All posts filed under: Recommended

Progressivism and the West

The biggest threat to Western civilization is posed not by other civilizations, but by our own pusillanimity—and by the historical ignorance that feeds it. ~Niall Ferguson I was wrong. For a long time, I considered the loose collection of ideas and assumptions I will call “progressivism” to be a regrettable but mostly tolerable side effect of affluence. This quasi-ideology—espoused by prominent progressives from the academy and Vox to Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren—holds that, inter alia: (1) All demographic groups are roughly equal on all socially valued traits; (2) racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry are ubiquitous; (3) almost all demographic disparities are caused by unfair discrimination; (4) diversity is an unalloyed good; and (5) there are many bigots who stand in the way of social progress, but eventually history will redeem the noble and we will inhabit a just society. Wealth frees a person from immediate survival concerns and therefore increases the importance of symbolic identities. And this, coupled with youth’s natural affinity for rebellion, almost inevitably leads to at least a passing phase …

Why Renewables Can’t Save the Planet

When I was a boy, my parents would sometimes take my sister and me camping in the desert. A lot of people think deserts are empty, but my parents taught us to see the wildlife all around us, including hawks, eagles, and tortoises. After college, I moved to California to work on environmental campaigns. I helped save the state’s last ancient redwood forest and blocked a proposed radioactive waste repository set for the desert. In 2002, shortly after I turned 30, I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to addressing climate change. I was worried that global warming would end up destroying many of the natural environments that people had worked so hard to protect. I thought the solutions were pretty straightforward: solar panels on every roof, electric cars in every driveway, etc. The main obstacles, I believed, were political. And so I helped organize a coalition of America’s largest labor unions and environmental groups. Our proposal was for a $300 billion dollar investment in renewables. We would not only prevent climate change but also …

How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting

I am a Classics Ph.D. who recently attended the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS—formerly the American Philological Association), a yearly conference that provides papers on classical subjects and interviews for academic positions. I now regret doing so since some remarks I made at the conference led to me being branded a “racist” and the loss of my editing job with the Association of Ancient Historians. I don’t usually attend because of the expense—I’m an independent scholar and cannot rely on universities for reimbursement. But it seemed like a good idea to go since the weather is always nice in San Diego. A bonus was the USS Midway, now a floating museum. The Midway, a World War II-era aircraft carrier that served as the command center for the bombing of Bagdad during the Gulf War, is well worth visiting. On January 5 I decided to attend panel #45, a “Sesquicentennial Workshop”—it was the 150th anniversary of the SCS—titled “The Future of Classics.” It was described in the meeting program as “an …

What My Days as a Marxist Taught Me About Modern Political Cults

There was a time when Das Kapital was my bible. It sits on one of the bookshelves that line my living room, alongside other artifacts from my youthful foray into Marxism. The front cover is worn, the pages slightly frayed. For years, I returned to those words, chewing slow on arguments unspooled in archaic prose about labour-power and the appropriation of surplus-value. I was certain I’d found the key to understanding the modern world; a truth so pure it would end the oppression of man by man. I’ve thought often about that sense of certainty in the years since. I turn the memories over in my mind, amazed at my erstwhile fervency. The sense that I, a teenager and later a young man, had found the answer to what ails the world in a text of political economy published in 1867….That hubris, in retrospect, is shocking. Although I would have protested the idea then, it’s become clear to me that my former sense of conviction was a secularized form of faith. My pretense to holding …

A Witch-Hunt on Instagram

“Knitting is just so white. Let’s hope it gets better.” I overheard this puzzling remark in my local yarn store in Edinburgh, Scotland, last week. The store is in the affluent area of Marchmont, just outside the city centre. Its Edwardian and Victorian tenement flats, adjacent to huge green spaces, are popular with students and families alike. Two customers were chatting to the store owner: “It’s about time we had the conversation,” one of them offered. Her companion nodded in solemn agreement. Knitting, which helps lower the blood pressure and keep the mind busy, has enjoyed an upsurge in popularity in recent years. The Internet has allowed for the proliferation of new platforms from which to buy yarn and patterns, and has helped connect artisans and hobbyists worldwide. Usually, it’s a calming and creative pastime focussed on aesthetics rather than politics. However, a short browse through the knitting posts on Instagram steered me in the direction of the source of the exchange I had overhead and the “conversation” it had produced. On January 7, Karen …

Public Education’s Dirty Secret

Bad teaching is a common explanation given for the disastrously inadequate public education received by America’s most vulnerable populations. This is a myth. Aside from a few lemons who were notable for their rarity, the majority of teachers I worked with for nine years in New York City’s public school system were dedicated, talented professionals. Before joining the system I was mystified by the schools’ abysmal results. I too assumed there must be something wrong with the teaching. This could not have been farther from the truth. Teaching French and Italian in NYC high schools I finally figured out why this was, although it took some time, because the real reason was so antithetical to the prevailing mindset. I worked at three very different high schools over the years, spanning a fairly representative sample. That was a while ago now, but the system has not improved since, as the fundamental problem has not been acknowledged, let alone addressed. It would not be hard, or expensive, to fix. Washington Irving High School, 2001–2004 My NYC teaching career began …

Twelve Scholars Respond to the APA’s Guidance for Treating Men and Boys

Introduction — John P. Wright, Ph.D. John Paul Wright is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati. He has published widely on the causes and correlates of human violence. His current work examines how ideology affects scholarship. Follow him on Twitter @cjprofman. Thirteen years in the making, the American Psychological Association (APA) released the newly drafted “Guidelines for Psychological Practice for Boys and Men.” Backed by 40 years of science, the APA claims, the guidelines boldly pronounce that “traditional masculinity” is the cause and consequence of men’s mental health concerns. Masculine stoicism, the APA tells us, prevents men from seeking treatment when in need, while beliefs rooted in “masculine ideology” perpetuate men’s worst behaviors—including sexual harassment and rape. Masculine ideology, itself a byproduct of the “patriarchy,” benefits men and simultaneously victimizes them, the guidelines explain. Thus, the APA committee advises therapists that men need to become allies to feminism. “Change men,” an author of the report stated, “and we can change the world.” But if the reaction to the APA’s guidelines is …

Liberal Orthodoxy and the New Heresy

I teach college in a small city in Arkansas, deep in the American Bible Belt. I am a historian of Africa and in my department that means that I also teach a world history survey. I always start with the expansion of modern humans out of Africa and their encounter with other types of humans: Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Denesovians and what seems like an ever-growing list of newly discovered human-like creatures. It’s less the case now, but when I started twenty years ago this part of the course was initially met with polite but firm resistance, which gradually gave way to a sort of furtive curiosity. I eventually realized that even my cleverest students knew very little about human evolution except that it was false and that they were supposed to reject it. They came to the university having been taught that evolution was part of a larger attack on their faith and values, but they had never really been exposed to anything but a sort of parody version of it. A small number of …

The Bolivarian God That Failed

The day after Venezuela’s National Assembly voted to declare its president, Juan Guaidó, interim President of the Republic, I received a text from a former friend. “If the U.S. topples Vz [Venezuela],” he wrote, “I will hold you responsible.” I would have been happy to accept this responsibility had I done anything important enough to deserve it. But the idea was absurd and he knew it. If the Venezuelan regime falls—and I hope that it does—it won’t even be possible to credit (or blame) the United States. It is the Venezuelan people who finally are taking their destiny in hand and rejecting an intolerable status quo. The message was not a serious attempt to apportion responsibility for Venezuela’s current upheaval; it was an attempt to shame me for my treacherous betrayal of the Bolivarian cause. An early supporter of the Revolution, I had traveled to Venezuela in 2013 to cover the April presidential elections. By the time I returned to the US, I was disillusioned and depressed. I decided I needed to start writing and …

Why Do People Tell Me I’m Not Allowed to Write?

When I first started writing, it was on something of a dare. In 8th grade my friends and I ate lunch in the librarian’s office in the school library. We’d had enough of the cafeteria, with its cliques, nasty comments, and seating hierarchies. Since one of us worked in the library helping shelve books (it wasn’t me), we bought our ice creams and fries in the lunch line and hightailed it to the bright, lovely library that took up the center core of the building. Picture The Breakfast Club‘s library, but sized down for middle school. These library girls were badass. The wittiest, smartest, cattiest, snarkiest girls and I sat around the librarian’s conference table, and with the doors closed, we could say anything we wanted. What we mostly wanted to talk about would have gotten us into trouble in the lunch room, and one day Bree said we should write a story together, incorporating some of this material. I think it was Bree, but it might have been me. We took out some loose …