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Between Discipline and Chaos

“Anyone capable of living outside a city,” wrote Aristotle, “must either be a beast or a god.” Before taking offense or pride in that aphorism, the rural should know that the Greek for “city” here is polis, and the polis of classical Greece was not a city in our sense. It was smaller than a nation, to be sure, but unlike London or Washington, it was a sovereign state. Every human individual, Aristotle is saying, must live within such a group—whether it be a tribe or an empire. To lack such a polis, to live truly alone, would require the independence of a wild animal or the self-sufficiency of a god. We need groups to survive; we need someone else to do our hunting or growing, someone else to make our clothes and build our houses, someone else to fix our furnace and perform our surgeries. But the polis does more than help us survive. It encompasses the family, the school and the broader culture, all of which shape who we become. Without such groups, …

Younger Women Are More Left-Wing Than Men, While Older Women Are More Right-Wing Than Men

Young women across Western Europe and Canada are more left wing than their male counterparts, according to new research I carried out that also shows among older voters women more likely to be right wing than men. We already know that younger people are often more likely to vote for left-wing parties than their older peers, but it seems this trend is particularly pronounced among women. Younger women are the most left wing in their voting habits and older women the most right wing when we compared voters by age and gender. This is shown in a study using data on over 40,000 people from the World Values Survey/European Values Study in Western Europe and Canada, 1989-2014. This trend is summarised in the graph below. Negative numbers indicate more men voting for a left-wing party in a given country. Positive numbers indicate more women voting for a left-wing party. In almost all countries, women born after 1955 are more likely to vote for left-wing parties than men of the same age group. Conversely, in many …

From Astrology to Cult Politics—the Many Ways We Try (and Fail) to Replace Religion

If you count yourself among the secularists cheering for the demise of religion, it isn’t hard to find comforting statistics. Nearly every survey of the state of religion in my own country, the United States, presents a similar picture of faith in decline. Compared to their parents and grandparents, Americans are less likely to self-identify as religious, attend religious services, or engage in religious practices such as daily prayer. Full-blown atheism is still a minority position. But the ranks of the “non-religious”—a broad category made up of those who reject traditional conceptions of God and religious doctrines, or who express uncertainty about their beliefs—are growing. Even those who self-identify as Christians are less inclined to talk publicly about God and their faith than their predecessors. Indeed, many Americans are Christian in name only—using the term more as an indicator of their cultural background than as a declaration of a spiritual life committed to the teachings of Christ. And the rest of the Western world is even farther ahead on this same path. But secularism advocates …

Population and Policy—A Rejoinder to Szurmak and Desrochers

I cannot imagine an event that could cause a ship to founder. Modern ship building has gone beyond that. ~E.J. Smith, captain of Titanic In a recent essay in Quillette, I criticized the one-sided view of global development in the Roslings´ Factfulness. In their response, Joanna Szurmak and Pierre Desrochers (hereafter S&D) whose new book Population Bombed! is published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK’s most high-profile climate denier group, disparage my critique by branding me an “eco-pessimist,” and present themselves as clear-eyed optimists. This dichotomy is a poor guide to analysis. Captain Smith of Titanic was obviously also an “optimist.” Were his critics mere “pessimists”? Three aspects of the S&D-paper require particular scrutiny: 1. The Contradictory View of Technological Development S&D argue that market economies will fix all negative side-effects of technological development spontaneously because of the commercial value of the effluents. This claim ignores all the research and policy-making related to external economics, where the cost of emitting hazardous substances is negligible for the producer but dire for society.1 If the LA or …

Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet

The 100th anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth on December 11 was an occasion for many tributes. A decade after his death, Solzhenitsyn remains one of the past century’s towering figures in both literature and public life. His role in exposing the crimes of the Soviet regime is a historic achievement the magnitude of which can hardly be overstated. But his legacy also continues to be the subject of intense debate among people who share his loathing of that regime—and those controversies, which have to do with freedom, traditional morality, and nationalism, are strikingly relevant to our current moment. Solzhenitsyn was once my childhood hero. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, in a family of closet dissidents, I knew him as the man who defied the system and told the truth about its atrocities—the man idolized by my parents, especially my father, himself the son of gulag survivors. I was eleven when Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union; our Stalinist political instructor at school bellowed that he should have been …

In Defense of Male Stoicism

I dealt with the most stereotypically feminine of mental illnesses in the most stereotypically masculine way. After acknowledging that I was anorexic, and deciding that I had no wish to be, I put my head down and tried to recover with the minimum of fuss. I told almost nobody about my condition, and almost never discussed it with the people I had told. I had two sessions with a therapist—almost missing the first after getting myself lost and terrifying pedestrians by running up to them, wild-eyed, to ask for directions to the mental health center—and then abandoned them out of embarrassment and reticence. I did not want to talk, and I did not cry, and I had no wish to hold anyone’s hand or be hugged. As a means of recovery, I would not recommend this. I was fortunate enough to have a family who supported me as I recovered, and someone less privileged would need additional support. Had I been more open to professional help, meanwhile, I might have made a quicker and more comprehensive recovery, …

Feminism’s Dependency Trap

Reading the news stories about #MeToo and sexual harassment, and the barrage of social media posts that accompanied these headlines, I became saddened but also increasingly frustrated. It wasn’t the reports of men behaving badly that angered me, but the despair that seemed to be the expected response to these stories, and the helplessness that my female friends appeared to attach to femininity itself that I found troubling. The unintended and painful irony of recent feminism’s preoccupation with overcoming male oppression has been to place men at the centre of female identity. This makes the feminine experience something like an echo; women’s voices seem to be little more than a response, or a rebuttal, to men’s voices, which are taken to be primarily an instrument of patriarchal oppression. But, in my own experience, men aren’t interested in maintaining power and control over women—they simply don’t see women as a group that they are oppressing, or that they would like to oppress. We hear a lot about “male privilege” but historically it has been the “privilege” of …

The Children of the Revolution

“Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart,” wrote James Baldwin, “for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.” This observation has been confirmed many times throughout history. However, China’s Cultural Revolution offers perhaps the starkest illustration of just how dangerous the “pure in heart” can be. The ideological justification for the revolution was to purge the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the nation more broadly, of impure elements hidden in its midst: capitalists, counter-revolutionaries, and “representatives of the bourgeoisie.” To that end, Mao Zedong activated China’s youth—unblemished and uncorrupted in heart and mind—to lead the struggle for purity. Christened the “Red Guards,” they were placed at the vanguard of a revolution that was, in truth, a cynical effort by Mao to reassert his waning power in the Party. Nevertheless, it set in motion a self-destructive force of almost unimaginable depravity. The Cultural Revolution commenced in spirit when Mao published a letter indicting a number of Party leaders on May 16, 1966. But it was a seemingly minor event nine days later …

Confessions of a ‘Soulless Troglodyte’: How My Brooklyn Literary Friendships Fell Apart in the Age of Trump

I became friends with Jamie when I was 13, a few years after my family fled the Soviet Union and settled in what was then one of the most diverse neighborhoods of south Brooklyn. When we first met, Jamie (not his real name) told me that he was a genius—that his Catholic school teachers said so after he wrote a poem about vaginas and read it aloud in front of the whole class. He told me he wanted to be “an author.” In the 1990s, our street was a spontaneous symphony of the working poor, a place where kids bonded by trading ethnic insults in a dozen languages. I had mastered this crude local vernacular. Jamie’s ability to step outside of our street language, speak freely and dream about something larger was transfixing. Unlike Jamie, I churned through the city’s public schools without attracting much notice. My teachers did not seek genius. In high school, they were too busy keeping us from killing each other. I learned nothing and barely graduated. After Jamie went off …

Aristophanes’ Orphans: A Disabled Trans Woman Surveys the Grey Zone Between Love and Fetish

Since I first read Plato’s Symposium, I have been fond of Aristophanes’ account of the origin of love. The tale goes something like this. Human beings used to be spherical creatures with four legs, four arms, and two faces divided evenly between each side. We also used to come in three distinct varieties. Men were those composed of two male halves, women were those composed of two female halves, and the androgynous were those composed of both a male and a female half. Everything was going swell for us, you might say, until the gods meddled, as they were wont to do. Fearing the power of humanity, Zeus sliced every human into two and had Apollo sew up the opening, with our belly buttons serving as a reminder not to test the power of the gods. Everyone found themselves feeling empty and longing for their other half, be it the woman you were attached to or the man you were attached to. Love was born out of the search to be whole. I’m fond of …