All posts filed under: Politics

Sexual Assault and the Taboo of Sound Advice

One recent Friday, campus police at University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), sent out a school-wide welcome email offering safety tips to students, some of whom are incoming freshman and the rest of whom would be on campus for the first time in a while. “With the first week of classes now underway,” the email began, “I’d like to take this time to remind you that University Police Services is focused on preserving an environment where you can study, live, and work safely.” The opening tips were in the realm of those familiar body-language prescriptives that some find hokey but that self-defense experts swear by: “Look confident, keep your head up and walk with a confident stride.” The email emphasized that merely making eye contact could establish one’s status as an alpha and thereby “deter a potential attack.” The advice continued: “Be aware and alert to your surroundings. Don’t talk on your cellphone or listen to music when you are in an unfamiliar area” and “If you jog alone, stay in public areas that are …

‘More Weight’: An Academic’s Guide to Surviving Campus Witch Hunts

In the fall of 2020, I became the target of a cancellation campaign after I’d suggested that the best policy for a university seeking to support underrepresented groups, while staying true to its mission of producing knowledge, is to ensure that hiring and admissions decisions are based on merit. It’s an idea that directly reflects bedrock principles advanced during the Civil Rights movement, and which are still supported by a large majority of Americans. But to the mob, I was just an irredeemable enemy of progress and social justice. As part of the now-standard playbook, my attackers formed a Twitter mob and wrote a denunciatory public letter, cynically misrepresenting my views, demanding that my research and teaching at the University of Chicago be restricted, and urging that my department formally denounce me. Fortunately, at a crucial juncture in the proceedings, the Free Speech Union launched a change.org petition in my support, which was signed by more than 13,000 people. (The list probably includes many readers of this essay. Thank you so much for your support!) …

Scottish Nationalists in Turmoil

Who would have thought that Scotland’s largest party would be roiled by sex scandals? Sex is not normally seen as part of Scotland’s national brand, but it is now and it has not added lustre. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has, for nearly 90 years, sought the break-up of Britain, believing that the Union of 1707 between Scotland and England was illegitimate. It was attained by bribery of the Scots parliamentarians, thereby destroying the Edinburgh parliament and absorbing political Scotland into Westminster government. The home of eccentrics and literary men and women, nationalism was for a long time regarded by most Scots as a tartan fringe and a wasted vote. Before and during the Second World War, some of its leaders even leaned towards the Nazis, in the cranky hope that a German victory over England would deliver liberation for Scotland. To this end, the most prominent Scots writer, Hugh MacDiarmid, wrote unpublished poems calling for the Luftwaffe to destroy London, “the earth’s greatest stumbling block and rock of offence.” The electorate remained unconvinced. Nevertheless, …

First, Do No Harm: A New Model for Treating Trans-Identified Children

We are two psychotherapists, husband and wife, with professional involvement in the therapeutic treatment of trans-identified individuals in the UK. The material that follows is connected to a paper we presented at a multi-disciplinary conference on January 23rd, Do Not Adjust Your Set: Sex, Gender And Public Policy, and reflects our serious concern about the transition of children before maturity—though, as we would like to emphasize, we are not taking a position in regard to an adult’s right to transition. Indeed, we understand that transition is, for some adults, the optimum way to lead their lives and present to the world. In all cases, we encourage a psychotherapeutic model that provides a process of psychological exploration, in which an individual’s personality structure, beliefs, defence mechanisms, and motivations are assessed and examined in a supportive environment. All of these elements, we believe, are helpful for anyone planning this kind of life-altering decision. Between 2003 and 2007, I, Susan Evans, worked for the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock Clinic in London, a specialised facility …

China and the Question of Taiwan

There is no reasoning with someone who has built an entire worldview around the conviction that, as George Bernard Shaw put it, a particular country is the best in the world because they were born in it.1 Shaw’s stinging put-down was actually meant as a definition of patriotism, but it works just as well, or better, when applied to what Orwell once called “the great modern disease of nationalism.” No honest debate on world affairs is possible with an interlocutor who keeps switching into competitive mode, deciding in favour of their nation from the outset, and looking only for evidence to support that nation’s supposed superiority. In most situations, this is mildly frustrating; a benign disease. But when heads of state are suffering from the malignant version, then these failures of logic can become everyone’s problem. In modern-day China, nationalism is at its strongest when dealing with the idea—almost an article of religious faith—that the independent island nation of Taiwan is in fact a Chinese state and must be unified with the mainland as soon …

Dictatorship and Responsibility in Hong Kong

Thus, the population was shaken up, forced into silence, and left without any possible leaders of resistance. So it was that ‘wisdom’ was instilled, that former ties and friendships were cut off. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (1985). I Can moral life survive dictatorship? When a government intimidates its subjects; when it sows mistrust among them; when it penalizes virtue and incentivizes servility, how might men and women keep faith with themselves and their fellows? Citizens of democratic states tend to ponder such questions, if at all, with a detached, even theoretical, interest. Dictatorships happened then or, if extant, occur over there. But in the once-free city of Hong Kong such insouciance has vanished. For just over two decades Hong Kong lived the life of an anomaly. When Britain, in July 1997, renounced sovereign rule over Hong Kong, the colony became a “Special Administrative Region” of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Under the terms of the Sino-British Declaration (1984) and the articles of the Basic Law (adopted by the National People’s Congress in 1990), …

The Tragic Vision: Making the Best of Things

“Life is tragic,” James Baldwin wrote, “simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.” Baldwin was expressing the tragic vision of human life. This vision has been a consistent feature of great art and literature throughout history, confronting universal themes of death, time, chaos, futility, the absurd, evil, unmitigated suffering, and the built-in constraints of the human condition from which any transcendent heroism must invariably proceed, and upon which all genuine religious experience is based. In the typical tragedy, the protagonist comes up against the cruel and indifferent forces of the universe and loses, but in the process discovers a deeper human capacity for resilience that can sustain a sense of meaning through future struggles. The tragic hero transcends limitation by accepting it and gaining knowledge of their own flaws and limitations in the process. In The Hero and the Blues, the novelist and critic Albert Murray compares Greek tragedy to the blues tradition …

Why Is Biden Trying to Punish Charter Schools for Their Success?

As yet, it remains to be seen exactly what President Biden has in store for America’s network of charter schools. Following the Democratic Party primaries, the Biden-Sanders Unity Taskforce called for accountability for charter schools and a ban on federal funding of for-profit charters—approximately 12 percent of the total. Increasing accountability does not necessarily sound like a hostile act against charters but the taskforce is specific that this will involve “requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards of transparency as traditional public schools, including with regard to civil rights protections, racial equity, admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances.” For those of us who have followed the charter school debate over the years, this statement appears to be framed with the concerns of these schools’ opponents in mind. Charter schools are publicly funded institutions that charge no fees and have more flexibility than regular government schools in how they manage their affairs and run their programs. They are similar to free schools and academies in England and the model has been adopted with …

Stop Sensationalizing the Threat of Right-Wing Political Violence

On Friday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced that President Joe Biden had ordered intelligence agencies to conduct a “comprehensive threat assessment” regarding domestic terrorism. “The [January 6th] assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known,” Psaki said. “The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat.” It’s beyond question that the riot at the Capitol building—in which crowds of incensed Trump backers invaded Congress, interrupted the certification of the presidential election, ransacked offices, and provoked deadly fights—was an unprecedented security failure. And a thorough investigation should be completed into why 2,300 members of the Capitol Police weren’t able to protect the building and its occupants. But it’s also worth examining Psaki’s claim that the riot at the Capitol proves that domestic violent extremism in the United States is a “serious and growing national security threat” that could be used to justify the expansion of censorship, surveillance, and possibly new anti-terror laws. Simply put, this is an example of what …

Beating Back Cancel Culture: A Case Study from the Field of Artificial Intelligence

It’s easy to decry cancel culture, but hard to turn it back. Thankfully, recent developments in my area of academic specialty—artificial intelligence (AI)—show that fighting cancel culture isn’t impossible. And as I explain below, the lessons that members of the AI community have learned in this regard can be generalized to other professional subcultures. To understand the flash point at issue, it’s necessary to delve briefly into how AI functions. In many cases, AI algorithms have partly replaced both formal and informal human decision-making systems that pick who gets hired or promoted within organizations. Financial institutions use AI to determine who gets a loan. And some police agencies use AI to anticipate which neighborhoods will be afflicted by crime. As such, there has been a great focus on ensuring that algorithms won’t replicate their coders’ implicit biases against, say, women or visible minorities. Citing evidence that, for instance, “commercial face recognition systems have much higher error rates for dark-skinned women while having minimal errors on light skinned men,” computer scientist Timnit Gebru, formerly the co-lead …