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What Is the Tribe of the Anti-Tribalists?

Near the end of a much-discussed podcast in May entitled Identity & Honesty, Sam Harris and Ezra Klein have the following telling exchange: Ezra Klein: You have that bewildering experience because you donʼt realize when you keep saying that everybody else is thinking tribally, but youʼre not, that that is our disagreement. Sam Harris: Well, no, because I know Iʼm not thinking tribally— Ezra Klein: Well, that is our disagreement.….Right at the beginning of all this with Murray you said you look at Murray and you see what happens to you. You were completely straightforward about that, that you look at what happens to him and you see what happens to you. Sam Harris: Itʼs not tribalism. This is an experience of talking about ideas in public. Ezra Klein: We all have a lot of different identities weʼre part of all times. I do, too. I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneously, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I …

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The Inequality Demagogues

Inequality—of wealth and income—has risen within developed nations in recent years. This has precipitated the popular ascent of the inequality demagogues. These firebrands decry a society fractured by rapacious elites, who “rig” the economy to swindle the helpless masses. In 2015, Bernie Sanders, then a contender for the Democratic presidential candidacy, invited his supporters to join him in a “political revolution” against the “one percent,” whose “greed,” he blamed for “destroying our economy.” Greed is destroying our economy. What we need to do is create an economy that works for all of us not just the top 1%. — Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 13, 2015 Inflammatory rhetoric like this resonates with people and can be remarkably successful in generating furious outrage. This is because large disparities in wealth and income are an affront to intuitive notions of fairness, and if a politician insists those disparities can be painlessly eliminated by the mere exercise of political will, they also seem unnecessary. It doesn’t help that many of the wealthiest have capitalized on their relative power through dubious (though usually …

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Understanding and Misunderstanding ‘Dog-Whistling’

Accusations of ‘dog-whistling‘ are commonplace in contemporary politics. Politicians and pundits regularly accuse each other of using apparently benign words and phrases to conceal dreadful meanings. It is, however, chiefly the Left that accuses that Right of dog-whistling, and mostly to disclose and denounce the supposed racism lurking in conservative language. President Trump is a lightning rod for such accusations, which have, however, also struck politicans in Australia and the United Kingdom.  But in spite of the ubiquity of these accusations, it is not clear what dog-whistling is. We might understand dog-whistling as a form of coded communication, by which a political leader passes a secret message to a specific audience without the larger public picking up what he means. Or we might see it as a form of strategic ambiguity by which a speaker allows different constituencies to understand him in different ways. Considered yet another way, dog-whistling could appear as a kind of subliminal method of activating listeners’ unconscious prejudices. Philosopher Jennifer Saul is developing a fruitful analysis of dog-whistling, which she breaks …

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The Illusion of a Gentle Machine Gun Hand

On May 31, 2018, Canada’s Minister of Public Services and Procurement announced the construction of new Joint Support Ships (JSS) for the Royal Canadian Navy. “With the construction of the JSS,” declared Carla Qualtrough, “our government is delivering on our commitment to support the men and women of the Royal Canadian Navy as they undertake humanitarian and military missions on behalf of our great country.” While the core capability of the JSS will be the “provision of fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food, water, and other supplies to warships at sea,” the Minister presented these ships as instruments of humanitarian operations, not war or peacemaking. The messaging from Justin Trudeau’s dovish Liberal government in regard to the JSS is part of a larger trend, whereby many Western governments now seek to downplay the true character of their tools of war—in large part because they know that voters now have little stomach for contemplating the idea of actual combat. While such messaging may provide comfort, it causes a rift between citizens and military personnel when wars must …

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Devastation and Denial: Cambodia and the Academic Left

Looking out across the yellow-washed angular buildings that clutter the inner city of Phnom Penh in 2016, hindsight fills me with anxiety. Imagining myself here in 1975, I recall the jubilant and cheering crowds in the spring of that year who weren’t privy to that hindsight as they welcomed Khmer Rouge communists into Cambodia’s capital city after months of siege. On the morning of 17 April, word had arrived that the Khmer Rouge had captured the government’s last beleaguered military stronghold on the outskirts of the city. Prime Minister Long Boret could hardly believe the news. He demanded to be driven to the riverside to see it with his own eyes. By the time he arrived, order had already collapsed in the streets and men wearing the black shirts of the Khmer Rouge surrounded his small entourage and demanded his guards put down their guns. Managing to slip away in the chaos, Boret reported back to his cabinet at the Defence Ministry that the enemy was already in the streets. The rush then began to …

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I Was the Mob Until the Mob Came for Me

I drive food delivery for an online app to make rent and support myself and my young family. This is my new life. I once had a well paid job in what might be described as the social justice industry. Then I upset the wrong person, and within a short window of time, I was considered too toxic for my employer’s taste. I was publicly shamed, mobbed, and reduced to a symbol of male privilege. I was cast out of my career and my professional community. Writing anything under my own byline now would invite a renewal of this mobbing—which is why, with my editor’s permission, I am writing this under a pseudonym. He knows who I am. In my previous life, I was a self-righteous social justice crusader. I would use my mid-sized Twitter and Facebook platforms to signal my wokeness on topics such as LBGT rights, rape culture, and racial injustice. Many of the opinions I held then are still opinions that I hold today. But I now realize that my social-media hyperactivity …

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The Islamic Republic Must Fall

The breathtaking, unprecedented displays of dissent throughout Iran—most notably by the mostazafeen or the traditionally ‘downtrodden’ base of support for the regime—are important. They are important to the Iranian people who brave imprisonment and torture as they struggle for their livelihoods, their freedom, their dignity, and the futures of their children. But they are also important because they offer a glimpse of a more liberal, more peaceful, and more prosperous Middle East—a region at last open to the world, ready to move forwards not backwards, and to prosper rather than terrorize. Belief in such a prospect cannot be scorned as naïve, nor offered as an act of mere charity. Without such a future for Iran, the turmoil of the Middle East and the exodus of refugees to the shores of the free world will continue. Polarization of American politics and civic discourse has left the struggle for freedom in Iran almost exclusively within the purview of the political Right, where the threat posed by Islamist ideas and terrorism have always been taken more seriously. But …

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The Rise and Decline of Black Lives Matter: A Toronto Case Study

In July 2016, the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter brought the city’s world-famous Pride parade to a halt. BLM supporters staged a sit-in to protest Pride Toronto’s alleged ‘anti-blackness.’ The parade restarted only after the organizer hastily signed a document containing a long list of demands, including the removal of official police floats from future parades. BLM had taken on one of the most prominent civic events on Toronto’s annual calendar, and won. Two years later, it’s a different story. During the 2018 Pride festivities, BLM did not take part in the main parade, opting instead for the less popular, more overtly political Dyke March and Trans March. The move symbolizes a larger trend. Scan BLM’s media mentions across North America, and a pattern emerges: a spike in mentions during the group’s early protests in 2015 and 2016, followed by a steep decline in 2017, which has continued into 2018. This is a group that, not so long ago, could force politicians to walk back declarations that “all lives matter” (a slogan that was …

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The Transhumanism Revolution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation

Transhumanism is an ideology which holds that humans must harness technological advancements to take an active, intelligent role in our own evolution and the evolution of our species. When we think about these developments as a society, we tend to consider them in relation to the improvement of the human race as a whole. However, we must begin to consider the profound implications for the sovereignty of the individual and the primordial question of what it means to be human. When the transhumanist movement began a few decades ago, its ideas had more in common with speculative science fiction than reality. But, inspired by Darwinian theory, the notion of human-directed, intelligent evolution has flourished alongside recent technological developments. The transhumanist perspective insists that humans have a distinctly separate mind and body, and that what happens to one need not affect the other. Understood in this way, apparently unrelated movements in biotech, tech, and social justice reveal themselves to be part of the same transhumanist project and aimed at the same objective: liberating the human being …

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Free Speech Doesn’t Protect Nazis. It Protects Us From Nazis

Free speech has recently become a cause célèbre of the nationalist and racist right-wing in the United States, as provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos bring their roadshows to college campuses, flout the values of progressive students, and then publicize and ridicule those students’ emotional or sometimes violent responses. As a result, some on the Left have become skeptical of the benefits of the First Amendment. Prior to last year’s violent confrontation in Charlottesville, VA, during which an alt-right protester rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring others, the ACLU defended the right of neo-Nazis and white nationalists to demonstrate in support of Confederate monuments. For this, the ACLU was widely criticized by progressives, and since then, some progressives have begun to argue that a society with unfettered free speech is one that fails to protect marginalized communities. Former ACLU legal director and Berkeley law professor john a. powell recently told a reporter from the New Yorker that absolutist free speech rules in the United States fail to weigh the value …

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Raises Ethical Questions about Technology and Life

The newest edition to the Jurassic World film dominion is Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom, a commercial juggernaut that is boosting 2018’s prospects for a record year in ticket sales despite mixed reviews. Fallen Kingdom, however, offers up more than action, first-rate special effects, and digitized dinosaurs. The movie takes a surprisingly complex dive into…
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Does Progress Exist?

I should start with a caveat. This article discusses an issue which reaches well beyond the scope of a couple of thousand words or so, and as such will provoke questions and challenges which cannot be addressed within these limits. The argument presented, being downstream of some more fundamental principles not covered here, is necessarily incomplete, and therefore I don’t mean to present it as a slam-dunk refutation of progress (it falls well short of that), but merely as a curio; a piece of argumentation that hopefully amuses even as you conjure ways to disagree with it. Moreover, contrary to the ‘anti-progress’ tenor of much that follows, I actually mean to provide a template that allows for more effective innovation—a consequence that I hope will become clear by the end of the piece. So, does progress exist? Clearly I’m going to argue that it does not, since otherwise this would be a pretty redundant piece. However I should point out up front that this isn’t to say that things can’t get better, and haven’t been …

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‘Grope-gate’ and #MeToo’s Crisis of Legitimacy

In both Canada and the United States, groping scandals have opened a window into the hypocrisies that infect national politics. American Christian voters may claim to support politicians who embody family values. But in 2016, more than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for a man who stood accused of groping women “like an octopus,” and who was caught on tape bragging about doing so. In Canada, on the other hand, the more-feminist-than-thou prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has spent the first days of summer issuing contradictory explanations of a recently publicized encounter he had with a female journalist at an August 2000 music festival in British Columbia. The journalist called what happened “groping.” Though no one has any idea what body part was touched, or in what way, Trudeau reportedly felt the need to apologize to the woman at the time. But in recent days, the Prime Minister has changed his story. He now claims either not to remember the details of the encounter, or to suggest that the truth of the matter is unknowable …

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On Toxic Femininity

Male lions can be monsters, murderous and focused. Toxic, if you will. Given the opportunity, male lions will kill the kittens in a pride over which they have gained control. They commit infanticide, which brings the new mothers, freshly childless, back into estrous. The females are quickly impregnated. This, we can all agree, is disturbing behavior, and may make some people feel rather less pleased with lions. Given the opportunity, the vast majority of modern human males would do no such thing. Those who argue that men are inherently toxic are, ironically, making arguments that are biologically essentialist. And they are making them badly, at that. Evolution built humans, as it did lions. But humans have longer childhoods and greater generational overlap, share more ideas with greater complexity, and usually live in more stable social groups than do lions. In humans, evolution has given us the capacity to shape personality during development to a greater degree than in any other species. As such, and because few human cultures would tolerate such behavior, the vast majority …

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#132 — Freeing the Hostages

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Chris Voss about his experience as a hostage negotiator for the FBI. They discuss different types of hostage crises, along with many of the lessons that apply to negotiating in normal lif…

The Fear of White Power

A new report by the American Enterprise Institute, “Black Men Making It in America,” uses Census data to show that African-American men are succeeding in the United States. Written by University of Virginia sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox, director of research at the Institute for Family Studies Wendy Wang and Columbia University social policy professor Maurice Russel, the report reveals that more than one-in-two black males–57 percent–now belong to the country’s middle or upper class. That is up from 38 percent in 1960. Meanwhile, the share of black men in poverty has fallen from 41 percent in 1960 to 18 percent today. In comparison, 55 percent of Hispanic-Americans belong to the middle or upper class while the figures stand at 73 percent for Asian-Americans and 75 percent for white Americans. There is still clearly work to be done, but this cannot be described as anything other than huge socio-economic progress for black American males, a group often unfairly associated primarily with crime and unemployment. However, you would never imagine such progress was going on if you were to rely on …

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The Fear of White Power

A new report by the American Enterprise Institute, “Black Men Making It in America,” uses Census data to show that African-American men are succeeding in the United States. Written by University of Virginia sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox, director of research at the Institute for Family Studies Wendy Wang and Columbia University social policy professor Maurice Russel, the report reveals that more than one-in-two black males–57 percent–now belong to the country’s middle or upper class. That is up from 38 percent in 1960. Meanwhile, the share of black men in poverty has fallen from 41 percent in 1960 to 18 percent today. In comparison, 55 percent of Hispanic-Americans belong to the middle or upper class while the figures stand at 73 percent for Asian-Americans and 75 percent for white Americans. There is still clearly work to be done, but this cannot be described as anything other than huge socio-economic progress for black American males, a group often unfairly associated primarily with crime and unemployment. However, you would never imagine such progress was going on if you were to rely on …

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Bridging the STEM Gender Gap Divide

Another still small voice has joined the chorus of those calling for us to reconsider our approach to the gender gap in technology. Writing in Quillette, University of Washington computer science lecturer Stuart Reges discussed in depth why there is reason to believe that the tendency of more men than women to pursue careers in the field may arise primarily from innate factors rather than bias or discrimination.1  Predictably, many have called for him to lose his job as punishment for speaking this heresy.2  However, one response that stood out from the others was written under the intriguing and provocative title “Women in tech: we’re training men to resent us” by Microsoft software engineer Kasey Champion.3  In it, she describes how learning that the article had been written by Mr. Reges, who had been her teacher and mentor when she was a student at the University of Washington, challenged her to rethink her view of men who think differently on these issues.  She goes on to discuss his arguments in detail, explaining what she believes …

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Why Should We Be Good?

Today we are witnessing an irrepressible and admirable pushback against the specters of ‘cultural relativism’ and moral ‘nihilism.’ On the Right, thinkers such as Patrick Deneen and Jordan Peterson have responded to an increasingly cynical postmodern culture by arguing for a return to traditionalist and/or local values. More centrist thinkers such as Steven Pinker and Sam Harris have argued for a return to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on using reason and its handmaiden, empirical science, to develop an ever more objective set of ethical norms. And even on the far-Left, radical thinkers such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek have levelled scathing attacks against postmodern relativism and ‘totalitarian’ identity politics, calling for a return to ethics properly understood: Indeed, relativism and the moral nihilism with which it is often affiliated, seems to be in retreat everywhere. For many observers and critics, this is a wholly positive development since both have the corrosive effect of undermining ethical certainty. I think there are two motivations behind this disdain for relativism and moral nihilism: one of which is negative …

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From the Editor

July 10, 2018 Quillette was created with the intention of giving non-journalists — in particular scientists and scholars — a platform to share ideas without unnecessary editorial interference. I used the tagline “a platform for free thought” when the site launched because I wanted to encourage a wide range of contributions, no matter who and where they came from. Since Quillette launched in November 2015, free thought has definitely shown itself to be alive and well. The platform has not only become popular across the English-speaking world, but we receive insightful and bold contributions almost every day. It’s as if, somehow, a dam has burst. Why did I chose the name Quillette? In French, a synonym for quillette is bouture d’osier, which is a type of wood off-cutting used to grow new trees. An off-cutting planted in the ground that grows into a tree — this seemed to me a great metaphor for an essay. An off-cutting just needs the right conditions to thrive, such as sunlight, water, and fertile soil to grow into something …

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A Progressive Defense of Thomas Jefferson

Since the election of President Trump, American progressives have been looking at their country and its Founders with renewed scrutiny. Although protesters have rallied against Confederate statues for decades, in recent years left-wing activists have increasingly included Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers in their calls for a thoroughgoing repudiation of America’s racist past. In 2015, protesters at the University of Missouri covered a statue of Jefferson in sticky notes labelling him a “racist” and a “rapist” for his ownership of slaves and sexual relationship with Sally Hemings. (For a defense of Jefferson from these specific charges, see Race Hochdorf’s excellent piece.) More recently, activists in Jefferson’s own state at the University of Virginia shrouded his statue, and later vandalized it with the same insults. At Hofstra University in New York, a crowd including the local College Democrats went so far as to demand the removal of a Jefferson statue from campus, declaring in a petition that he had “been embraced as an icon by white supremacist and neo-nazi organizations such as the Ku Klux …

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I Hope Russia Wins

We’re not talking about the World Cup here, but Russia’s challenge to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs.

Journalism Is Not Activism

In 1893, Finley Peter Dunne, a journalist-turned-humorist at the Chicago Evening Post, introduced Martin J. Dooley to the people of Chicago. Mr. Dooley, as he was best known, was a thick-accented bartender from Ireland who owned a tavern in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Mr. Dooley became popular among Chicagoans for his rich satire of politics and society. Of course, Mr. Dooley wasn’t real. He was a fictional character created by Dunne. His work included countless sketches and wide-ranging commentary, but he may be best known for his biting one-liner on newspapers, since reclaimed by journalists as central to the profession’s creed: “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The original quote is from Observations by Mr. Dooley, one of several works Dunne produced as the character, in which Dunne specifically satirizes the press’s penchant for trial-by-media. He presented Mr. Dooley through Irish dialect pieces, hence the diction, so the “affliction” quote below has been lightly edited for comprehension: When anything was wrote about a man ’twas put this way: …

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The New York Times Comes Out Against Free Speech

According to a front page New York Times news (not opinion) article by Adam Liptak “Weaponizing the First Amendment: How Free Speech Became a Conservative Cudgel,” we must adopt a stance of skepticism toward all this talk of free speech: if we wish to be sophisticated and sensitive, as all good Times readers aspire to be. Free speech? So passé. Only conservatives care about free speech anymore. This is monumental news: the most influential newspaper in the world, the standard bearer of the Establishment, is announcing that free speech is, or should be, over. The article states: The (Supreme) Court’s five conservative members, citing the First Amendment, had just dealt public unions a devastating blow. The day before, the same majority had used the First Amendment to reject a California law requiring religiously oriented “crisis pregnancy centers” to provide women with information about abortion. Conservatives, said Justice Kagan, who is part of the Court’s four-member liberal wing, were “weaponizing the First Amendment.” That’s a disquieting thing for a Supreme Court justice to say. Taking a hard …

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