All posts filed under: Top Stories

Why Has Kamala Harris’s Campaign Fizzled?

For Democrats, the current 2020 election cycle is perhaps the most important in modern history. For the party faithful, unseating Trump—a man Democrats consider to be the worst President in modern history—has become the overriding concern, even eclipsing the party’s lively policy debate. One rising star, and a politician many considered would give the President a run for his money, is the junior senator from California, Kamala Harris. Superficially, Harris looks like the party’s dream candidate. She is a woman—an asset to a party animated by gender politics, concerns about diversity and still reeling from the #MeToo movement. She is also an ethnic minority (her mother is Indian, her father is Jamaican), another box ticked for a party which draws considerable support from non-whites. Her former life as a prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney and California state attorney would be a dangerous match-up for the unscrupulous Trump, who has spent more time than most avoiding a court room. Having been a senator since 2016, she is already a national political figure. She has also proved …

How the Trans-Rights Movement Is Turning Philosophers Into Activists

On July 3, I received an innocuous-seeming email from the Digital Content Editor of a London-based arts organization called the Institute for Art and Ideas. She asked if I might set out my views on the question, “How can philosophy change the way we understand the transgender experience and identity?” As the expected response was supposed to be only 200 words in length, the task didn’t seem particularly demanding. So I agreed, and sent along a brief answer in which I focused on the now common assumption that everyone has a “gender identity.” I provided some (necessarily) brief objections to the concept as it is currently being advanced by some trans rights activists, and ended by commenting that philosophers can help people to “understand what a gender identity might be, and whether it’s a fitting characteristic to replace sex in law.” The gender wars in philosophy had been heated since May, igniting with University of Sussex philosopher Kathleen Stock’s Medium post asking why academic philosophers—feminist philosophers, in particular—weren’t contributing to the discussion about Britain’s Gender …

Michel Houellebecq: Populism’s Prophet

In the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, more newspaper op-eds and opinion pieces in magazines catering to the “well-informed public” have been written about the populist phenomenon than any other topic. Populism has been unpacked, dissected, defined, and analysed, and the results have all been discouraging. Identifying the cause or causes of populism is no simple matter. Does populism stem from dissatisfaction with the economy, immigration, or some combination of issues? When surveys are taken of populist voters, these broad categories are used to determine the reason for a voter’s decision. Lost in these statistical analyses of populism, however, is any real understanding of the lives and motivations of the individuals who end up making political decisions. In an age of ubiquitous scientific polling and surveying, of commentary and opinion, it is curious that perhaps the most powerful and accurate examination of the forces behind the modern populist groundswell should come from a French novelist. In the press, Michel Houellebecq has held the distinction of being France’s literary, right-wing enfant terrible. …

In the U.S. Campus Speech Wars, Palestinian Advocacy Is a Blind Spot

In 2015, a group of undergraduates applied to establish Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as a club at Fordham University in New York City. In accordance with the school’s policies, the students submitted paperwork stating that their goal was to “build support in the Fordham community among people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds for the promotion of justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for the indigenous Palestinian people.” The applicants also stated that the club would participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In 2016, Fordham’s Dean of Education denied the club’s application on the grounds that it would likely be polarizing, singling out its support for BDS. The students took Fordham to court. In August, a New York judge struck down the Dean’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious.” The court’s verdict was a win for the Fordham students. But the fact that setting up their club required four years and a lawsuit is telling. As the judge noted, Fordham has clear rules about creating clubs, and they don’t …

Diet Reporting—the Real Fake News

No one would choose to study diet as a way to understand the way humans metabolize food. Effects are delayed, often for years. Experimentation is usually impossible for ethical and practical reasons—subjects cannot be sacrificed and dissected to see the physiological effects of different food regimens. And much better methods are available to study how food is processed by the body. On the other hand, people are very interested in what they should eat. There is a huge market for ‘diet science.’ Diet Reporting Should Go on a Diet The New York Times once had a reputation as the “paper of record,” a reliable, if left-of-center, source of information. I’m not sure it’s ever been reliable when it comes to diet. In an article published on 26th August headlined ‘Our Food Is Killing Too Many of Us’ (should our food be killing just the right number?), the paper recounts a list of ‘facts’ and prescriptions about how Americans—indeed, everybody—should change their diet in order to prolong their lives. The article is written by two dietary …

‘I Basically Just Made It Up’: Confessions of a Social Constructionist

If I had known, 20 years ago, that my side in the ideological wars over gender and sex was going to win so decisively, I would have been ecstatic. Back then, I spent many evenings at the pub or at dinner parties debating gender and identity with other graduate students; or, really, anyone who would listen—my mother-in-law, my relatives, or just a random person unlucky enough to be in my presence. I insisted that there was no such thing as sex. And I knew it. I just knew it. Because I was a gender historian. This was, in the 1990s, the thing to be in history departments across North America. Gender history—and then gender studies, more generally, across the academy—was part of a broader group of identity-based sub-disciplines that were taking over the liberal arts. History departments across the continent were transformed. When the American Historical Association surveyed the trends among major fields of specialization in 2007, and then again in 2015, the single largest field was women’s and gender history. This was right up …

Understanding America’s Cultural and Political Realignment

Understanding American politics has become increasingly confusing as the old party labels have lost much of their meaning. A simplistic Left vs. Right worldview no longer captures the complexity of what’s going on. As the authors of the October 2017 “Pew Survey of American Political Typologies” write, “[I]n a political landscape increasingly fractured by partisanship, the divisions within the Republican and Democratic coalitions may be as important a factor in American politics as the divisions between them.” To understand our politics, we need to understand the cultural values that drive it. The integral cultural map developed by philosopher Ken Wilber identifies nine global cultural value systems including the archaic (survival), tribal (shaman), warrior (warlords and gangs), traditional (fundamentalist faith in God), modern (democracy and capitalism), and postmodern (world-centric pluralism). When combined with Pew’s voter typologies, Wilber’s cultural levels offer a new map of America’s political landscape. Of Wilber’s nine global value systems, the Traditional, Modern, and Postmodern categories are most useful to understanding our moment. Traditional culture values disciplined adherence to assigned gender and social …

There is No ‘Gay Gene,’ but Sexuality is Affected by Many Genes of Small Effect

The authors of an international research project into the genetics of same-sex behaviour recently reported their findings, and created a minor media stir. The international team of researchers looked at DNA markers and data from surveys of sexual behaviour completed by over 400,000 UK Biobank participants, as well as 69,000 users of 23andMe, and found five genetic markers associated with same-sex behaviour. The authors concluded that genetics can explain between 8 percent and 25 percent of the variation in same-sex sexual behaviour. A debate over the extent to which human sexuality is linked to genetics, if at all, has been going on since at least 1993, when a controversial study appeared to find that some people have a genetic predisposition to homosexuality, and gave rise to the concept of the “gay gene.” The idea that a single gene might be responsible for sexual behaviour—or, indeed, any other psychological trait—has since been discredited and we now know that human behaviour is influenced by many genes, each having a small effect. The media coverage of the recent …

Greece: Tensions Rise Again As Migrant Crisis Escalates

For debt-stricken Greece, the migrant crisis is hardly over. The new center-right government is grappling with a surge in migration and deteriorating conditions in the country’s asylum centers. Migration in the Mediterranean has increased in recent weeks to the highest level since the EU-Turkey deal in March, 2016, and Greece is back to being the main entry point for hopeful migrants. So far this year, some 36,000 people have entered the country through its sea and land borders, already surpassing last year’s influx of roughly 32,000. By contrast, the other two European frontline countries, Spain and Italy—both economically and politically less fragile than Greece—have received a total of 26,000 migrants together in 2019. The situation could escalate even further; Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatens to re-open the route for migrants into Europe, if he does not receive adequate international support for his plan to resettle one million asylum seekers from Turkey to northern Syria. (Turkey has nearly 4 million Syrians, by far the biggest group of refugees.) Meanwhile, conditions are worsening at Greek asylum centers. …