d think that “get vaccinated” would be a relatively straightforward message. But in the days following the article’s publication, I received a good dozen emails from doctors thanking me for writing the piece, and describing how difficult it has become to convince some patients that their local paediatrician isn’t part of an international conspiracy. But at least the effort to push back against anti-vaccination conspiracy theories is seen as a respectable form of discourse. In other spheres, it’s not so easy to speak common sense. Consider, for instance, last year’s saga involving Rebecca Tuvel—who was hounded by trans activists and scholars after applying a theoretical application of transgender ideology to the idea of “trans-racialism.” Scandalously, the article in question was edited post facto …

Individuals and Symbols

In the past few weeks, we have been watching the fall out of what has been dubbed Sokal Squared, the effort by James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian to expose the low standards and hateful ideology to which much of the humanities have been in thrall in recent decades. In my response, I highlighted the postmodern assault on epistemology. I said, it has been “the explicit goal of post-modernity to reject reason and evidence: they want a ‘new paradigm’ of knowledge.” During this same period, we also saw a sad episode in US history, in which this rejection of reason and evidence arrested the Democratic Party, as well as the media, academia, Hollywood, and several notable legal institutions, who each marched in quasi-fascistic lock-step in their attempt to eviscerate Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court Justice. It has been notable after the confirmation how quickly the media—who were nothing less than Orwellian in their complicity—have sought to move on from this ugly affair. They lost, but the toll that the nation had to pay …

From Party of Ideas to Party of Dittoheads

Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right, by Max Boot, 288 pages, Liverlight (October 9, 2018).  The modern history of the Republican Party is a warning to be careful of who you pretend to be, because sooner or later you will become that person. Republicans have long flirted with populism, conspiracy-mongering, and know-nothingism. This is why they became known as the “stupid party.” Stupidity is not an accusation that could be hurled against such early Republicans as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root and Charles Evans Hughes. But by the 1950s, it had become an established shibboleth that the “eggheads” were for Adlai Stevenson and the “boobs” for Dwight D. Eisenhower—a view endorsed by Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which contrasted Stevenson, “a politician of uncommon mind and style, whose appeal to intellectuals overshadowed anything in recent history,” with Eisenhower—“conventional in mind, relatively inarticulate.” The Kennedy presidency, with its glittering court of Camelot, cemented the impression that it was the Democrats who represented the …

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 …