All posts filed under: Recommended

War at the Tip of a Rhino Horn

Giraffe and zebra scatter as the shadow of our helicopter passes over Kruger Park. Treetops whip and hornbills fly away. We are low now, and begin to circle as nearby elephants trumpet in defiance. A Ranger called Neels pulls the starboard helo door open and leans out with his gun. Our headsets are full of chatter, and everyone’s in a hurry. It’s been a full hour since a local Ranger reported hearing the shot—a .458, popular among rhino poachers. By now, it’s likely the poachers already have cut the rhino’s face and taken the horn. And then we see it, between the Ironwood and Marula trees: a mother and calf. The mother is dead, but her horn is intact, the poachers having been scared off before we’d approached. The surviving calf, a young male, nuzzles his dead mother for protection from the helicopter. Rhino calves are known to stay by their mother even as hyenas eat her body from the inside out. This was at least the fourth such call received today by Rangers at …

David Gelernter is Wrong About Ditching Darwin

I’ve never been one to judge somebody’s arguments by their scholarly credentials. After all, two major contributors to my own field of evolutionary genetics, Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin, were amateur naturalists and autodidacts trained more thoroughly in theology than in biology. So when well-known Yale professor and computer scientist David Gelernter rejected Darwinian evolution in his recent essay, ‘Giving Up Darwin,’ we can’t dismiss him simply because he’s not a biologist. Nor can we ignore his arguments because the piece appeared in a conservative journal, the Claremont Review of Books. No, we must attack his arguments head on, especially because they’ve been widely parroted by the media, as well as by conservative, religious, and intelligent-design (ID) websites. Sadly, his arguments are neither new nor correct. Gelernter’s claim—that evolution as envisioned by Darwin (and expanded into “neo-Darwinism” since the 1930s) cannot explain features of organisms and of the fossil record—depends heavily on the arguments of ID creationists. And every one of those arguments has been soundly rebutted over the past few decades. While Gelernter doesn’t fully …

The Return to Archaic Forms of Power—An Interview with Marianne Stidsen

The #MeToo movement has had an exceptionally deep impact in the Scandinavian countries, says Marianne Stidsen, associate professor of literature at the University of Copenhagen and a member of the Danish Academy. Quillette’s Paulina Neuding spoke to her about her recent book The Nordic MeToo Revolution 2018 – And Its Negative Impact (U Press Denmark, 2019). Paulina Neuding: The Nordics are often regarded as hallmarks of gender equality – known, historically at least, for low levels of violence, progressive views on sexuality, and generous welfare provisions. Do you think that the egalitarian Nordics might have provided particularly fertile ground for a movement like #MeToo? Marianne Stidsen: The #MeToo movement has had an exceptionally deep impact in the Nordic countries – just think of the cancellation last year of the Nobel Prize in literature, one of Sweden’s most esteemed institutions. But I actually don’t think that the explanation lies simply in Scandinavian gender equality. It is like any other historic revolutionary movement – many factors have to coincide to cause this sudden social and political upheaval …

The Politics of Procreation

Throughout most of history, starting a family was a task that most people either aspired to or dutifully performed. Today, that is increasingly not the case—not only in Europe, Japan, Australia, or North America, but in the world’s most economically dynamic region, East Asia. The trend towards post-familialism, a society in which the family and marriage are no longer central to society, will reshape our politics, economy, and society in the decades ahead. Since 1960, the percentage of people living alone in the United States—where the percentage of Americans who are mothers is at its lowest in over three decades—has grown from 10 to 30 percent. Similar phenomena can be observed in virtually all wealthy countries; in Scandinavia 40 percent of the population lives alone. In Britain, the number of single parent households was 8 percent in 1970 but has now passed 25 per cent, while the percentage of children born outside marriage has doubled to 40 percent over the past three decades. Even East Asia is also now seeing the early signs of a …

A Letter From Hong Kong

The normal coexists with the brutal. Last Saturday, in Hong Kong, carefree expat children walk by my apartment building, holding party balloons as Puma police helicopters buzz overhead. Less than a mile away people are fired on with tear gas and water cannon spewing blue dye. I imagine that this is what it felt like in the last days of the Shah. My days are not usually surreal. I am a teacher at Lingnan University, a liberal arts college and the smallest of eight public universities in Hong Kong. I have lived and worked in Hong Kong for twenty years; my wife and I raised our two children here. We are foreigners, but with a deep attachment to this city and its people. The causes of the current turmoil will take years of research to understand properly. Historians will find these causes in the Chinese family, in the class structure, in demography, in generational change, in new forms of communication, in political society and in several other factors still opaque to us. But where are …

The Drayton Icon and Intellectual Vice

Some attacks are best absorbed, not fended off. Some accusations are best let past, not answered. Life is far too short to slap down every slight, and those of a determined ill will won’t be moved anyway. Besides, too thin a skin betrays a touchy insecurity that suggests the critic’s barbs have found their target. For those reasons, I have hesitated to respond to Richard Drayton’s essay, “Biggar vs Little Britain: God, War, Union, Brexit and Empire in Twenty-First Century Conservative Ideology,” which was published last month in a collection entitled, Embers of Empire in Brexit Britain.1 His assault is at once morally vicious and rationally weak. Moreover, it displays such an incontinent hostility that it’s doubtful anything I say would make an impression on him or his allies. Nevertheless, Drayton’s diatribe does reveal something important—not much about me, something about him, but mostly about the vices that fester in certain reaches of our universities, which serve to undermine rational dialogue and public norms of liberal civility. For that reason, I take up the cudgels …

Facebook Already Controls Our Information. Don’t Let It Control Our Commerce

In recent years, not a month has gone by without yet another unsettling exposé of Facebook’s content-moderation policies and corporate machinations. One report from February explained how Facebook moderators can end up believing the conspiracies they’re hired to weed out. In another case, Facebook’s top executives hired lobbyists to present some of its critics as extremists. Facebook’s platform and subsidiaries have even been linked to the incitement of genocide in Myanmar and deadly lynch mobs in India. Not so long ago, in the days when using proto-social media meant dialing up to a CompuServe or AOL chat room, we never could have imagined (those of us old enough to remember that time, at least) that the name of a company like Facebook would appear in the headlines of breaking stories about geopolitics. But in 2019, it’s an everyday occurrence. Facebook runs the world’s biggest social media platform. It also runs Instagram, the world’s second biggest social media platform, and several large messaging platforms, including WhatsApp. It has become perhaps the most important de-facto news-delivery platform …

How the Hong Kong Protestors’ Tactical Brilliance Backed Beijing into a Corner

Since Hong Kong’s momentous anti-extradition bill protest on June 9th, tensions between the protesters and the authorities have continued to escalate. The demonstration on August 12th which forced the closure of the Hong Kong International Airport suggests that the protesters are unlikely to back down anytime soon, even as the People’s Armed Police of the mainland Chinese government gathers forces in Shenzhen, preparing to possibly use violence to end the protests. The current conflict arose from the introduction of a bill allowing alleged criminals in Hong Kong to be extradited to China which is widely seen as a brash attempt to erode the “one country, two systems” principle. While the Hong Kong government has refused to meet the protesters’ 5 demands, likely under pressure from Beijing, the protesters have successfully forced Carrie Lam to suspend the extradition bill. Effectively killing the bill is a significant achievement, particularly considering the fact that Carrie Lam, at least to a significant degree, represents the interest of Beijing, which is firmly against legitimizing any kind of political opposition. One …

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,” …

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 …