All posts filed under: Review

Theoterrorism versus Freedom of Speech—A Review

A review of Theoterrorism versus Freedom of Speech: From Incident to Precedent by Paul Cliteur, Amsterdam University Press, 250 pages (February, 2019) You will probably not have heard of the “Rudi Carrell Affair.” Paul Cliteur writes that this episode is largely unknown to the English-speaking world, and yet it changed history and marked the beginning of something new—the “theoterrorist suppression of free speech.” Carrell was a Dutch-born entertainer who hosted popular shows in Germany from the 1960s to the 1980s that reached 20 million people. Rudi’s Tagesshow (1981–87) lampooned famous personalities and politicians, including Willy Brandt, Nancy Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Helmut Kohl, and Margaret Thatcher. The episode transmitted on Sunday, February 15, 1987, included a short sketch in which women were shown throwing their underwear at Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini: While lampooning international figures—including the pope—was acceptable under the umbrella of freedom of expression, Carrell was about to discover that the same rules did not apply to a major figure of Islam. As Cliteur states: It is my claim that with this specific television fragment the …

Straw Men and Viewpoint Manicheanism

The fallacy of special pleading—also known as the double standard—occurs when one offers a special excuse for one’s own violation of a standard that one continues to apply to others. At a buffet, one person says to another, “Let’s stock up before all the hoarders get here,” as if preemptive hoarding is different from hoarding. This move resembles the fundamental attribution error, which occurs when one attributes the negative behaviors of others to fundamental features of their character, while attributing one’s own negative behaviors to circumstantial factors. When opposing parties adopt these attitudes toward one another’s views, a vicious cycle results: Each “side” sees the other’s behavior as evidence of evil, and their own behavior as justified on the ground that we good folks must defend ourselves against them. This suboptimal and highly contagious cognitive condition, which unfortunately characterizes much of our contemporary political landscape, is what I’ll call “Viewpoint Manicheanism.” People on the collectivist Left often discount the evils historically associated with socialism, attributing them to totalitarianism or dictatorship, while attributing the evils historically …

Rationalizing Modern Drug Prejudices

Congressman Jared Polis: Is crack worse for a person than marijuana? DEA Agent Michele Leonhart: I believe all illegal drugs are bad for you. Congressman Jared Polis: Is methamphetamine worse for somebody’s health than marijuana? DEA Agent Michele Leonhart: I don’t think any illegal drug is good for you. Congressman Jared Polis: Is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana? DEA Agent Michele Leonhart: Again, all drugs. Congressman Jared Polis:  I mean either ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘I don’t know.’ I mean if you don’t know you can look at this up. You should know this as the Chief Administrator of the DEA. I’m asking you a straightforward question, is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana? DEA Agent Michele Leonhart: All illegal drugs are bad. *   *   * How dangerous are different substances compared with each other, and do the laws get it right in banning some substances but not others? This question is not as immediately answerable as it might seem. For a start, no final and absolute answer can ever be given to …

Against Literalism—’The Satanic Verses’ Fatwa at 30

I have written elsewhere about the fatwa issued 30 years ago by a sinister religious cleric commanding the world’s Muslims to murder the writer and everyone involved in the publication of The Satanic Verses. But the best way to repudiate the authoritarian, constricted, literal mindset is by celebrating its opposite. And so, with as little mention as possible of the events the publication of The Satanic Verses engendered, what follows is simply an appreciative analysis of that extraordinarily epic, satirical, ironic, and multifaceted novel. Salman Rushdie is one of the finest writers of recent times, whose work celebrates hybridity and intermingling of culture over narrow-minded puritanism. This theme is at the heart of The Satanic Verses, as suggested by the questions posed near the beginning of the novel: “How does newness come into the world? Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made?” These questions are asked as the two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, fall from the sky above the English Channel after the hijacked plane they were travelling in is torn apart …

How (and Why) to KISSASS

On June 29, the New York Times published an essay entitled “I’ve Picked My Job Over My Kids,” in which lawyer and law professor Lara Bazelon wrote movingly about her professional life, how much personal satisfaction she derives from it, and how it gives meaning to her days. In fact, she likes her job so much that she often misses out on important milestones in her children’s lives—several birthday parties, two family vacations, three Halloweens, and so on. “I prioritize my work because I’m ambitious and because I believe it’s important,” Bazelon wrote. “If I didn’t write and teach and litigate, a part of me would feel empty.” In January, Meghan Daum, a columnist for the L.A. Times and a teacher at Columbia University, told an interviewer, “Even now when I teach there’s just something about it. When I’m in the classrooms, I feel like this is where I’m meant to be.” Back in 2012, Jeff Bercovici wrote an article for his employer, Forbes magazine, entitled “Here’s Why Journalism Is The Best Job Ever,” in which he raved about …

China and the Difficulties of Dissent

Over the last couple of weeks, a small but dedicated band of free speech advocates at the University of Queensland (UQ) have managed to catch the attention of the international media with their protests against the Chinese government. The struggles of the protest organisers have a significance far beyond university campuses, as the recent media attention devoted to China’s influence over our politicians, technology, infrastructure, and educational programs demonstrates. The recent campus protests provide a timely reminder of the difficulties of dissenting from the entrenched orthodoxy that China’s rise is benign or even beneficial for Australia and the wider West. The Rise of Fascist China It is important to understand that China is a fascist dictatorship. The term “fascist” is now thrown around with such carelessness that it has lost most of its meaning outside the offices of a few historians or political science professors. But fascism, in its original early twentieth century incarnation, meant a political system defined by three attributes—authoritarianism, ethnonationalism, and an economic model in which capitalism co-existed with large state-directed industries …

How Feminism Paved the Way for Transgenderism

In the last decade, in many parts of the English-speaking world, transgender advocacy has made substantial, and at times, expansive gains, with trans rights becoming embedded in institutions and enforced by the state. Like any significant historical event, this gender revolution has multiple causes. One is digital technology, providing virtual worlds which transcend physical reality and online networks for spreading activism. Another is academic theory: postmodernism and queer theory. I want to make the less obvious argument that transgenderism has been promoted by feminism. Not all feminism, of course. From the start of the second wave, some radical feminists opposed the inclusion of male-to-female transsexuals under the general heading of “women.” Their argument culminated in Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire (1979): “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact.” Transsexualism, she observed, was the creation of medical men like John Money and Harry Benjamin. As the current wave of transgenderism was building at the beginning of the 21st century, a handful of radical lesbian feminists warned that it was detrimental …

Empiricism and Dogma: Why Left and Right Can’t Agree on Climate Change

As a climate scientist, I often hear puzzled complaints about the political polarization of the public discussion about anthropogenic global warming. If it is an empirical and scientific matter, such people ask, then why is opinion so firmly divided along political lines? Since it tends to be the political Right that opposes policies designed to address and mitigate global warming, responsibility for this partisanship is often placed solely on the ideological stubbornness of conservatives. This is a theme common to research on political attitudes to scientific questions. Division is often studied from the perspective of researchers on the Left who, rather self-servingly, frame the research question as something like: “Our side is logical and correct, so what exactly makes the people who disagree with us so biased and ideologically motivated?” I would put books like Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality in this category. Works like The Republican Brain correctly point out that those most dismissive of global warming tend to be on the Right, but they incorrectly assume that …

Dignity—A Review

A review of Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade. Sentinel, 304 pages (June, 2019) Chris Arnade began his career not long after Michael Lewis retired from bond trading to write his 1989 memoir Liar’s Poker. A physics PhD from Johns Hopkins, Arnade was one of the highly educated new breed of traders, and managed to stay two decades instead of two years like Lewis. But he found his way (or was ushered) to the exit a few years after the mortgage-backed securities that Lewis wrote about blew up the financial system. The financial crisis caused Arnade to reevaluate his life and to begin chronicling inequality and poverty in America as a journalist. In parts travelogue, sociological observation, and personal memoir, Arnade presents his work as written articles and pictures, and the end result is reminiscent of Jacob Riis’s nineteenth century classic How the Other Half Lives. Arnade’s new book is called Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America, and, within its pages, Arnade shows the explanatory limitations of the spreadsheets he …

Why isn’t Jordan Peterson on This List of the World’s Top Fifty Intellectuals?

Prospect magazine was founded in 1995 by David Goodhart. From the beginning the focus was predominantly on politics and social issues, though Goodhart also ensured a high standard of reporting on literature, the arts, popular culture and science. For many years the magazine was essential reading among London intellectuals. Its point of view was center-left, and broadly liberal, like that of most Establishment British journalists and academics. Readers were assumed to be cosmopolitan, internationalist and more or less progressive. Still, they were respectful of institutions, friendly to capitalism and basically tolerant of religion. Prospect stood out from other major English intellectual journals and general magazines in its familiarity with the social sciences, particularly sociology and economics. The editorial position was never partisan. For the first decade and a half of its existence Prospect was often wrongly thought of as a ‘New Labour’ house organ. True, Gordon Brown wrote for it in 2009 when he was still Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But contributors included the conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, the Conservative Party MP …