All posts filed under: Right of Reply

The One-sided Worldview of Eco-Pessimists

This essay draws in part on the authors’ new book Population Bombed! Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change (Global Warming Policy Foundation, 2018). The Pull of Environmental Narratives In his critique of Hans Rosling’s optimistic take on the human condition (which Rosling co-authored with son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund),1 Christian Berggren scolds the late professor of international health for ignoring negative trends and for dodging the “preconditions and ecological consequences of the current techno-economic regime” as well as the risks inherent to “continued global population growth.” As Berggren further argues in the longer paper on which his Quillette essay is based, the Roslings illustrate the philosopher Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s apocryphal statement that “You do not see with your eyes; you see with your interests.” In this, he claims, the authors of Factfulness failed to present “the world and how it really is.” Are Berggren’s critique and worldview any more accurate? His facts and positions are squarely in the lineage of thinkers such as Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), William Vogt (1902–1968) and Paul …

A Reply to Nick Cohen

What’s eating Nick Cohen? That is what I found myself wondering as I read his intemperate review of my latest book. Cohen is, of course, perfectly within his rights to disagree with arguments he applauded when I made them ten years ago. But it should be possible to express a divergence of opinion in a courteous manner. Instead, I find myself accused of an ideological affinity with the European far-Right. In an inquisitorial tone, Cohen places me in the company of demagogues like Victor Orban, Matteo Salvini, and Marine Le Pen—a familiar illustration of the Left’s idle recourse to Godwin’s law: beyond a certain arbitrary threshold, any objection is enough to convict an opponent of Nazism. I am reproached for being insufficiently negative about Donald Trump, even though I devoted two pages to criticising him. Would ten pages have been enough to escape Cohen’s suspicions? Twenty? It ought to be obvious to anyone as familiar with my work as Cohen is that I dislike Orban, Salvini, and Le Pen as much as he does. But …

Moral Pollution In Place of Reasoned Critique

I was chief researcher and in-house editor for The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. In the book, we outline three misguided principles (“Great Untruths”) that form the foundation of the new moral culture we are seeing on some college campuses: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.  The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people. We also trace six explanatory threads—cultural trends and practices that explain why this new moral culture, which we call “safetyism,” seemed to emerge so rapidly between 2013 and 2015: Rising teen depression and anxiety. The damaging effects of overprotection and social media. The loss of play in childhood. The polarization of the country. New ideas about justice. The bureaucratization of higher education. As we compiled story after story, we noticed that rather than making counterarguments to disfavored claims, students (and sometimes professors) seemed to focus on discrediting the speaker or writer instead. They …

The Customer Is Not Always Right: A Reply to Elliot Berkman

It’s a disheartening time for academia. Our cloistered world is beset by a number of existential challenges. Many of our once-venerable institutions are suffering from mission drift, saddled with administrators who have no idea how to navigate interfering voices on all points of the political spectrum. At the same time, the university’s business model has been under pressure from disruptive online competitors whose products are becoming more sophisticated, more attractive to students, and cheaper, making the high cost of a university education increasingly difficult to justify. Wide swathes of the general public are losing faith in higher education, both for partisan and practical reasons. Here at Quillette, University of Oregon psychology professor Elliot Berkman recently offered an intriguing analysis of some of the self-defeating actions taken by academics. Berkman argues that academics need to take the social impact of scholarship more seriously, step out of our ivory towers with greater frequency, and otherwise work harder to earn the trust and respect of the broader world. We need to craft research that is more accessible and …

Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Reply To Aaron Hanlon

“Truth is Not Truth” ~Rudy Giuliani, Meet the Press, August 20, 2018 On August 31, the Washington Post published an interesting opinion piece entitled “Postmodernism Didn’t Cause Trump. It Explains Him” by Professor Aaron Hanlon, an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College. In his article, Professor Hanlon referred to my May 17 article for Quillette, “The Rise and Emergence of Postmodern Conservatism” as an example of a prominent tendency on to “blame” postmodernism for the rise of Trumpism. Hanlon describes this tendency at length midway through the article. I will quote him in full to avoid misrepresenting his position: Today, critics on both Left and Right are happy to wave their fingers at postmodern theory, so long as they can blame it for the Trump electorate’s unprecedented disregard for the truth. In Quillette—an online magazine obsessed with the evils of ‘critical theory’ and postmodernism—Matt McManus reflects on “The Emergence and Rise of Postmodern Conservatism.” From the Right, David Ernst contends that “Trump Is The First President To Turn Postmodernism Against Itself .” And from the Left, Kakutani recently wrote in the Guardian: “Relativism has …

In Defence of Critical Legal Theory: A Reply to Andrew Kelman

I read Andrew Kelman’s recent Quillette article “Beyond All Warnings: The Radical Assault on Truth in Law” with interest and some appreciation. Kelman characterises his article as an attack on ‘critical legal theory.’ Invoking Jordan Peterson, Kelman connects the emergence of critical legal theory in the law school with the broader academic fad of what Peterson has called “postmodern neo-Marxism.” These relativistic philosophies, Kelman argues, have undermined the belief that there can be neutrality and truth in any field, including the law. Drawing on postmodern philosophy, critical legal theorists and their followers, convinced that all law is about power, seek to use the legal system to redistribute power to those groups they feel have been traditionally marginalised in society. "Conservatives and classical liberals must unite to find a new way to end bigotry without the tribalism of extremist identity politics…Twenty years of increasing corruption in the law has passed, and we are now beyond all warnings." https://t.co/g5DyGRV32m — AndrewKelman (@TheUKDemocrat) April 3, 2018 Kelman argues that the influence of critical legal theorists has been pernicious. Under …

Deliberation Not Boundaries: A Reply to Wessie du Toit

In a Quillette piece entitled “Does Free Speech Need Boundaries to Survive?”, writer Wessie du Toit presents a case against what might be called free speech absolutism; that is, the position that no boundaries should ever be imposed on expression. In what follows, I will make a radical case for free speech absolutism, that goes beyond merely defending the principle. Let’s begin with du Toit’s own arguments. He makes a compelling case as to why we might have reached, or at least be approaching, the point at which liberal institutions are threatened by free speech: It wouldn’t be misleading to say that the greatest threat to free speech today comes from free speech itself. In particular, it comes from the sheer volume and chaotic nature of that speech. The current polarization of politics is rooted in an endless, sprawling argument about values taking place online – an argument that is now spilling over into demonstrations, acts of violence, and other culturally charged spectacles. He further explains how this poses a problem for free speech absolutism: …