All posts filed under: Spotlight

Princeton University is One of the Least Racist Institutions in the World

Reflecting on recent events in Princeton starting with the July 4th “Faculty Letter” to the president, Professor Joshua Katz’s reply in his Declaration of Independence, and all the brouhaha it has generated, I cannot help noticing the asymmetry of the situation. In today’s demonology, no epithets are more noxious than “racist” and “white supremacist.” They have largely replaced the previous most damning insults, “fascist” and “Nazi.” The epithet “terrorist” is also pretty high on the list, though less frequently used, and “Communist” never carried the same negative weight, at least not in academia, despite the mass killings and innumerable other crimes perpetrated by Communist regimes. The July 4th “Faculty Letter,” and the many ensuing declarations of support for it, accuse Princeton University of systemic racism and propose an array of measures to fix the problem—48 of them in total, which, if fully implemented, would radically transform and irreversibly wreck our university. Some of these recommendations are themselves overtly racist, such as giving special privileges to some faculty based on the color of their skin. In …

COVID-19 Will (Finally) Force American Universities to Reinvent Themselves

The COVID-19 pandemic’s full impact on higher education isn’t easy to predict. But it’s certain to extend past short-term decisions about whether to hold in-person classes during the coming academic year. Many universities may well be forced to lower tuition rates, as students balk at paying full freight for classes conducted by Zoom. As New York University business professor Scott Galloway put it in a magazine interview back in May, university officials who imagine that they will be able to charge last year’s rates for an even partly virtual experience are existing in a state of “consensual hallucination.” The phrase gave me a chuckle. But this is no laughing matter. Trustees of George Washington University, where I’ve had the pleasure of both studying and teaching, signaled their sense of urgency in a May 18th email blast to the entire university community, wherein they described the COVID-19 crisis as “an existential threat to all institutions of higher education.” The trustees called on the administration to look “beyond minor changes,” and bear in mind that “the status …

What the Right Gets Wrong about Social Justice Culture

When moral visions clash, it’s common for people to assume their opponents have bad motives rather than different perspectives. And it’s usually wrong. If you advocate some policy you believe will save lives, whether it’s a plan for fighting COVID-19, increasing health-care coverage, or reducing homicide, your opponents probably don’t oppose your plan because they want more people to die. They may think their own plan will save lives, or they may be concerned about other values entirely. You may very well have fundamental moral disagreements with them, but the thing you hate most about their position probably isn’t what’s driving them. We see this in the current debates over the new social justice movement. The critics of social justice activists sometimes talk as if what’s driving the activists is a kind of oversensitivity, as if they’re the equivalent of small children having tantrums to get attention. In 2016, for example, an Iowa state legislator introduced the “Suck It up, Buttercup” bill, which would have fined universities offering counseling and “cry rooms” to students upset …

The Hagia Sophia Should Remain a Beacon to All

On July 10th, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan undid the symbolic roots of his republic by declaring that the Hagia Sophia, a sixth-century Byzantine structure, would be converted from a museum to a mosque. The first Islamic service in the building is scheduled for July 24th. The international response was a mix of shock, resignation, and near universal condemnation. Most official government statements were somewhere between the United States (“disappointed”) and Greece (an “open provocation to the civilized world”). If the furor over a single museum strikes you as mystifying, consider the central role the Hagia Sophia has played for the last 1,500 years. Even from the beginning, it was far more than just a pile of brick and marble. It was a statement. A vision, both sacred and secular, for several different empires. The Hagia Sophia was the brainchild of a unique figure in history. At birth, Justinian was a nobody among nobodies in a grindingly poor part of what is today North Macedonia. By his mid-40s, he was a Byzantine emperor. His appetites were …

Liberal Democracies Should Open Their Doors to Hongkongers

A year ago in March 2019, riots broke out in Hong Kong over concerns that a Beijing-backed piece of legislation would allow Hongkongers to be extradited to mainland China. Fears are that the law would be used to target pro-democracy advocates and anyone critical of the Communist Party of China (CPC) regime; exposing them to the notorious injustice of the mainland Chinese courts. China has long maintained a conviction rate of over 99 percent, which to the naïve might look like an incredibly efficient justice system—so thorough in its criminal investigation that no charges are laid until guilt is virtually certain—but is in actuality an indication of government control over the judiciary where verdicts are decided before the trial even begins. This in contrast to the legal system in Hong Kong, which is based on common law inherited from the British, and includes all the familiar features we would recognize in our own legal systems such as, “equality before the law; freedom of movement; freedom of conscience and religious belief; freedom of speech; and privacy …

Why I Believe Climate Change Is Not the End of the World

The following is excerpted, with permission, from Michael Shellenberger’s new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, (HarperCollins 2020), 432 pages. The end is nigh If you scanned the websites of two of the world’s most-read newspapers on October 7th, 2018, you might have feared the end of the world was near. A headline in the New York Times said: “Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040.” Just below the bold headline was a photograph of a six-year-old boy playing with a dead animal’s bones. Said another headline in the Washington Post on the very same day: “The World Has Just Over a Decade to Get Climate Change Under Control, U.N. Scientists Say.” Those stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media outlets around the world were based on a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is a United Nations body of 195 scientists and other members from around the globe responsible for assessing science related to climate …

Meet Critical Theorists’ Latest Target: Critical Theorists

Ole Wæver, a professor of International Relations at the University of Copenhagen, would seem like an unlikely subject of academic controversy. He’s written extensively on Conflict Studies, and served as a member of the Danish Government’s Commission on Security and Disarmament Affairs, as well as the Danish Institute of International Affairs. He also is widely recognized as the co-founder of a discipline known as Securitization Theory, along with British international-relations professor Barry Buzan. “Securitisation theory shows us that national security policy is not a natural given, but carefully designated by politicians and decision-makers,” reads one introductory online text. “According to securitisation theory, political issues are constituted as extreme security issues to be dealt with urgently when they have been labelled as ‘dangerous,’ ‘menacing,’ ‘threatening,’ ‘alarming’, and so on by a ‘securitising actor’ who has the social and institutional power to move the issue ‘beyond politics.’ So, security issues are not simply ‘out there,’ but rather must be articulated as problems by securitising actors. Calling immigration a ‘threat to national security,’ for instance, shifts immigration from …

Pandemics and Pandemonium

Minneapolis and urban centers across America are burning, most directly in response to the brutal killing of a black man by a white Minnesota police officer. But the rage ignited by the death of George Floyd is symptomatic of a profound sense of alienation that has been building for years among millions of poor, working class urbanites. The already diminished prospects facing such people have only been worsened by the unforeseen onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies devised to combat it. Like earlier pandemics, the virus has devastated poorer communities, where people live in the most crowded housing, are forced to travel on public transport, and work in the most exposed “essential” jobs, most of which are badly paid. Unlike the affluent of Gotham, some 30 percent of whom were able to leave town and work remotely, the working class remained, forced to endure crowded conditions as the disease raged through the city. No surprise then that inhabitants of the impoverished Bronx have suffered nearly twice as many deaths from COVID-19 as those …

Do We Really Want a New Cold War?

Fear has been making some pretty foolish policy decisions in the last few months. In the US, the decision of several state governments to move patients infected with COVID-19 into nursing homes probably takes the prize, but a close runner-up would be Congress’s CARES act, which misguidedly paid the unemployed to stay unemployed. Trillions have been allocated to remediate the damage done by shuttering non-essential schools and businesses, but relatively little of that Niagara of dollars has made its way downstream to the small businesses and schools that have been most harmed by the lockdowns. As usual, our solons have been trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer. Fear has been giving no wiser advice on foreign policy. Politicians and commentators left and right have been competing to march us into a new Cold War. Hold the Chinese responsible! Sue them! Impound their US bank accounts! Uproot all our supply chains that pass through China! Show China who is boss in the South China Sea! Send Chinese students back to China before they can …

After the Virus: The Way We Live Next

How will we live, or be forced to live, after the pandemic? “I don’t know” is—according to Paul Collier, the famed development economist—the most honest answer to this question and others related to the cause, rise, treatment, and decline of the current pandemic. This is, after all, an unprecedented disease of rare speed and communicability, for which there is no cure and no agreed political and social response. Yet, contradicting himself within weeks, Collier wrote a similarly powerful essay in which he argued that centralisation had failed, and devolution from those who pronounce from on high to those who practice on the ground is necessary. Perhaps he was merely demonstrating that, in this maelstrom of conflicting arguments, no-one, no matter how distinguished, can wholly know his own mind from day to day. In any case, agnosticism is as unwelcome to journalism as it is to governance. And journalists, who operate under fewer constraints than governments, can at least consider some likely alternatives, while remaining alive to the possibility that unknown unknowns will continue to turn up, …