All posts filed under: Top Stories

Blame Modern Life for Political Strife

It’s hard to argue against the comforts of modernity. Avocado toast, fiber optics, Roombas. What’s not to love? Technological innovation and trade liberalization have yielded prosperity and stability. Poverty, infant mortality, and global hunger have fallen. Human development, life expectancy, and food production have risen. Compared to our ancestors, we’re the glitterati. But there are always tradeoffs. While urbanization and personal accumulation have enriched the West, they have also produced a culture of narcissism and illusion of time scarcity. This self-preoccupation and feeling of lost leisure time has reduced our participation in civic organizations. We’re engaging less with one another. And as a consequence, societal trust has dissipated. This has inhibited the development of common interests and shared identities, prompting a return to an archaic tribalism which prioritizes salient features over ideological values. You People are All the Same Imagine you were speaking to someone you’ve never met. Both of you are separated by a dark curtain to conceal appearances and voices have been distorted to obscure genders. The first and only thing they mention …

Reasons to Be Fearful

Editor’s note: The following excerpt is abridged from Chapter One of The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the Future of Liberalism by Russell Blackford (Bloomsbury Academic, October 18 2018, 240 pages).  I’m afraid. Like many people, I’m afraid to speak up and say exactly what I think. I’m afraid to contribute to public debate with total frankness. I’m more afraid of my allies than I am of opponents, since the latter can do me less harm (though if they’re so minded they can probably do enough!). I’m not afraid of my closest friends, the people who love me, who have my back and will keep my secrets, but it gets more frightening as soon as I step out into wider circles of colleagues and acquaintances. I come from a working-class family, and I grew up in an industrial city in Australia that was dominated at the time by its steelworks. I’m the first person from my family ever to attend university. I still have those connections, and I’ve inherited some blue-collar, trade-union values. But my social …

A Racial Shakedown in Portland

PORTLAND — In a 30-second video recorded on Oct. 28, a female pedestrian holding a bicycle helmet is seen making a phone call. She’s complaining about a car blocking a crosswalk on a busy street in Portland, Ore. The phone call ends and the car’s occupants—a young black man and woman—walk up to her and take her to task for reporting them. Some angry words are directed at the bicyclist by the man—“go back to your f—ing neighborhood”—and then the video ends. If this encounter had unfolded in a normal part of the world, this would be where the story ends: Just another squabble in the battle between drivers and non-drivers over public space. But Portland is not normal. This is a city where antifa mobs are allowed to set up roadblocks and mob elderly drivers, all with the mayor’s apparent acquiescence.   The latest, above-described victim is a 28-year-old white woman who was captured on video during a phone call with the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s non-emergency parking hotline. The car belonged to Rashsaan Muhammad, …

As a Toronto Mob Brays, David Frum and Steve Bannon Joust over Populism’s Split Soul

It’s always gratifying when real life actors conspire to validate claims that an author makes in the abstract realm. Thus did I experience a blush of pundit’s pride upon observing the protestors who assembled in downtown Toronto in advance of Steve Bannon’s Munk Debate with David Frum on Friday night. Just days before, I had noted progressives’ now-epidemic habit of labeling everyone they dislike as a—real, not figurative—Nazi. And now, just days later, here I was, in a security line outside Roy Thomson Hall, surrounded by hundreds of protestors declaring Bannon to be a Nazi, and we audience members to be on moral par with Hitler’s followers. Some of the placards betrayed signs of haste—including signs held up by a couple that read, “Fuck You Nazis,” and “Nazis, Get Fucked,” on matching sides of a grease-stained pizza box. But the sentiment came through loud and clear: It’s 1933. Which side are you on? Fortunately, the scene inside the debate hall—where 2,800 audience members had assembled to see Frum and Bannon debate the resolution, “The future …

A Mania for All Seasons: The Continuing Importance of ‘The Devils of Loudun’

There are many people for whom hate and rage pay a higher dividend of immediate satisfaction than love. Congenitally aggressive, they soon become adrenalin addicts, deliberately indulging their ugliest passions for the sake of the ‘kick’…Knowing that one self-assertion always ends by evoking other and hostile self-assertions, they sedulously cultivate their truculence…Adrenalin addiction is rationalized as Righteous Indignation and finally, like the prophet Jonah, they are convinced, unshakably, that they do well to be angry. These words first appeared in 1952, in the pages of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun. While many of Huxley’s works are better known and more widely read, there may be no text, past or present, more relevant to our turbulent era than this account of a seventeenth century witch trial. Huxley composed this passage to shed light on the mind of a thoroughly unlikeable individual by the name and title of Father Urban Grandier, in particular. But he also offered it as a more general analysis of the mindset afflicting those who burned Grandier to death—with the approval of …

Trigger Warnings and Mass Psychogenic Illness

Contrary to the tradition of free inquiry, many college students now demand the suppression of ideas they find offensive. As if to raise the stakes by transforming the issues in play into medical ones, many also claim that such ideas traumatize them. Implying as it does that offensive material doesn’t just insult decency or pollute the public realm but wounds the very psyche of those exposed to it, the term “trauma” as deployed by the critics of free inquiry has indeed taken the argument to a new level. What are we to make of the contention that students are so vulnerable that the syllabus of a lit course should carry a “trigger warning” to the effect that their psyches might suffer damage merely as a result of the reading? A medical argument calls for a medical reply. Suppose rumors begin to circulate in a small town that the insulation stuffed into local walls and attics contains a toxic substance. Literally surrounded by toxicity, the residents begin to report symptoms like nausea, headache, dizziness and poor …

An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt—A Review

A review of An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt by Pascal Bruckner. Polity (November 2018), 204 pages. It is embarrassingly easy to write about the collapse of the Left in the twenty-first century. The explosion in identity politics that has led to the automatic use of “white” as an ethnic insult in condemnations such as “white privilege” and “white, straight men” has made race as defining a factor in left-wing politics as it is in extreme right-wing politics. Meanwhile, the willingness to excuse antisemitsm, misogyny, tyranny, and obscurantism, as long as the antisemitic, misogynistic, tyrannical obscurantists are anti-Western, has called into question whether leftists—or at least the noisiest voices on the Left—have lost all connection to their better values. I have said as much many times, and in his new book the French political theorist Pascal Bruckner says it again. Bruckner once struck me as the best the French intelligentsia had to offer. In 2007, he provoked an intellectual scandal with the “Racism of the Anti-Racists”, an essay for Sign and Sight, in which he excoriated liberals who denied Ayaan Hirsi Ali …

The Gulag Archipelago: A New Foreword by Jordan B. Peterson

Editor’s note: The following essay is Jordan B. Peterson’s new foreword to the new edition of The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Penguin, November 2018, 544 pages).  Reproduced with the kind permission of the author. Once we have taken up the word, it is thereafter impossible to turn away: A writer is no detached judge of his countrymen and contemporaries; he is an accomplice to all the evil committed in his country or by his people. And if the tanks of his fatherland have bloodied the pavement of a foreign capital, then rust-colored stains have forever bespattered the writer’s face. And if on some fateful night a trusting Friend is strangled in his sleep—then the palms of the writer bear the bruises from that rope. And if his youthful fellow citizens nonchalantly proclaim the advantages of debauchery over humble toil, if they abandon themselves to drugs, or seize hostages—then this stench too is mingled with the breath of the writer. Have we the insolence to declare that we do not answer for the evils of today’s …

Nazis: A Modern Field Guide

In the Fall of 1943, as American troops were working their way northward through Italy, U.S. commanders were doing their best to address a basic problem of military intelligence: troops in the field couldn’t tell different kinds of German troops and weapons apart. This could have life or death consequences: An American squad armed with a bazooka could stand fast against a thinly armoured halftrack, but had little chance of harming the heaviest German tanks. Likewise, GIs had to be far more careful when fighting elite German infantry units than with the conscripts and armed prisoners from the eastern front that the Wehrmacht threw into the field as the conflict wore on. And so the U.S. War Department produced a 400-page book called Handbook on German Military Forces, with the purpose of giving officers and enlisted men “a better understanding of their principal enemy.” A set of colour plates within the book show German soldiers in a variety of uniform styles and poses, from the Continental uniform style seen in most war movies, to tropical …

On God and Politics: Comparing Žižek and Peterson

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? ~Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science Religion has long played …