All posts filed under: recent

Mayors Won’t Rule the World

Earlier in this decade, cities—the bigger and denser the better—appeared as the planet’s geographic stars. According to Benjamin Barber, author of the 2013 book If Mayors Ruled the World, everyone would be better off if the ineffective, aging nation-state were replaced by rule from the most evolved urban areas. This, Barber argues, would provide the “building blocks” of global governance run by a “parliament of mayors.” In reality, the validity of the “back to the city” meme was never as pronounced as its boosters believed. And now it seems, if anything, to be reversing—first demographically, then economically—as workers and key industries seek more affordable and congenial environments. Furthermore, many elite urban centers are diverging, sometimes radically, from national norms which produces a political conundrum. As big city politics shift ever further to the left, particularly on climate and “social justice” issues, not only are they becoming toxic to the middle class, they are becoming places many avoid rather than models that invite imitation. The Demographic Evidence In the 1990s, following decades marked by shrinking or …

Thanksgiving—A Uniquely American Tradition

After decades of faithful repetition, the annual intellectual flagellation of Thanksgiving has become a tradition all its own, as seemingly indispensable as turkey or pumpkin pie. But despite the many things for which we need or ought not be grateful, gratitude is yet a virtue. In the story of the First Thanksgiving we find an example of something for which all Americans can and should be grateful—all the more, perhaps, for its contested role in American civic enterprise. I am speaking, of course, of American liberalism. Most any American grade-schooler can tell the basics of the tale: one year shy of four centuries past, in November of 1620, a ship of Saints and Strangers arrived at what we now call Cape Cod. Difficulties faced during their trans-Atlantic voyage dissuaded them from pressing on to their intended destination in Virginia; instead, most of the passengers remained aboard the Mayflower while some scouted the territory. The land was inhabited, albeit sparsely, by natives who made no show of hostility but also evaded any attempts at contact. What …

Inside the Woke Actors Studio: How I Trained Future Doctors to Police Their Pronouns

I’ve always considered myself a collector of interesting experiences. Perhaps to my detriment, my résumé looks more like a roster of Whose Line Is It Anyway sketches than a sequence of interrelated experiences leading up to a stable professional life. Never-a-dull-moment has been the goal, and most moments have remained gratifyingly un-dull. So when a local medical school asked me to serve as a simulated patient for their training sessions, I jumped at it. I had absolutely no acting experience, and most of my medical knowledge is on the level of Dr. Phil. But maybe this is how stars are born. You’re Pertussis Patient #3—until a blotto Bradley Cooper walks into the ER and overhears your beautiful coughing fit. Some of my fellow med-school thespians are, like me, simple university students looking to make a buck. But some are actors manqués who’d apparently been doing this for decades: elderly men and women who put on makeup, affect accents, and invent their own evocative pseudonyms and back stories that go way beyond the simple patient scripts …

Why Do Progressives Hate Gentrification?

The word “gentrification” was coined in 1964 to describe the influx of wealthy newcomers into low-income inner-city neighborhoods, resulting in rising property values, changes in neighborhood culture, and displacement of original residents. Though gentrification predates the modern era, it has only become the target of criticism in recent decades, as cities like Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Boston have witnessed rapid transformations. Opponents of gentrification have ranged from residents directly affected by it to wealthy college students directly responsible for it, as well as prominent Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Critics of gentrification give two main reasons for their opposition: (1) wealthy newcomers drive up monthly rents, thereby displacing original residents; and (2) rapid change to neighborhood culture represents an injustice to original residents. Both critiques are magnified by the presumed skin color of the gentrifiers and the gentrified, who tend to be white and black or Hispanic, respectively. Though such critiques may seem reasonable at first glance, neither of them survive scrutiny. Not only is gentrification harmless, it’s actually beneficial. …

Why UBI Ought to Appeal to Conservatives

Republicans are traditionally hostile to what they call government “hand-outs.” This is not because they believe people shouldn’t get what they need. Rather, conservatives believe that people should get what they need in the most efficient way possible. Which, to the Republican mind, is almost certainly never going to be a program run by the federal government. The basis for this argument is that big government has two major problems. The first is a knowledge problem. It doesn’t know exactly what is going on out there in the wider world, nor what the best solutions might be. The second is an execution problem. Whatever the government does set as a goal, it’s rarely in a position to enact this plan efficiently. The solution to the knowledge problem is decentralization: give more decision-making power to those closer to the ground where a policy is going to be implemented. The solution to the execution problem is the free market. Let businesses figure out what the best course of action is, because they’re actually incentivized to do so. …

Religious Progressivism

Almost 40 years ago I read Nikolai Berdyaev’s The Russian Revolution, in which he makes the case that Soviet Communism was essentially a religion in the mould of Christianity, with its concept of original sin (expropriation of labour), priestly class (the Communist Party), The Final Judgement (The Revolution), purification through penance (communal labour), holy scriptures (Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto), and so on. The book had a great influence on the subsequent development of my thinking about politics, morality and society. The power of this book’s message has probably been much diminished by the collapse of Soviet Communism nearly three decades ago now. But, like the famous aphorism attributed to G. K. Chesterton that, when men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything, Berdyaev’s core insight that when religion is displaced it tends to be replaced by religion in another form retains its validity. Of course, I am not here interpreting religion in the narrow sense of belief in an all-powerful deity who commands our obedience. Rather, I …

Bereft of Impartial Arbiters

The proximate cause of the US House of Representatives’ decision to invoke articles of impeachment is the president’s decision to make Congressionally authorized military aid for Ukraine conditional on a commitment from Kyiv to pursue investigations into his chief political rival. Trump, in short, has sought (unsuccessfully, thanks to the efforts of a whistleblower) to grossly abuse his office for personal political gain. Nothing that has yet come to light contradicts this pregnant allegation. On the available evidence, there is presently no reasonable doubt that Trump was engaged in the extortion of a foreign head of state—and the betrayal of the national-security interests of the United States—to smear a political opponent. Trump’s defenders contend that presidents often use leverage to induce foreign leaders to act in ways they might prefer not to, but such inducements are legitimate only in service of the national interest, which Trump’s patently were not. As the impeachment process unfolds, it is becoming apparent that few American politicians today understand that democratic republics need to be bastions of moral order if …

Please Stop Calling Yourself a ‘Feminist Badass’

I am the feminist who gets accused of “pearl clutching” in response to flagrant and reflexive uses of the word “fuck” and endless repeats of the word “vagina.” I don’t own a pair of pearls. But I’ll tell you why this vernacular makes me cringe. It’s not that it’s embarrassing as much as it’s a way of gesturing at being radical without really being radical at all. It’s a kind of shorthand edginess, which means it’s a shortcut to edginess. It’s essentially the ideological version of buying the Ramones’ Hey Ho Let’s Go: Greatest Hits and no other Ramones records and still calling yourself the biggest Ramones fan in the world. Saying “fuck” all the time is meant to convey a resistance to stuffy idiomatic convention. Saying “vagina” again and again is meant to convey body positivity; it’s a standoff with shame. Or at least it’s supposed to be. More often it isn’t. Saying these words all the time doesn’t convey edginess as much as lack of imagination. Posting “fuck Trump” on Facebook every five …

Abandoning Malmö to Its Criminals

“I think they just shot someone right across from my balcony,” my friend told me.  The gunshot rang out even as we were texting about another recent act of violence here in the Swedish city of Malmö—a car bomb that went off in a residential area close to my home. Acts of violence occur so frequently in Malmö that news of one blurs into the next. This year, there already have been 29 explosions in a city of just 320,000. Sweden as a whole is on pace for about 150—or about three per week (as Quillette has reported previously). These are attacks by criminal gangs that usually target other criminals. But the victims are sometimes innocent bystanders. In one recent case, for instance, a female student was severely injured in the face when she happened to pass by a shop that exploded in Lund, a ten-minute car ride from Malmö. The more spectacular attacks have left whole cities such as Malmö fearful and traumatized, as a grandmother explained in a recent Facebook post about a …

The Price of Sex

Working as a photographer for a charity a few years back, I was travelling through Malawi and stopped overnight in a mining town. It was a Wednesday, and I headed out to a bar. Other than a woman serving, everyone else there was male. Some were playing pool. Some were drinking, but most were doing neither. I asked the bargirl why there were no women in the place. With a look that suggested I was being dim, she explained: “The men get paid on Friday.” On the surface, in a mining town, the gender pay gap is huge, with the vast majority of money officially going to men. And yet, by Saturday morning, much of the cash has been transferred to bar owners, prostitutes, girlfriends, and wives. A privileged observer might suggest that women in such a town ought to be liberated to earn their own money. But the point is that they already are. While most fair-minded people would no doubt agree that women should be free to take mining jobs if they choose, …