All posts filed under: Top Stories

The Subversive Simone Weil—A Review

A review of The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas, by Robert Zaretsky. The University of Chicago Press, 181 pages. (February 2021) “How much time do you devote each day to thinking?” That’s a strange question to ask a nurse from one’s hospital bed, but Simone Weil was no ordinary patient. On the contrary, philosopher, mystic, and, at that time, member of the Provisional French government in London, Weil was in every sense extraordinary. Praised by André Gide as the “patron saint of all outsiders,” known to her fellow students at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) as the “Categorical Imperative in skirts,” and dismissed by Charles de Gaulle as “a crazy woman,” Weil was certainly unusual. At once charmingly amusing and maddeningly irritating without meaning to be either, Weil was a bona fide eccentric. As T.S. Eliot pointed out, one detects no sense of humour in Weil. Candid to a fault and always in dogged pursuit of the Good, she believed that thinking is what gives us dignity and protects us from tyranny. …

Charles Murray’s ‘Facing Reality’—A Review

A review of Facing Reality: Two Truths about Race in America by Charles Murray. Encounter Books, 168 pages. (June, 2021) I’ve known about Charles Murray since 1994, when I was a voracious and unsupervised teen reader in rural Oregon grabbing the library’s latest issue of the New Republic the instant it was shelved. It was here that I stumbled upon the shocking views Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein expressed in The Bell Curve about race, class, and inequality in America. I didn’t give those views much deep thought at the time, and so my perception of Murray and his ideas hewed more or less to the dismissive conventional wisdom. It wasn’t until I read a 1998 essay in Commentary magazine by Christopher Chabris that I began to reconsider. Chabris argued that the media furor around The Bell Curve obscured more than it illuminated, and that the consensus among psychologists on the importance of intelligence to life outcomes was indeed close to what Murray and Herrnstein had asserted. To my surprise, in the 21st century, my relationship …

Listening to Literature—What We Gain and Lose with Audiobooks

I couldn’t finish Ulysses. This was 1994, the year after I’d graduated from Arizona State University with an English degree, and the year that my rock band started providing a living from playing gigs in Tempe. Both of these events left me divorced from a reading community I’d come to rely on since my junior college days in Moline, Illinois, when I took a class that required the reading of eight novels. I read those novels—which included A Clockwork Orange, The Awakening, 1984—found them more daring and provocative than anything in rock music, and started entertaining the idea that I too might write one someday. It would be 10 years after that class before I would quit my band and jump headfirst into novel writing. Until then, I was left with a music life that paid the bills but ultimately didn’t ask much from me, and a literary life that felt stalled—no more instructors leading me down the path of great literature; no more parsing the differences between romanticism, realism, and naturalism; no more Shakespeare …

Rescuing the Radicalized Discourse on Sex and Gender: Part Two of a Three-Part Series

Our choice of words affects the way we think. That’s why we spend so much time fighting over which terms to use, whether it’s “undocumented immigrants” versus “illegal aliens,” “foetuses” versus “unborn babies,” or “militants” versus “terrorists.” In recent years, the question of word choice has figured prominently in the activism of gender supremacists (as I described them in the first entry in this essay series), who seek to entirely replace biological sex with self-identified gender as a legal category. According to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, a priest’s blessing transforms the material substance of communion wafers and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ, even as the wafers and wine retain their outward appearance. Gender supremacists have a comparable doctrine—let’s call it transgenderation—by which the faithful must believe, literally, that “transwomen are women.” (It also demands that transmen are men, though it’s interesting to observe that the male-identified half of the trans community isn’t nearly so strident in its insistence on transgenderation as the female component.) I am not speaking figuratively here: …

The Insect Apocalypse That Never Was

For the past four years, journalists and environmental bloggers have been churning out alarming stories that insects are vanishing, in the United States and globally. Limited available evidence lends credence to reasonable concerns, not least because insects are crucial components of many ecosystems. But the issue has often been framed in catastrophic terms, with predictions of a near-inevitable and imminent ecological collapse that would break ecosystems, destroy harvests, and trigger widespread starvation. Most of the proposed solutions would require a dramatic retooling of many aspects of modern life, from urbanization to agriculture. Considering the disruptive economic and social trade-offs being demanded by some of those promoting the crisis hypothesis, it’s prudent to separate genuine threats from agenda-driven hyperbole. Are insect declines really threatening to precipitate a catastrophic ecological crisis? And, given the available data, what should a responsible society be doing? Roots of the crisis narrative The recent hyper-focus on insects can be traced back to a 2017 study conducted by an obscure German entomological society, which claimed that flying insects in German nature reserves …

The Philologist, the Iraqi Girl, and Me

I hadn’t bargained on the climate, especially not in the summer and especially not on the coast. That didn’t stop me from going ahead and doing what every self-respecting American college kid visiting Israel, such as Bernie Sanders, did back then—a stint of physical labor on a kibbutz. We’re speaking of June 1962. Eichmann’s ashes had just been dumped in the Mediterranean. Aware of this but not of a lot of other things, sporting horn-rimmed glasses, khakis, loafers, and button-down shirt, I washed ashore at a left-wing settlement halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv where the comrades worked at their own tile factory, in a banana plantation, and on the trawlers of quite an unpretentious little fishing fleet. Of course, I knew from reading that kibbutzim were socialist successes. But as I got up at the crack of that first dawn to ride a manure-spreader out to the bananas I had no idea that various parties and sects of Zionist socialists bickered over who was the most successful at making the vision come true, over …

The Ear Whisperers

Advisors to rulers, wrote Machiavelli in his Discourses, would achieve their best results by “putting their case with moderation instead of assuming responsibility for it, and by stating one’s views dispassionately and defending them alike dispassionately and moderately—so that, if the city or prince accepts your advice, he does so of his own accord, and will not be seen to have been driven to it by your importunity.” Advising rulers has been dangerous in past times, including Machiavelli’s. In the same essay (“On Giving Advice”), he instances the Turkish sultan, Selim, who invaded Syria and Egypt on the recommendation of his advisor, and though victorious, lost the greater part of his army to pestilence and famine. Furious, he had the advisor executed. Not giving advice could be as perilous. Perseus, king of Macedonia, was defeated in war against a Roman army, and escaped with just a few of his court. One of these began to tell the king (who could not have been in a good mood) that his defeat had been caused by the many …

The Rise of Post-Liberal Man

Ancient philosophers did not analyse political systems in terms of individual rights, distribution of powers, and legitimacy. Instead, they focused upon the kind of citizen that a specific regime-type produces, the virtues it inculcates, and the values it promotes. In the Republic, Plato speaks of “Democratic Man,” “Aristocratic Man,” and “Timocratic Man.” The very word “regime” is an English translation of politeia, a term that Plato uses to convey both a system of government and the way of life of a political community. On this view, far from a matter of procedure, politics becomes a way to shape the hearts, minds, and souls of citizens. In this sense, the ancient city-state constitutes a tutelary community that enshrines a definition of the good life, a pantheon of heroes, and a panoply of virtues. For centuries, this type of regime-analysis dominated political thought. From Polybius to Montesquieu, theorists would treat the political sphere as a nexus of laws and institutions, but also customs, habits, manners, and—most importantly—ways of life. This kind of regime-analysis disappeared with the rise …

The Faith of Systemic Racism

We hear constantly about the systemic racism coursing through America. Everything, we’re told, is shot through with hate. It does not matter if no white person ever has actually thought a hateful thought. The structure, or system, these innocents inhabit and profit from was designed by those who hated with abandon; the hate is baked into the edifice and walls and rooftops. It constitutes an architecture of oppression, and the persistence of that architecture amounts to an indictment of its beneficiaries. They’re fools or, more likely, willing participants who go to inordinate lengths to camouflage their complicity—Dean Armitage of Get Out declaring he would have voted for Barack Obama a third time while living on a latter-day plantation.  Of course, if a system is nefarious, it must be blown up, and the bricks and rubble must be redistributed to the politically favored, and anyone who opposes that—anyone who does not loudly and enthusiastically embrace the new dogma—must be a tool of white subjugation. This is the not so hermetic logic of most every blue-chip multinational, …

Silicon Valley’s Cynical Treatment of Asian Engineers

Silicon Valley runs on Asians. This is a well-known aspect of the tech world in general, but it’s especially apparent in elite sub-sectors. Even by 2010, Asian Americans already had become a majority (50.1 percent) of all tech workers in the Bay Area: software engineers, data engineers, programmers, systems analysts, admins, and developers. Census Bureau statistics from the same year put white tech workers at 40.1 percent. Other races made up, in total, slightly less than 10 percent. I interviewed a Facebook product manager fresh out of university. He interacts daily with teams of software engineers at Facebook, coordinating and leading projects, and getting them in line. Among the four teams of five or so software engineers he works with on a daily basis, he told me, 15 out of the 20 are Chinese. “I don’t mean Chinese-American,” he clarified. “I mean Chinese-Chinese, like from China.” These Chinese engineers largely speak Mandarin during work, making the company billions as they write code with machine-gun efficiency. Or, as he puts it: “We’re at an American social …