All posts filed under: Top Stories

The Language of Totalitarian Dehumanization

A week before the massive protests erupted in Cuba, I was celebrating Fourth of July at a friend’s house in Oakland, California, and listening to her tell me stories about her adventures there. She is a Jewish red diaper baby and today seems to identify as some sort of “libertarian socialist.” I found myself squirming as she enthused about the Left radicals she knows, and lamented the persecution of communists in the US. During the years of McCarthyite paranoia, American communists did indeed have their reputations, careers, and occasionally their lives ruined. A few were sent to prison, and in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for Stalin and executed. I wanted to point out that the persecution of communists by communists during the Cold War was far worse, and that the Rosenbergs were in fact guilty, unlike the millions of people murdered or worked to death in Gulags by Stalin for allegedly operating as Trotskyist or Western agents or spies. Still, I was a guest in my friend’s home, so I …

The Strange Rehabilitation of the Black Panther Party

Isn’t it a little late for the rehabilitation of the Black Panther Party (BPP)? After all, the organization that first caught the public’s attention in 1969 was already in its death throes by the early 1970s, beset by internal splits, criminal prosecutions, and violent faction-fighting. Yet, five decades later, the BPP is being energetically romanticized, its legacy is being whitewashed, and its leaders are being valorized in murals, documentaries, and major Hollywood productions that portray the movement and its leaders as revolutionary icons of righteous struggle. The most recent attempt to rehabilitate the BPP began in 2015, when Stanley Nelson’s hagiographic documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution received theatrical distribution, followed by a nationwide PBS broadcast the following year. Notwithstanding a devastating critique by Michael Moynihan in the Daily Beast, the film received a generally favorable critical reception from a credulous media class and was duly followed by further revisionist histories. The most recent and popular of these is Shaka King’s 2021 feature film, Judas and the Black Messiah. Daniel Kaluuya plays Fred …

Almost Four Decades After Its Birth, The Diversity Industry Thrives on Its Own Failures

Campus diversity advocates have pulled off their greatest coup to date: They have declared “diversity” to be a freestanding academic discipline, thus injecting their bureaucracy-heavy apparatus into the very heart of the academic enterprise. As of this month, Bentley University, a business-oriented liberal arts school in Waltham, Mass., will offer a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Sciences degree in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). By all accounts, this is the first undergraduate major dedicated to churning out more diversity bureaucrats and consultants. It will not be the last. The BA track in DEI studies will prepare students for non-profit and community-based work by focusing on “theoretical approaches to social justice,” according to Bentley. The “sciences” track emphasizes the “importance of DEI in organizational strategy,” for students heading into the private sector. Designing the new major was relatively easy, and would be easily replicable at other schools, its architects said. Bentley created just one new “foundational” course, while repackaging Bentley’s existing social justice-themed offerings under the DEI banner. “You may be surprised to find …

Truth, Polarization, and the Nature of Our Beliefs

Like other Americans, I’m depressed by the growing level of political partisanship. There seem to be a lot more people with extreme beliefs yelling at us. The ends of the belief spectrum are engorged, the center hollowed out. It’s frequently alleged that extremists don’t care about truth, that they don’t even believe there’s a distinction between truth and falsehood. But that’s an unhelpful, and philosophically suspect, way of stating what’s wrong with extremism. Most of us think of philosophy as an arcane subject remote from our day-to-day concerns, the playground of navel gazers and other impractical people. But philosophy has a good deal to say about the nature of our beliefs, why some beliefs seem true and others false, why we find it so difficult to convince people to give up deeply held beliefs, and the real problem with extremism. Beliefs as rules of action From René Descartes in the 17th century through Immanuel Kant in the early 19th, philosophers tended to think of beliefs as pictures in the mind; if you believe it’s raining, …

As a Gay Child in a Christian Cult, I Was Taught to Hate Myself. Then I Joined the Church of Social Justice—and Nothing Changed

I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, in a fundamentalist Christian community called The Lamb of God. What began in the mid-1970s as a small group of born-again hippies who played music, prayed together, and proselytized to whoever would listen about Jesus’s unconditional love and mercy, descended into authoritarianism in the 1980s after its founder linked up with the broader charismatic renewal movement that had been sweeping the nation. The Lamb of God’s doctrine became explicit—Christianity good; Islam, feminism, secular humanism, and Marxism bad; and the rules strict—complete submission of all members to the leadership, and of all wives to their husbands. My father was one of the five male leaders, or “coordinators.” My mother, though she had at one time been considered for the corresponding female role of “handmaid,” was never officially appointed to the position. This meant that she was excluded from the leadership’s official meetings, segregated by sex, in which coordinators and handmaids would discuss the goings-on of their underlings—who was having marital problems, who was doubting the faith, who …

Ending Lockdown

“Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie…” ~CS Lewis in The Screwtape Letters   Watching the West hesitate over the end of COVID restrictions, attempting to judge the trade-off between living life as normal and the number of deaths that would result from that, has brought new clarity to a concept that had previously lurked just below the surface of consciousness; modern societies are bad at handling the fundamental fact of individual mortality. You are going to die. That much was guaranteed when you were born. That we don’t like to think about this fact—categorise death as something that happens to other people, out of sight and out of mind—does not alter it. The daily cost of this inattention is low, consisting as it …

Whatever It Is, It Ain’t Aliens

From my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence. ~Richard P. Feynman, The Character of Physical Law   On June 25th, the Office of the US Director of National Intelligence created a national stir by releasing a long awaited, if short, nine-page unclassified report entitled, “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.” It was created under the direction of the Intelligence Authorization act of 2021 to assess the threat posed by unidentified areal phenomena, and the results of the Department of Defense Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) effort to understand this threat. Put in more popular parlance, it was an official government report about UFOs. The report came almost 74 years to the day after a pilot flying near Mt. Rainier sighted a string of nine “shiny unidentified flying objects,” which the press reported as flying saucers, launching the modern …

How All My Politically Correct Bones Were Broken

In my first 10 years of college teaching, from the mid-60s to mid-70s, I modeled myself on my best teachers—men and women who questioned my ideas vigorously. They let me know that I mattered to them, they praised when praise was due, and they pushed me hard. Often I balked, and they continued to push. Indeed, the teachers who sternly, even at times angrily, called me out on my intellectual arrogance and sloppiness became mentors and, in several cases, lifelong friends. I think of one in particular, an English teacher to whom I’d brought a piece of freshman writing I’d ginned up only minutes before a mandatory conference. I knew it was junk when I carried it to his desk. He stunned me, growling, “You get the hell out of this office. And don’t come back until you respect yourself and me enough to do serious work.” The upshot—I admired his refusal of my bullshit. I went on to take all his classes. Today, such a teacher would be subject, at least, to sensitivity training …

Huxley, Burroughs, and the Church of Scientology

In the 21st century, Scientology has become a synonym for “cult.” Thanks to an array of investigative exposés and testimony from former members, few people in the Western world are unaware of at least some of the Church’s fantastical beliefs and more alarming behaviours. Sixty years ago, however, it was viewed quite differently. Scientology—or dianetics, as it was originally known—was an appealing idea to many intellectuals and creatives at a time when the world was rapidly changing and notions that had once been taken for granted were suddenly being tossed out of the window. In science, art, and philosophy, accepted norms were being turned on their heads, and in the 1950s and ’60s, L. Ron Hubbard’s ideas—peddled as an alternative to psychiatry—fit quite nicely among the emerging doctrines dreamed up by his contemporary thinkers. Indeed, the original concepts that launched Hubbard’s movement were not as outrageous as those that define it today. Among these, the idea of “engrams” and the “reactive mind” were perhaps the most appealing. Hubbard theorised that humans are marked by unconscious …