All posts filed under: Recommended

Leaving Portland

Portland, Oregon, has been the most politically violent city in the United States since Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Just a few days after the result, a peaceful protest against the incoming president turned into a riot when anarchists broke off from the main group and rampaged through the Pearl District, a renovated SoHo-like neighborhood adjacent to downtown packed with art galleries, loft apartments, bookstores, and restaurants. Vandals used baseball bats and rocks to break cars, plate glass windows, bus shelters, electrical boxes, and anything else that looked smashable. The election-night mayhem was not an attack against Republican voters. Donald Trump received a paltry 7.5 percent of the vote in that precinct. It was an assault on the urban middle class and bourgeois society itself, and it was perceived as such by most people who lived there. (The protest organizers, not incidentally, raised tens of thousands of dollars on GoFundMe and disbursed checks to damaged businesses.) I was born and raised in Oregon, and it’s where I live now. I spent most of my …

Beating Back Cancel Culture: A Case Study from the Field of Artificial Intelligence

It’s easy to decry cancel culture, but hard to turn it back. Thankfully, recent developments in my area of academic specialty—artificial intelligence (AI)—show that fighting cancel culture isn’t impossible. And as I explain below, the lessons that members of the AI community have learned in this regard can be generalized to other professional subcultures. To understand the flash point at issue, it’s necessary to delve briefly into how AI functions. In many cases, AI algorithms have partly replaced both formal and informal human decision-making systems that pick who gets hired or promoted within organizations. Financial institutions use AI to determine who gets a loan. And some police agencies use AI to anticipate which neighborhoods will be afflicted by crime. As such, there has been a great focus on ensuring that algorithms won’t replicate their coders’ implicit biases against, say, women or visible minorities. Citing evidence that, for instance, “commercial face recognition systems have much higher error rates for dark-skinned women while having minimal errors on light skinned men,” computer scientist Timnit Gebru, formerly the co-lead …

Social-Media Oligopolists Are the New Railroad Barons. It’s Time for Washington to Treat Them Accordingly

In 1964, an Ohio Ku Klux Klan leader named Clarence Brandenburg told a Cincinnati-based reporter that his hate group would soon be holding a rally in a rural area of Hamilton County. In the filmed portions of that rally, which later became the focus of legal prosecution, robed men, some with guns, could be seen burning a cross and making speeches, infamously demanding “revengeance” against blacks (they used another word, of course), Jews, and the white politicians who were supposedly betraying their own “caucasian race.” They also revealed a plan for an imminent march on Washington, DC. In American First-Amendment jurisprudence, Brandenburg’s name is now a byword for the test that is used in assessing the validity of laws against inflammatory speech—especially speech that can lead to the sort of hateful mob activity that played out at the US Capitol last Wednesday. When details of the Hamilton County rally were made public, prosecutors successfully charged Brandenburg under Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statute, a 1919 law that, in the spirit of the first Red Scare, criminalized anyone …

A Student Mob Took Over Bryn Mawr. The College Said Thank You

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality, while making it easier for them to part with them.      ~Vaclav Havel Last week marked the end of a chaotic semester at Bryn Mawr College, a small women’s liberal arts college located outside Philadelphia. During the final weeks, Bryn Mawr students, including my own child, scrambled to pick up the pieces following a student “strike” that exacerbated the serious preexisting disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. For a period of three weeks, few regular classes were held, activities were suspended, and student life (such as it was) became marked by the same toxic spirit of racism that the strikers claimed to oppose. Bryn Mawr is affiliated with nearby Haverford College, whose parallel meltdown in November was documented recently by Quillette. These two selective and well-funded schools are part of a so-called Bi-Co arrangement, which allows students to participate in joint classes and activities. Both share a similarly progressive commitment to …

A Peculiar Kind of Racist Patriarchy

We are frequently told by commentators and theorists on the progressive and liberal Left that we live in a systemically racist and patriarchal society. The belief that Western societies privilege white men and oppress people of color, women, and LGBT citizens is especially popular within academic institutions, legacy media, the entertainment industry, and even sports. However, newly released statistics from the US Department of Labor for the third quarter of 2020 undermine this narrative. Asian women have now surpassed white men in weekly earnings. That trend has been consistent throughout this past year—an unprecedented outcome. Full-time working Asian women earned $1,224 in median weekly earnings in the third quarter of this year compared to $1,122 earned by their white male counterparts. Furthermore, the income gap between both black and Latino men and Asian women is wider than it has ever been. The income gap between white and black women, meanwhile, is much narrower than the gap between their male counterparts. These outcomes cannot exist in a society suffused with misogyny and racism. As confounding to …

I Signed Up to Study Sexual Health. What I Got Was Gender Ideology, Fetishism, and Porn

I am not a conspiracy theorist. And as recently as a year and a half ago, if someone had told me the things I am reporting here, I would have accused them of culture-war paranoia. That was before I enrolled in a professional training program that I’d hoped would expand my skills as a therapist, but instead delivered an extreme form of ideological indoctrination. The Sexual Health Certificate Program is a prestigious University of Michigan program conducted in affiliation with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). As someone who recently studied in the program, I can attest that, notwithstanding whatever mission AASECT once had, it now operates largely as a de facto activist group that seeks to reshape standards applied to mental health care and education, and to limit the rights of parents to make decisions about their children. And no, I am not an extreme social conservative complaining about the failure of these organizations to support “abstinence only” sex education. Nor do I object to teaching kids that it’s okay …

Rallying to Protect Admissions Standards at America’s Best Public High School

This week, a group of about 200 students, parents, alumni, and concerned local residents flooded the sidewalk in front of America’s number-one-ranked public high school—Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. This was no back-to-school event. It was a rally to save the soul of the school itself. The parents included Norma Muñoz, a Peruvian immigrant who told us she was there to “fight for TJ” (as the school is known locally). Other parents were from China, India, and South Korea. They stepped forward, one by one, to describe their families’ journeys—from marching in Tiananmen Square decades ago to arriving in the United States with only dollars in their pockets. “I came here for freedom,” said Yuyan Zhou, a Chinese-American woman who’s spent eight years as a TJ parent. “Moral courage is the only solution for this madness. Stand up for your rights. Stand up for your values. Fight for the future of our students!” And what is this “madness” Ms. Zhou describes? Since early June, a small but vocal group …

Then They Came for Beethoven

This week, Vox published an article titled “How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music.” “Since its 1808 premiere, audiences have interpreted [its opening progression] as a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness,” write Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding. But “for some in other groups—women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color—Beethoven’s symphony may be predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism.” In the article, and an accompanying podcast, the two men ask “how Beethoven’s symphony was transformed from a symbol of triumph and freedom into a symbol of exclusion, elitism, and gatekeeping.” The article has been widely mocked on social media—in part because the authors (both white men, from what I can tell) offer no real evidence for their claim. That’s odd given that they are purporting to redefine the cultural meaning of what is arguably the most well-known, widely performed, and beloved composition known to humankind. Hundreds of millions of people have fallen in love with this symphony over the past two centuries—many …

Police Violence and the Rush to Judgment

In the days and weeks following George Floyd’s death in May, activists flooded the streets with placards and slogans to denounce racism and police violence. But the zeal with which they mobilized support for their cause frequently clouded complex issues and events that demanded greater scrutiny than conviction and piety provide. For partisans on social media, hearsay and rumor became grist to ideological mills and facts were only relevant if they were politically useful. An inquisitorial climate developed in which everyone was expected to take a side without unseemly hesitation. Are you on the side of social justice or are you on the side of racial oppression? Silence on this question is violence, we were told. As a result, a rush to judgment is disfiguring how we consume and understand reports of events unfolding rapidly in confusing circumstances. The political biases of the loudest voices may be obvious and their manipulations may be crude, but doubt and restraint risk accusations of callousness and racism, which is often motivation enough to declare one’s allegiance before the …

The Myth of Harmonious Indigenous Conservationism

It seems like a long time ago. But only six months ago, pundits had convinced themselves that the great morality tale of our time was playing out in an obscure part of British Columbia. Following on an internal political fight within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation over a local pipeline project, one columnist wrote that “the Indigenous people of Earth have become the conscience of humanity. In this dire season, it is time to listen to them.” In fact, the elected leadership of the Wet’suwet’en had chosen to participate in the controverted pipeline project. The nationwide protests against the pipeline that followed were, in fact, sparked by unelected “hereditary” chiefs who long have received government signing bonuses. It’s unclear how this qualifies them for the exalted status of humanity’s conscience. Yet the whole weeks-long saga, which featured urban protestors appearing alongside their Indigenous counterparts at road and rail barricades throughout Canada, tapped into a strongly held noble-savage belief system within progressive circles. Various formulations of this mythology have become encoded in public land acknowledgments, college courses, …