All posts filed under: Top Stories

Stereotypes Are Often Harmful, and Accurate

Stereotypes have a bad reputation, and for good reasons. Decades of research have shown that stereotypes can facilitate intergroup hostility and give rise to toxic prejudices around sex, race, age and multiple other social distinctions. Stereotypes are often used to justify injustice, validate oppression, enable exploitation, rationalize violence, and shield corrupt power structures. Stereotype-based expectations and interpretations routinely derail intimate relationships, contaminate laws (and their enforcement), poison social commerce, and stymie individual achievement. For example, research has shown how individual performance may be affected adversely by heightened awareness of negative group stereotypes, a phenomenon known as ‘stereotype threat.’ If I show up for a pickup basketball game, and I know that all the young players around me hold a negative stereotype about the athleticism of middle-aged Jewish guys, the knowledge that I’m being thus judged will affect adversely my confidence and concentration, and with that my overall performance on the court (thus perpetuating the stereotype). But you don’t even have to go to the research to develop your distaste for stereotypes. Looking around, most of …

The ‘Black Chic’ Wave

With the midterm elections approaching, political pundits have begun the hackneyed ritual of predicting wild success for their preferred party—either a ‘blue wave’ for the Democrats or a ‘red wave‘ for the Republicans. Time will tell which wave reaches our political shores. But in the meantime, a different sort of wave is already upon us: a wave of black candidates who present their skin color as if it were a political credential in itself. This new wave of ‘black chic’ candidates includes Democrats Mahlon Mitchell of Wisconsin, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, Andrew Gillum of Florida, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts (featured pic, above). To observe that these candidates happen to be black would be to state an uninteresting fact. What’s interesting is that—contrary to what the concept of white privilege would predict—their blackness actually gives them political advantages. All four candidates would be the first black governors/congress people of their respective states/districts, which allows them to project a level of historical gravitas unavailable to their white counterparts. Abrams, for instance, has “frequently noted the historic nature …

The Counterproductive Suppression of Heterodox Views on Race

Between 2000 and 2014, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) documented 257 incidents of left-wing ‘no platforming’ activism on campuses, 111 of which succeeded in preventing the invited speakers from delivering their remarks. The chilling effect this practice has had on free and open discussion has been much discussed. Less discussed, but perhaps even more damaging, has been the more stealthy suppression of heterodox views through hiring policies and the censoring of faculty, and the deleterious effect this can have on the very causes progressive like to stress are of most pressing importance. In a long essay for the Atlantic last year, the liberal journalist Peter Beinart described how this process has succeeded in stifling the free expression of anti-immigration positions on both the Left and the Right. A decade ago, Beinart reminded his readers, liberals “routinely asserted that low-skilled immigrants depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers and strained America’s welfare state.” But attitudes have shifted dramatically in the intervening years. Beinart noted that Jason Furman, a former chairman of President Obama’s Council …

When Censorship Is Crowdsourced

Editor’s note: The text that follows is adapted from a speech delivered recently by the author to the Montreal Press Club.  On the op-ed page of The New York Times, former Central Intelligence Agency general counsel Jeffrey Smith recently argued that Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan “violated Mr. Brennan’s First Amendment right to speak freely.” It’s an intriguing thesis. And, being a former lawyer who once wrote long law school essays about constitutional freedoms, I read it with keen interest. But I also felt a twinge of nostalgia as I parsed Smith’s lawyerly arguments. Notwithstanding the nature of Mr. Trump’s treatment of Mr. Brennan, the gravest threats to free speech in democratic countries now have little or nothing to do with government action (which is what Constitutions serve to restrain). And with few exceptions, public officials now sit as bystanders to the fight over who can say what. Last month, Facebook, Apple and Google deleted gigabytes of video, audio and text content from Alex Jones’ Infowars …

Reflections on the Revolution at Yale

Three years ago this Fall, Yale University descended into what can only be described as a fit of mass psychosis. On November 9, 2015, over 1,000 people—about one fifth of the undergraduate student body—walked out of classrooms and into the quad to participate in a ‘March of Resilience.’ An a cappella group led the crowd in a medley of “We Shall Overcome.” Native Indian performers formed a drum circle. “We are not victims,” a student organizer affiliated with the school’s Latino cultural center declared. “Today, we are on our way to being victors.” Against what sinister forces did Yale’s students feel compelled to summon up their stocks of ‘resilience’ in righteous battle? The first grievance cited by the student protestors was an alleged ‘white girls only’ party thrown by one of the university’s fraternities. Word of this event had gone from a Facebook post to international headlines, tarnishing Yale’s good name in the process. Had such a party actually taken place, it indeed would have been cause for protest. But it’s hard not to be …

Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole

In the highly controversial area of human intelligence, the ‘Greater Male Variability Hypothesis’ (GMVH) asserts that there are more idiots and more geniuses among men than among women. Darwin’s research on evolution in the nineteenth century found that, although there are many exceptions for specific traits and species, there is generally more variability in males than in females of the same species throughout the animal kingdom. Evidence for this hypothesis is fairly robust and has been reported in species ranging from adders and sockeye salmon to wasps and orangutans, as well as humans. Multiple studies have found that boys and men are over-represented at both the high and low ends of the distributions in categories ranging from birth weight and brain structures and 60-meter dash times to reading and mathematics test scores. There are significantly more men than women, for example, among Nobel laureates, music composers, and chess champions—and also among homeless people, suicide victims, and federal prison inmates. Darwin had also raised the question of why males in many species might have evolved to …

Sweden’s General Election Turmoil

Sweden’s general elections will happen this weekend and the country is in political turmoil. The governing Social Democrats, the hegemonic force in Swedish politics for most of the past century, are facing their lowest results since the introduction of democracy. Only a few percentage points behind them in the polls are the Sweden Democrats (SD) – an anti-immigration and anti-EU party – which may become the country’s biggest political group. The polls thus confirm a fundamental shift in Swedish politics: SD – which is shunned by the other parties, who refer to its roots in the far-right movement – only entered the Riksdag after the 2010 elections, to the astonishment of large parts of the political and media establishment. Since 2014, SD forms a wedge in parliament, preventing both traditional blocs, led by the Social Democrats and the center-right Moderates respectively, from gaining a majority of seats. Both refuse to govern with each other, or with the support of SD. This is uncharted territory, and no one knows how, or by whom, the country will be …

A Facebook Engineer’s Plea for Political Diversity

Last year it was Google.  This year it is Facebook where industry norms of celebrating all forms of diversity—except that of thought—are being challenged. Brian Amerige, a senior software engineer at the company, has authored a document entitled “We Have a Problem with Political Diversity” in which he presents his concerns: We are a political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views.  We claim to welcome all perspectives, but are quick to attack—often in mobs—anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology.  We throw labels that end in *obe and *ist at each other, attacking each other’s character rather than their ideas. We do this so consistently that employees are afraid to say anything when they disagree with what’s around them politically.  HR has told me that this is not a rare concern, and I’ve personally gotten over a hundred messages to that effect.  Your colleagues are afraid because they know that they—and not their ideas—will be attacked.  They know all the talk of “openness to different perspectives” does not …

Is Safetyism Destroying a Generation?

A review of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, Penguin Press (September 4, 2018) 352 pages. In recent years behaviours on university campuses have created widespread unease. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, and speech codes. Demands for speakers to be disinvited. Words construed as violence and liberalism described as ‘white supremacy’. Students walking on eggshells, too scared to speak their minds. Controversial speakers violently rebuked – from conservative provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos to serious sociologists such as Charles Murray, to left-leaning academics such as Bret Weinstein. Historically, campus censorship was enacted by zealous university administrators. Students were radicals who pushed the boundaries of acceptability, like during the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. Today, however, students work in tandem with administrators to make their campus ‘safe’ from threatening ideas. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s new book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for …

Identity Politics Does More Harm Than Good to Minorities

It is difficult to think of an issue today as contentious as identity politics. Long criticised by the right as divisive and polarising, it has begun to be questioned by some on the left as well – from thinkers such as Mark Lilla and Jonathan Haidt. Writing from a liberal perspective in the Guardian, Columbia University professor Sheri Berman cited a host of psychological surveys showing that many white voters are supporting right-wing populists like Trump in a “defensive reaction” against perceived “group-based threats” that have been provoked, in part, by left-wing identity politics. Berman’s article – “Why identity politics benefits the right more than the left” – insisted that liberalism’s goal must be “winning elections,” which means “not helping Trump rile up his base by activating their sense of ‘threat’ and inflaming the grievances and anger that lead them to rally around him.” In her view, this requires “avoiding the type of ‘identity politics’ that stresses differences and creates a sense of ‘zero-sum’ competition between groups and instead emphasizing common values and interests.” Like Mark Lilla, …