All posts filed under: Regressive Left

Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind

What is the difference between leftists and cannibals? Cannibals don’t eat their friends. ~attributed to Lyndon Johnson I am liberal to my core and like many liberals I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the escalation of totalitarian impulses on the Left. For the past six years I’ve been exploring the phenomenon and teasing out its underlying dynamics. While many writers and thinkers have been going head-to-head with extremists and confronting their ideological inconsistencies, the book I’ve found most helpful is Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Unlike other writers, Felski approaches the dynamic obliquely and her foundational point is more subtle. How we feel is almost always the first signal we have about the nature of our surroundings. For example, all of us have had the experience of walking into restaurant with a friend; all of us engage in some form of the following when we do: We stop just inside, pause a moment, and get a feel for the place. And every one of us has, at one time or another, …

Devastation and Denial: Cambodia and the Academic Left

Looking out across the yellow-washed angular buildings that clutter the inner city of Phnom Penh in 2016, hindsight fills me with anxiety. Imagining myself here in 1975, I recall the jubilant and cheering crowds in the spring of that year who weren’t privy to that hindsight as they welcomed Khmer Rouge communists into Cambodia’s capital city after months of siege. On the morning of 17 April, word had arrived that the Khmer Rouge had captured the government’s last beleaguered military stronghold on the outskirts of the city. Prime Minister Long Boret could hardly believe the news. He demanded to be driven to the riverside to see it with his own eyes. By the time he arrived, order had already collapsed in the streets and men wearing the black shirts of the Khmer Rouge surrounded his small entourage and demanded his guards put down their guns. Managing to slip away in the chaos, Boret reported back to his cabinet at the Defence Ministry that the enemy was already in the streets. The rush then began to …

Weighing the Threats to American Democracy

In recent years, there has been a tendency among many to present liberal democracy in the United States as being under threat from the actions of the right, yet little or no attention is given to the actions of the regressive left, which has also engaged in behavior hostile to democratic norms such as free speech, due process, and equal rights. One prominent intellectual who is an exception is Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who in his new book Enlightenment Now recognizes that “a faction of academic culture composed of hard-left faculty, student activists, and an autonomous diversity bureaucracy (pejoratively called social justice warriors) has become aggressively illiberal.”1 However, Pinker goes on to claim that the regressive left is a lesser threat because it does not hold power in government, apparently viewing it as largely contained to academia: Of the two forms of politicization that are subverting reason today, the political is far more dangerous than the academic, for an obvious reason. It’s often quipped (no one knows who said it first) that academic debates are …

In Defence of Jordan B. Peterson

A few days ago, Canadian author and English professor Ira Wells published an essay expressing concern about popular Canadian psychology professor and social critic Jordan B. Peterson. The essay was written in the wake of an incident at Canadian university Wilfred Laurier, where a teaching assistant was reprimanded for playing a short clip of a televised Peterson debate over the compelled use of gender pronouns. (I analysed the incident in Quillette last week.) Regrettably, Wells’s essay is littered with inaccuracies and casual insults, accompanied by a moralistic undertone that is sure to turn off Peterson’s supporters, and perhaps even neutral observers. Nevertheless, I think he succeeds in condensing many of the common criticisms of Peterson, which makes the essay worth responding to as the foundation for a genuine debate of these issues. I suggest reading it if you haven’t already done so. Wells’s main criticisms, as I understand them, are as follows: Peterson is celebrated in the news media as a champion of free speech and liberal, democratic values, while in fact promoting a far-right …

Wilfrid Laurier and the Creep of Critical Theory

The social justice movement is known for routinely staging demonstrations, shouting down (and shutting down) speakers, and issuing demands. More significantly, however, its ideas and terminology have become part of the fabric of university culture. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt said in an interview earlier this year: This is all so new. There’s been, I believe, a kind of a moral revolution, a new moral culture emerging on campus but it really is only in the last two years. If any of your viewers graduated from college in 2013, they probably haven’t seen it. … [I]t’s organized around victims of oppression, it’s a vertical metaphor of privileged and oppressor people, and victims. This idea that everything is power. To make way for this moral revolution, values that historically have defined secular universities are increasingly being swept aside. The most recent example is perhaps the most chilling. Lindsay Shepherd, a young teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, was reprimanded for screening a five-minute clip from a televised debate on public education channel TVOntario between …

Liberalism in Peril

One of the more perplexing idiosyncrasies of American political discussion is the tendency to conflate liberal and radical leftists. This confusion has – bizarrely – succeeded in turning ‘liberal’ into a term of partisan abuse, even though a commitment to personal liberty was one of the unalienable rights enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence. Besides which, in terms of what they think and – more importantly – how they think­­, the difference between liberals and radicals is large. A reminder of just how large was provided last week by the reaction to an OpEd column, in which liberal journalist Bari Weiss offered stern criticism of the four leaders of the Women’s March, an ad hoc movement created to foment feminist defiance under the Trump administration. The January march itself, Weiss stressed, had been a necessary and inspiring demonstration of public dissent. Nevertheless, its leaders’ well-documented history of alliances with a litany of racist and criminal figures makes them poor advocates of liberal resistance. By using opposition to the illiberalism of Trump as a platform …

Leftist Hypocrisy about Islam: Setting the Stage for Violence

Imagine: a major, highly trafficked West-Coast American web site publishes a lengthy, glowing account of how an educated, successful professional woman converts to fundamentalist Christianity, despite the objections of her family, to say nothing of the faith’s foundational texts, which reek of misogyny and homophobia, condone slavery, and preach an End Times worldview antithetical to the approach we so urgently need to adopt to safeguard the future of life on our fragile planet. Your reaction?  Your first thoughts might well be, how has this happened? What motivated the writer?  Is there some ulterior explanation?  Has, say, the editor-in-chief gone on drugs?  “Found Jesus?”  Or just lost his or her mind?  The progress we as a society have made in recent decades—in women’s rights and in gay rights, for starters—largely stems from our overcoming religion-based prejudices. Liberal folks take that as a given. Wait, no, not all liberal folks!  Some of them are inclined to make a de facto condescending, hypocritical, insidious exception to the Left’s established line of thinking about faith—but only when it concerns …

Is Postmodernism Inherently Authoritarian?

College campuses are ostensibly venues for free and open discussion. All ideas should be given an open hearing, and be judged according to their individual merits. Are they supported by good evidence? Are they internally consistent? Will they produce desirable outcomes? That, in any case, is the ideal. More and more, it seems, there is breed of campus activist that disagrees with this view. At Berkeley, protesters rioted to shut down a speech by the right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos. In Middlebury, they shouted down Charles Murray and later assaulted Professor Alison Stanger, who was hosting the talk. At Evergreen State College, they are championing the dismissal of a biology professor who expressed concern over the discriminatory nature of a campus event. Groups like Antifa (short for anti-fascist) adopt curiously jackbooted and signally authoritarian strategies to enforce their political will. They seem to be fighting fascism with something that looks conspicuously like fascism. Largely, the most raucous elements of far-left authoritarianism are part of fringe group. However, there is some cause for greater concern. According to …

Platitudes About Terrorism Are Not Helping

Yesterday afternoon, a terrorist drove a 4×4 car onto the footpath of Westminster Bridge, mowing down pedestrians, maiming dozens and killing four people. Among the dead was a British police officer, Keith Palmer, a husband and a father. The British Prime Minister Theresa May called the attack “sick and depraved”. Yet it did not take long for others to put forward defensive statements: To an alien newly arrived from Jupiter it would appear that we humans on Earth merely have to say what we are and we magically become that thing. Witness all the debates about on campus about gender and racial and disabled identity. But terrorists who memorise the Quran, shout Allahu Akbar as they plough into pedestrians and—most importantly—self-identify as Muslim, are told by the liberal left “Nope, sorry. Not a Muslim”. When someone says “terrorism has no religion” they need to start by defining religion. Is Scientology religion? Is Scientology pure and virtuous and the people who do evil things in its name simply not real Scientologists? Were the Crusaders not real …

A Good Word for the Contemptible Straight White Male

I’m always on the lookout for new writing opportunities, especially with publications funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, as one can usually expect modest remuneration. I was initially pleased, then, to discover the literary magazine called, quite appropriately as you’ll see, SCUM. Its About section notes that it “has filthy feminist leanings and a disregard for propriety.” Terrific, I thought. Perhaps I could pitch an essay or two. I have often detailed the squalid nature of contemporary feminism à la Clementine Ford and the rest of the gang. While I haven’t dipped into her new book, Fight Like A Girl, I’m keeping an open mind, should the opportunity to read it ever come up. To update the old joke, I imagine that Ford’s oeuvre, along with every copy of Fairfax’s Daily Life, will be the only reading material available for borrowing at the single library in hell. There, how’s that for propriety? Of course, a quick glance through its essays and reviews proved that I had badly misread SCUM’s editorial policy — the …