All posts filed under: Politics

Reasons to be Hopeful

If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be — what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into—you wouldn’t choose 100 years ago.  You wouldn’t choose the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies. You’d choose right now. ~Former President Barack Obama, 2016 We are living through the healthiest, wealthiest, best-educated, and most abundant time in the history of human civilisation. No age has seen more humans experience a higher standard of material, physical, and mental well-being than the one in which we are now living. If that statement strikes you as counterintuitive, uncomfortable, or even offensive, then you are not alone. Many people dispute or outright reject the positive indicators of global progress, expressing a vivid scepticism or wholesale rejection and even hostility to this news. A great many others see the human progress around them and feel ashamed or embarrassed to …

Are Contemporary Feminists Too Agreeable?

If you list all of the many thousands of words and phrases that can be used to describe someone’s personality, in English or in any other language, you will find that certain clusters begin to form. A word like ‘calm’ will likely be applied to someone who can also be described as ‘stable’ or ‘measured’ or ‘cool headed.’ So too someone who is ‘withdrawn’ will often also be ‘reserved,’ ‘dour,’ or ‘moody.’ Starting in the 1960s, psychologists began to systematically document these words and phrases and arrange them into a taxonomy. The result was the now famous Big Five personality model, which boils down all these descriptors to just five general traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each of our personalities can be meaningfully described with reference to these traits and research has demonstrated that they are both relatively stable across a person’s lifetime and hugely influential in determining certain life outcomes. Of all of the Big Five, agreeableness is perhaps the most complex trait. It is, in a very basic sense, …

Politics and Rationality: On the Uses and Limits of Science

How rational is your politics, and how rational could or should politics be, in general? What is, and what ought to be, the role of reason and of science in policy-making or in campaigning? To answer such questions in a reasonable or scientific way, it would first be necessary to define such terms as “rationality,” “reason,” and “science.” That’s a nice Socratic-style challenge, anyway, and I’m not confident that people mean anything very clear or specific by them on most occasions. And, whatever they mean, the things themselves—conceived as faculties in people’s heads or as a series of procedures or guidelines for how to gain knowledge—have little to do with why anyone has the politics they do. People who think their own politics are rational and those of their opponents irrational (that is, more or less everybody) are engaged in a self-congratulatory self-delusion. A traditional account of the faculty of rationality might be that it encompasses the canons of deductive and inductive reasoning and perhaps the scientific method (which it then is incumbent on the …

The Apologist’s Apologist—A Reply to Robert Wright

In his most recent Nonzero Newsletter, Bloggingheads co-founder Robert Wright celebrates the “death” of the Intellectual Dark Web. Observing with some satisfaction that Google searches for “Intellectual Dark Web” have declined over the past couple of years, he points to what he describes as the IDW’s main “public relations problem”—its members aren’t as committed to the “vigorous and open exchange of ideas” as they insist. To substantiate this charge, Wright complains that a Twitter search returns no IDW objections to Trump’s recent executive order targeting antisemitism on U.S. college campuses. This alleged “inconsistency in the attitude of some in the IDW toward thought policing,” Wright says, was on his mind following publication of an article I wrote about Max Blumenthal for Quillette in October entitled “Tyranny’s Mouthpiece.” Blumenthal had just appeared on Wright’s Bloggingheads show, which he spent doing what he always does—blaming the United States for as much chaos and bloodshed in the Middle East as possible. Blumenthal was fresh off a trip to Damascus, where he had attended a regime-sponsored “international trade union …

Arresting the White Backlash

Anyone who wants to explain what’s happening in the West needs to answer two simple questions. First, why are right-wing populists doing better than left-wing ones? Second, why did the migration crisis boost populist-right numbers sharply while the economic crisis had no overall effect? If we stick to data, the answer is crystal clear. Demography and culture, not economic and political developments, hold the key to understanding the populist moment. ~Eric Kaufmann The Overton Window that admits acceptable discourse on increasingly taboo subjects has been narrowing. Racism has concept crept to include moderate voices while the cultural Left, which privileges issues of identity over inequalities of class, now dominates a number of important and influential mainstream institutions, including academia, the media, and parts of the corporate world. The twentieth century shift from monoculturalism to multiculturalism is now often understood in quasi-religious terms, as if this development constitutes a unidirectional movement from darkness to enlightenment. However, the speed of this transition and the vertigo it can induce, especially among people with naturally conservative temperaments, has opened a …

Economic Inequality—Populism’s Rallying Cry

A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little. We need a tax system… which reduces the obscene degree of wealth inequality in America. ~Bernie Sanders [A]ffluent married people, the ones making virtually all the decisions in our society, are doing pretty much nothing to help the people below them… Rich people are happy to fight malaria in Congo. But working to raise men’s wages in Dayton or Detroit? That’s crazy. This is negligence on a massive scale. ~Tucker Carlson Populists on both the Left and Right have a narrative to push. According to this narrative, when economic inequality rises, the middle class suffers and the American dream dissipates. When the government combats inequality, conversely, the middle class rises and the American dream prospers. Let us call this the inequality fable. It is a tale the Left has been telling for over a century, though patriotic Americans on both sides of the aisle have been rallying around it with passionate intensity since the Great …

How Bitcoin Can Protect Free Speech in the Digital Age

Think about what happens when you buy a newspaper at a local cafe with cash. The shopkeeper takes your paper money, and gives you the item. They don’t know your name, address, phone number, email, or what you bought yesterday. They are not collecting any data about you. Until now, this level of financial privacy was perfectly normal. Today, cash is disappearing. In the UK, just 42 percent of transactions are still performed using cash. In America, it’s down to 32 percent. In Sweden, 20 percent. And in South Korea, only 14 percent. In some urban areas—for example, Stockholm or Beijing—electronic and touchless payments are virtually everywhere. In an increasingly cashless world, citizens are losing their privacy and, by extension, their civil liberties. When you buy a subscription to a political magazine like this one, you almost certainly do so with a credit card or through a platform like PayPal. These payment processors collect data about you that can be sold, leaked, hacked, or handed over to a curious government. When you make an electronic …

How to Tackle the Unfolding Research Crisis

Research [is] a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education. ~Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Scholarly research is in crisis, and four issues highlight its dimensions. The first is that important disciplines such as physics, economics, psychology, medicine, and geology are unable to explain over 90 percent of what we see: dark matter dominates their theoretical understanding. In cosmology, 95 percent of the night sky is made up of dark matter and dark energy which are undetectable and inexplicable. Some 90 percent of human decisions are made autonomously by our sub-conscious, and even conscious decisions often emerge from a black box and have little support. The causes and natural history of important illnesses—including heart disease, cancer, obesity, and mental illness—are largely unknown for individuals. The second dimension of the research crisis is that systems which are critical to humankind—especially climate, demography, asset prices, and natural disasters—are minimally predictable. The best example of misguided theory can be seen in the conduct of organisations. Although a high …

Britain’s Labour Party Got Woke—And Now It’s Broke

The Conservatives’ resounding victory in yesterday’s British General Election won’t come as a surprise to anyone who spent time canvassing in the ‘Red Wall.’ That’s the name given to a thick wedge of seats in the Midlands and North of England, some of which have been held by the Labour Party for over 75 years. Seats like Penistone and Stockbridge in Sheffield, once the home of the British steel industry, and Bishop Auckland in County Durham, a former coal town. Both turned blue in this election, as did a large number of seats in Labour’s post-industrial heartland. Not so much a ‘Red Wall’ now as a Mondrian painting made up of blue and red squares. It was the voters in those constituencies—many of them working minimum wage jobs and living in social housing—that provided Boris Johnson’s Conservatives with their highest number of seats since 1983. Not that they have much love for the blond-haired leader. A friend of mine was standing as the Conservative candidate in Newcastle upon Tyne North, where the Labour incumbent won …

‘Girls Need Female Role Models’ and Other Bromides

There are a handful of dictums in the modern feminist discourse that are so omnipresent, so incontrovertible, so apparently obvious, that, whenever they are pronounced, the only appropriate reaction is enthusiastic head-bobbing. Or, if you prefer, solemn brow-knitting. Like two plus two equals four, these dictums are axioms, not to be discussed, let alone contested. Challenge them, however, and you’ll see how easily they fall apart. For example, consider the adage “What will we tell our daughters?” Each time I hear this phrase, I remember Emmeline Grangerford from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Miss Grangerford spent her short life writing funereal poetry and died of disappointment, aged fifteen, after failing to compose a satisfactory eulogy for a deceased neighbour called Whistler because she couldn’t find a word to rhyme with his name. What will we tell our daughters? Why not tell them the same thing we will tell our sons, our friends and colleagues, our Thursday night poker group—and that should be whatever is the fairest and most honest analysis of the situation. What …