All posts filed under: recent

In Celebration of Errors

Making mistakes is out of fashion. To utter the wrong phrase or entertain an uncomfortable hypothesis is to risk both personal and professional ostracism. You might express an idea that is false, such as that the Earth is flat. Or you might say something that is true but nonetheless violates some taboo. A historical example is the assertion that the Earth revolves around the Sun, which once upon a time would have landed a person in hot water with the Catholic Church, as scientist Galileo Galilei learned the hard way in the 1600s. The content of what is unspeakable ebbs and flows over time as culture evolves and our understanding of reality improves. While defending Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection would once have elicited mockery, today, the opposite is (mostly) true. It is irrelevant whether or not someone is correct when he initially expresses an idea. What matters is how others respond to an idea that they find unpalatable, as solving problems always requires correcting errors. Civilization has been in the game of …

Bitterness and Inequality—A Reply to Matt McManus

In a recent article for Quillette entitled “The Argument for Equality and Fairness,” Matt McManus attempts to rebut the charge that the Left is motivated more by a hatred for the rich than concern for the poor. McManus’s main argument, drawing on John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, is that while some on the Left may be motivated by an abiding resentment of the rich, sound arguments for policies designed to redress naturally occurring inequalities have merit independent of that antipathy. But McManus’s argument doesn’t answer—or even attempt to answer—the question of how can we tell the difference, or why a reasoned argument for redistribution is so frequently discarded in favor of a bitter hatred of the wealthy, successful, and fortunate. Justice vs Cosmic Justice It is interesting that McManus uses John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice as a launching pad for his argument about what the Left gets right, because it is the same example used by Thomas Sowell in his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice to make precisely the opposite argument. Equality …

‘The Great Scattering’: How Identity Panic Took Root in the Void Once Occupied by Family Life

Of all the issues that divide us, none seems as inimical to reasoned discussion as identity politics. Conservatives excoriate such politics as politically opportunistic theater, the acting out of coddled “snowflake” students. Liberals and progressives put forth an opposing grievance-first narrative, arguing that identity politics emanates from authentic wounds. But what if both contenders have a piece of the truth? What if many identity-firsters today are claiming to be victims because they and their societies are victims—only not so much of the abstract “isms” they denounce, but of something else that till now has eluded description? Let’s try a new theory: Our macro-politics have become a mania about identity because our micropolitics are no longer familial. This, above all, is what happened during the decades in which identity politics went from being a phrase in an obscure quasi-radical document to a way of being that has gone on to transform academia, law, media, culture and government. Yes, racism, sexism and other forms of cruelty exist, and are always to be deplored and countered. At the …

Socialization Isn’t Responsible for Greater Male Violence

Earlier this year, Dr. Julia Shaw wrote an article for Psychology Today entitled, “Why Are We Not Outraged that Prisons Are Filled with Men?” in which she argues that there is something “pernicious” and deeply wrong with a system that incarcerates men at far higher rates than women. “Prison,” she explains, “has always been an almost entirely male structure. It’s hard. It’s cold. It’s unempathetic. It’s punitive. Practically every descriptor we use for prison prides itself in its masculinity.” Shaw says the heavily disproportionate incarceration reflects a lack of faith in men, who are then adversely affected by the experience of prison and the social stigma they are forced to carry upon release. And “what leads us to blindly accept that our prisons are full of men?” she asks. I think it’s because we accept as dogma that men are naturally more criminal—particularly more violent—than women, thus they deserve to be incarcerated at higher rates. It’s about time we question this assumption. As Shaw points out, men are overrepresented in prisons because they commit more …

Why White Privilege Is Wrong—Part 1

“White privilege” is a term often invoked as a causal explanation for the success of whites relative to other groups. But the problem with white privilege isn’t its assumptions about racial discrimination, but its causal disposition. White privilege suffers from a bad case of mono-causality, or “one-thingism” as Jonah Goldberg puts it. Rarely does a single explanatory variable account for a complex phenomenon. Instead, complex outcomes are best explained by a confluence of factors. In the case of white privilege, there are a number of variables which, together, better explain differences in group outcomes. Moreover, there is a bevy of countervailing evidence that calls its validity into question. This is not to suggest that racial discrimination cannot or does not play a role in differential outcomes. Nor is it to suggest that privileges do not exist in some form or another. Where you live and who your parents are can be privileges. But to posit white privilege as the only or a predominant explanation for differences in group outcomes is, based on the empirical evidence, …

Are Political Disagreements Real Disagreements?

If people disagree about anything, it’s politics. In the United States, nearly half of all Republicans and Democrats say they “almost never” agree with the other party’s positions. Whether the topic is health care, the economy, foreign affairs, education, the environment, privatization, energy, or immigration, it seems nearly impossible for political opponents to agree. Disagreement is often a good thing for a healthy democracy. We expect values and preferences to differ in a pluralistic society, and reasonable citizens understand that people of good will can disagree about moral and political issues. For this reason, theorizing about liberal democracy has focused largely on disagreements concerning moral and political values, while taking for granted that citizens tend to agree on the facts. But is this assumption still valid? Today, partisan disagreements seem to go beyond political values and even include disputes about obvious matters of fact. Consider the issue of climate change. The extent and causes of climate change is a scientific issue that should be settled independently of one’s political beliefs. Yet politics seems to drive …

Gamers are the Easy—But Wrong—Target After Mass Violence

The recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have resurrected old panic over violence in video games. President Trump, among others, used language linking games to mass shootings and other violence. Such links have long ago been disproven and, fortunately, most people kept their heads and pushed back against these nonsensical claims. But despite this, a more subtle narrative has developed. Is gamer culture itself toxic, catering to misogynists, racists and angry, mostly white, males? As the moral panic over violent content ebbs, I’ve witnessed a wave of comments either disparaging gamers as a group, or insinuating that while certain types of games might not directly cause violent individuals, they do cultivate negative attitudes, such as sexism, militarism or white supremacy. From an empirical standpoint, such claims tend to be long on anecdote and speculation and short on hard data. The latest such argument comes from Brianna Wu in the Washington Post, where she argues that gamer culture is inherently angry, racist and sexist, and “encourages hate.” Video games don’t cause mass shootings, …

Free Speech Matters, Even When it’s Not Protected by the First Amendment

“The government isn’t involved, so it’s not a free speech issue.” Follow any debate over censorship these days, and one is likely to hear this misguided view stated repeatedly. It means, in effect, that free speech is a legal right against the government, but not a spirit or value that the broader society should honor. In an interview with Above the Law, First Amendment lawyer Ken White (of “Popehat” fame) colorfully articulates this perspective: Recently you see, from the Right, (and from some Libertarians), a tremendous amount of bullshit about “the spirit of free speech.” “The spirit of free speech” can be summarized as saying that not only is racist speech protected from prosecution and civil suits, it ought also be protected from other people’s response speech…. [N]ot only should they not be prosecuted (right) or sued (right), but it would be wrong to boycott them, shun them, encourage public condemnation of them that might cost them their job, and so forth, because that “chills speech.” Basically, the “spirit of free speech” people want a …

Once Upon a Time…Film Critics Became Joyless—A Review

*This article contains spoilers. Once upon a time, somewhere far from Hollywood, critics decided that movies for grownups should not be fun, and that the filmmakers who make them should be punished. For publications like The Guardian, the latest unacceptable pusher of a good time is Quentin Tarantino, with his long-anticipated Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. “Whatever the merits of his new film, Tarantino’s films have revelled in extreme violence against female characters,” says the piece, entitled “End of the affair: why it’s time to cancel Quentin Tarantino.” Time Magazine went so far as to count “every line in every Quentin Tarantino film to see how often women talk,” tallying the results in data charts. This nakedly ideological ire against not just the movie, but Tarantino himself, extends even to The New Yorker—the same New Yorker where Pauline Kael, a decidedly non-ideological film critic, presided for a generation. “Tarantino’s love letter to a lost cinematic age is one that, seemingly without awareness, celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the scenes command) at the expense of everyone else,” …

The Campaign to Destroy Equal Voice

Even during Question Period, it’s unusual for every seat in the Canadian House of Commons to be occupied. But, over four days in April, a not-for-profit organization called Equal Voice Canada held its second annual conference there and filled the chamber with politically active young women from every region of Canada. The taxpayer-funded event, entitled Daughters of the Vote (DotV), was intended to encourage women’s participation in electoral politics. After the youthful delegates took their places in the handsome chamber-room, with its ornate wooden panelling and stained glass windows, they were welcomed by the Hon. Kim Campbell, Canada’s first and only female prime minister. (Campbell, a Conservative, served briefly in 1993 when she inherited a faltering administration from Brian Mulroney.) The National Observer reported that, of the 338 young attendees, 146 “identified as a visible minority” and 39 were Indigenous. “Many of you,” Campbell acknowledged, “are activists…for issues about which you feel passionately…who want to make changes…to fulfill your vision for the country.” But, she warned, anyone serving in Ottawa must remember that everyone else …