All posts filed under: recent

Watching Harvard, My Alma Mater, Surrender to the Mob  

On Saturday, Harvard University announced that it would not be permitting law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. to stay on as faculty dean of Winthrop House, an undergraduate residence where he has served in that position since 2009 (along with his wife Stephanie R. Robinson, who also teaches at Harvard Law School). When I heard news of this, my mind rushed back to a guided tour I’d once taken of Boston’s Freedom Trail, a two-and-a-half mile path that features numerous historical landmarks, including the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s home and Bunker Hill Monument. At the time, I’d just arrived from Canada as a student at Harvard Law School. And I was eager to bring myself up to speed on America’s revolutionary history. The most memorable story I heard during that tour was of a young John Adams, a future U.S. president, successfully defending Thomas Preston, a Captain of a redcoat British regiment who’d been accused of ordering the aforementioned massacre after British soldiers were hit with rocks and snowballs. When the …

How Venezuelan Democracy Lost the Battle Against Castro—An Interview with Orlando Avendaño

Días de Sumisión (Days of Submission), written by Venezuelan journalist Orlando Avendaño and published last year by Editorial Ígneo, offers a fascinating history of Cuban interference in Venezuela’s democratic system, and analyses how Fidel Castro opened the way for Hugo Chávez’s disastrous presidency. I sat down with Avendaño to talk about his book and the current situation in Venezuela. How did you come up with the idea of writing Days of Submission? The project was born in a conversation with a prominent university professor from Caracas, in which we both took on the task of trying to determine who was responsible for Hugo Chávez’s ascent to power. In addition to the political actors best known to chavismo, we knew that there were many other individuals and factors that had somehow contributed to making a man like Chávez president of Venezuela. And then we discovered that behind all of them was Fidel Castro. You divide your book into three parts: “The Uprising,” “The Infiltration,” and “The Consolidation.” Tell me a bit about the structure. The three …

Headline Rhymes

With creative endeavours these days, we need to be quite militant In portraying others’ lived experience, we can’t be too vigilant If you want to write about someone who isn’t identical to you You must get the official go-ahead from representatives of that crew The film A Dog’s Journey, for example, I must demand its removal ‘Cause I know for a fact no one secured canine species approval The incredible chutzpah on display—like so much dog poop, it stinks To think we think we could possibly know what our canine brethren think Views on the news, delivered so smooth. This week’s inspired by: Policing the Creative Imagination For more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

Secular Morality Does Not Depend on Faith

In his piece ‘Values: Even Secular Ones, Depend on Faith: A Reply to Jerry Coyne,’ John Staddon denies he ever claimed that secular humanism is a religion. Yet in Staddon’s original article, ‘Is Secular Humanism a Religion?,’ which I criticized in my response, ‘Secular Humanism Is Not A Religion,’ his very first sentence is this: “It is now a rather old story: secular humanism is a religion.” Has he already forgotten this? But forget Staddon’s rewriting of history. In his new piece, he concentrates on one similarity he finds between religious and secular morality—both, he says, are based on faith: . . . in no case are secular commandments derivable from reason. Like religious “oughts” they are also matters of faith. Secular morals are as unprovable as the morals of religion. Nevertheless, he sees religious morals as superior because they rest on religious stories, stories that he admits are myths: The fact that religious morals are derived from religious stories—myths in Mr. Coyne’s book—does not make them any more dismissible than Mr. Coyne’s morals, which are …

The Communitarian Revival

“Man,” wrote Aristotle more than 2,300 years ago, “is a political animal.” Today, that seems particularly evident. The proliferation of mass social movements, the ever-present yet democratized nature of contemporary political commentary on social media, the 24 hour news cycle, and our penchant for politicizing everything all lend prima facie support to the idea that humans are helplessly activist. But Aristotle was not simply observing that we are inherently drawn towards boycotts, protests, and culture wars. He meant that we are strongly inclined towards social connection. People need collective commitment, not just individual liberty, to be fulfilled and these commitments must be forged in moral virtue. This understanding of human nature lies at the core of what was called communitarianism: a social perspective emphasizing virtue and civil society, largely transcending the traditional divisions of Left and Right. This philosophy of public life gained traction throughout the 1990s, crested with the turn of the new millennium, and then went into sharp decline. Is its moment about to return? At the beginning of April, I participated in …

After Academia

I keep being invited to talk about free speech on college campuses and every time I’m invited I make the same point: that this isn’t about free speech and this is only tangentially about college campuses. This is about a breakdown in the basic logic of civilisation, and it’s spreading. College campuses may be the first dramatic battle but of course this is going to find its way into the courts; it’s already found its way into the tech sector. It’s going to find its way to the highest level of governance if we aren’t careful, and it actually does jeopardise the ability of civilisation to continue to function. ~Bret Weinstein Mike Nayna’s documentary on the Evergreen State College Affair, from which I transcribed the above quote from Bret Weinstein, is a riveting watch. No matter how closely you followed the debacle at the time, there is really no substitute for this fascinating glimpse behind the scenes. Evergreen academics can be seen meekly and repeatedly submitting to ideological manipulation, and on a number of occasions …

To Stay Sane in an Age of Broken Politics, Admit What You Don’t Know

The Pitch I was just in Los Angeles, where I pitched a reality show to nine different networks—all the broadcast networks, plus Netflix, Amazon and a few others. The experience made me realize how much politics resembles a reality show. Specifically, it resembles the game-style reality shows, such as Survivor or The Great British Bake Off—as opposed to the shows that are basically long-form social experiments, such as Married at First Sight. Politics or reality show—the basic structure is the same: A cast of performers is presented to the public, with each seeking to get the most people to like them by the season finale. They are assigned various tasks on an episode-by-episode basis. They are asked about certain subjects, which leads them into debates. They might go on tour, and get pushed out of their comfort zones. Along the way, some of the contestants attract so little affection that they simply drop out. Occasionally, new contestants are invited to replace them. They gossip about each other to the cameras to try to win the …

Against Scientism—A Rejoinder to Bo and Ben Winegard

In ancient Athens, shortly after the death of Socrates, word got out that Plato had come up with a definition of man. Man, according to Plato, was “a featherless biped.” Once he heard this, a philosopher by the name of Diogenes plucked the feathers from a fowl, brought it to Plato’s Academy, and declared, “Behold Plato’s man!” Plato’s definition, as Diogenes’s antics proved, had failed. In their essay “In Defence of Scientism,” Bo and Ben Winegard’s definition of scientism suffers from a similar lack of precision. Scientism, they insist, is simply “the view that scientific attitudes and methods can enhance all modes of empirical inquiry.” This definition is misleading because no one is arguing against the use of scientific methods in scientific pursuits. Critics of scientism worry about the application of scientific methods outside of empirical fields. The great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, for example, wrote that scientism, “involves a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed.” Simply put, scientism is the application …

The Real Ballot Question in South Africa: How to Keep the Country from Falling Apart

South Africa’s sixth election since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1994 takes place on May 8. It has been 25 years since the country cast off the moral abomination of apartheid. But the noble and worthy dreams that took flight in the era of Nelson Mandela have been crushed by reality. Indeed, the dreadful irony is that Afrikaner nationalists’ dire predictions about majority rule seem to have come true. The country is in a parlous state: A recent Bloomberg report found that on a wide range of indicators, South Africa has done worse over the last five years than any other country in the world save those in a state of war. Corruption is rampant at every level, starting with the police. The power cuts that began in 2007 have gotten steadily worse. And although the government has managed to keep the lights on for the election campaign, the most optimistic forecast is another five years of intermittent supply. This in a country that, in 1994, had an oversupply of electricity at some of …

Feminism’s Blind Spot: the Abuse of Women by Non-White Men, Particularly Muslims

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was a young woman who attended a madrassa in the rural town of Feni in Bangladesh. In late March of this year, she attended the local police station to report a crime. Nusrat alleged that the headmaster at her madrassa had called her into his office several days before and sexually assaulted her. After the assault, Nusrat told her family what had happened and decided to make a report to the police, no doubt trusting that they would treat her with some decency. The officer who took her statement did no such thing. He videotaped it on his camera phone and can be heard on the footage telling her that the assault was “not a big deal.” The headmaster was arrested, but someone within the police leaked the fact that Nusrat had made allegations against him and the footage of her statement ended up on social media. She was soon receiving threats from students at the madrassa as well as other people in the community. Influential local politicians expressed their support for …