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What Gun Control Advocates Can Learn from London’s Knife Attacks

The powers in London are grappling with a rash of stabbings and wondering what to do. The statist instinct is to take knives from the people. That’s the American response to gun violence and the British response to knife attacks. Yesterday The Express ran a headline: “London bloodbath: 60th violent murder in London just yards…
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Kanye West and the Future of Black Conservatism

On April 21st, Kanye West sent a tweet out to his 13.4 million followers that read: “I love the way Candace Owens thinks.” A celebrity endorsing his favorite political pundit is hardly unusual, but one of the most famous rappers of all time endorsing a black, pro-Trump firebrand like Owens is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Owens has taken stances against Black Lives Matter, feminism, and various other causes championed by the Left and, although she doesn’t follow the Republican party line on every issue, she has advocated for tax cuts, personal responsibility, and many other traditionally right-wing values. The core of her message is that there’s a stubborn refusal—among blacks and whites alike—to let go of the narrative that blacks are continually beleaguered by white racism. What we need, according to Owens, is a new story about what black America can be, which looks toward a bright future instead of clinging to an ugly past. It’s easy to see why West—a man with grandiose visions of his own future, who considers himself to be our generation’s …

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Canada’s Twitter Mobs and Left-Wing Hypocrisy

I grew up working class, and proud. My father was a Marxist who was active in the labour movement, campaigned for Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party, and educated me about the harms of capitalism. Throughout my teen years and young adulthood, I never questioned which side I was on. To this day, I remain steadfast in my belief that everyone deserves access to affordable housing, free health care, and advanced education. I believe that poverty is unacceptable and that wealth is unethical. I believe racism and sexism are embedded within our society. I’m pink, through and through. But politics aren’t just about words and ideas. They’re also about ethics and action—both personal and political. And though I remain a leftist in my principles, I can no longer stand in solidarity with former fellow travellers whose ethics are dictated by social convenience, who prioritize retweets over free inquiry, democracy, and debate, and who respond to disagreement with calls for censorship (or worse). These feelings aren’t new for me. But they’ve recently come into sharper focus. *   *  …

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How Canada’s Cult of the Noble Savage Harms Its Indigenous Peoples

A few months ago, I spoke at a small academic conference in Toronto about the future of Canada. As with many events of this type in my country, it began with sacred rituals. An Ojibway elder, described to us as a “keeper of sacred pipes,” took to the podium and showed us a jar of medicine water. In her private rituals, the elder explained, she would pray with this water, and talk to it as she smoked her pipes. After this, she instructed us to join her in “paying respect to the four directions”—which required that we stand up and face the indicated compass point, moving clockwise from north to west as she performed her rituals. “With this sacred water, we smudge this space,” she said. “Let us live the lesson of being in harmony with all creatures.” Then the elder instructed us to bend down, touch the floor, and say migwetch—thank you, in her Ojibway language—to signal our gratitude. The room was full of middle-aged former politicians who, like me, did not want to …

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The Incentives for Groupthink

In thinking about the extraordinary capitulation of our institutions to the self-avowedly radical, ‘subversive’ and altogether pernicious forces of Marxism and intersectionality, there is a temptation to see this development as the execution of a sinister plan. As anyone who has come into human contact with real academics would surely know, this narrative flatters their competence. In this article, I wish to caution the reader against this conspiratorial frame of mind, tempting as it might be. To think like this is to attribute a top-down command-and-control explanation for a bottom-up incremental phenomena. In Daniel Dennett’s phrase, it is to construct a ‘skyhook’,1 which is tantamount to the argument from design so famously dismantled by David Hume.2 So the skyhook argument goes: the human eye is so irreducibly complex that it could not have been a chance occurrence – it must have been deliberately designed. And yet, we know that it evolved incrementally over millennia. In The Evolution of Everything (2015), Matt Ridley demonstrates how people are generally now willing to grant Darwin’s insights into the …

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Is Political Diversity on the Op-Ed Page Worth Defending?

The Atlantic’s decision to fire the conservative columnist Kevin D. Williamson has occasioned an avalanche of think pieces, the latest of which is a Wall Street Journal article from Williamson in his own defence. All these commentaries swirl around the same question: Exactly how important is political diversity in media? For some, Williamson’s firing is proof that the mainstream media practices something like institutional discrimination against conservatives. For others, Williamson’s views were so beyond the pale that hiring him in the name of ‘diversity’ would be no more justifiable than a university astronomy department hiring a flat-earther. Diverse, yes, but also disqualifyingly wrong. Of the latter group—those who are skeptical of the need for media outlets to pursue political diversity—the ablest pen currently belongs to Osita Nwanevu, who laid out his argument in a piece for Slate entitled “It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.” There are two layers to his critique: firstly, the media actually has plenty of political diversity, but secondly, this diversity isn’t a particularly important value for publications like the Atlantic …

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#124 — In Search of Reality

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Sean Carroll about our understanding of reality. They discuss consciousness, the many worlds view of quantum mechanics, the arrow of time, free will, facts and values, and other topics. Y…

Steven Pinker: Counter-Enlightenment Convictions are ‘Surprisingly Resilient’

Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist and is the author of several books including Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress published by Viking Press earlier this year. Quillette contacted Professor Pinker for a Q&A: what follows is a transcript of our Q&A, conducted via email.   On Psychology Quillette: What are some of the classic experiments in psychology that you think an educated person should know about? Steven Pinker: Where to begin? I’d cite studies of illusions and biases, to remind people of the fallibility of our perceptual and cognitive faculties. These would include experiments on visual attention by the late Anne Treisman and others showing that people are unaware of visual material they don’t attend to, together with any experiment on memory showing how un-photographic our recollections are (for example, Elizabeth Loftus’s studies on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, or even the low-tech study in which people are asked to draw a penny, an object they have seen thousands of times). Let’s add Slovic, Tversky, and Kahneman’s demonstrations of illusions in reasoning about …

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Who Will the Evergreen Mob Target Next?

It’s been almost a year since violent student protests erupted at Evergreen State College—enough time for the “non-traditional” Olympia, WA university to draw useful lessons from a fracas that made it a byword for campus identity politics run amok. Unfortunately, a report from an Independent External Review Panel, tasked by college President George Bridges with finding ways to attain closure on the events of last Spring, provides scant hope this will happen. On April 12, 2017, Evergreen observed a “Day of Absence,” during which white members of the school community were “invited” to leave the campus as part of an exercise designed to “explore issues of race, equality, allyship, inclusion, and privilege.” In the run-up to the event, an Evergreen professor of biology, Bret Weinstein, wrote an email in which he expressed opposition to the idea that self-segregation was a useful exercise. Weinstein became a target of student protestors, and at one point was forced to avoid campus while they searched for him in parked cars. He and his wife, Heather Heying, also a professor …

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Towards a Cognitive Theory of Politics

In recent years, a consensus has been forming about how we reason and develop the opinions we defend. In his influential 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt argued that the first principle of moral psychology is: Intuition comes first and reasoning follows. Intuition is the reflexive gut feeling of like or dislike we experience in response to the things we see in the social world around us. In Thinking Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman observed that conscious reasoning requires language, the construction of an argument, and therefore time, so it can happen only after our intuition has already told us whether we approve or disapprove of something. In their book The Enigma of Reason, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber argue that the main evolved purpose of reason is to justify our intuitions and to persuade others that our own intuitions are correct. When it comes to social issues that we care about, reason is usually a post hoc rationalization of feelings already felt and decisions already taken. …

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California Threatens Free Speech with AB-2943

Proposed legislation, AB-2943, making its way through the California legislature, is the latest example of why east coast folks see California as the land of fruit and nuts. Humor aside, it is also why diverse groups such as orthodox Christians, libertarians, and conservatives fear the radicalism of the Left and are concerned about fundamental…
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FDA Restricts Sale of Contraceptive Device

The FDA released an order indicating its intent to restrict the sale of the contraceptive device Essure, the only FDA-approved nonsurgical permanent birth control method.

Is the Internet Complete?

In 2013, a debate was held between friends Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen, the thrust of which was to determine whether we are living through an innovation golden age, or whether innovation was in fact stalling. Thiel, of course, played the innovation sceptic, and it is interesting now with five years remove to look back on the debate to see how history has vindicated his position. In short all of those things that were ‘just around the corner’ in 2013 are, sure enough, still ‘just around the corner.’ One strand of Thiel’s argument at the time (and since) was that the ostentatious progress made in computing in the last 15 years has blinded us to the lack of technological progress made elsewhere. We can hardly have failed to notice the internet revolution, and thus we map that progress onto everything, assuming that innovation is a cosmic force rather than something which happens on a piecemeal basis. Certainly, this argument has gained more traction since 2013. However, in this piece I’d like to add an extra …

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Social Media: The Case for Deactivation

In 2017, an article sub-titled “The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel” appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. I found it scientifically rigorous and persuasive, and so, not wanting to feel worse, I deactivated my Facebook account. But then in the months that followed, I found scientific arguments that seemingly come to the opposite conclusion, namely, that social media are good for you. It turns out that I had only scratched the surface of a mountain of writing on this topic. So which is it? Should I re-activate my Facebook account? Should you deactivate yours? To answer these questions, we need a common currency for measuring the costs and benefits of using Facebook, and other major social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Surprisingly, perhaps, the mountain of articles on this topic doesn’t yet include this kind of systematic cost-benefit analysis. One of my goals here is to provide one. Drawing on the last two decades of scientific research, I’ll show that major social media platforms do more harm than good, thereby increasing the …

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Kevin Williamson Is Not a Free Speech Martyr

Just so we’re clear, this is how a hanging works. A gallows is erected, frequently in public. The rope is either long or short. With a long rope, the condemned person drops a certain distance and, at the bottom, her neck is snapped. This is quick and presumably relatively painless – if it works. With a short rope, or a rope not long enough, the person simply dangles by the neck from a loop that constricts her airway and blood vessels. Her hands are bound, so she cannot grasp at the rope. When the instinct to struggle sets in, she flails with her whole body, while she finds herself unable to breathe and while blood is cut off from her head, all of this happening with the force of her own weight cinching the rope more tightly around her neck. Eventually she will pass out, and then die; but first she will likely experience great terror, and probably a fair amount of pain. The short-rope strangulation is the sort that is used in the common …

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A Life of Pretending: Being Egyptian and Atheist

Note: All the names in this story have been changed, aside from those of public personalities. The sun was almost directly overhead as I slipped out from the rambling alleys of the Khan al- Khalili into the open square. Al-Hussein Mosque towered ahead to the north. The call to prayer blasted from its pencil minaret, its solemn strains echoed by a cacophony of loudspeakers across the city. Exhausted and craving coffee, I headed for the strip of tourist-trap cafés lining the square’s western edge, and was barely seated when a young Egyptian couple motioned for me to join them for a game of backgammon. As I’d come to expect after nearly a dozen visits to Egypt over the years, the question of religious identity came up within a minute, and I answered honestly. Just as often I’d opted to lie, claiming to be Christian for civility’s sake, but I told this stylish young couple the truth: I’m not religious. A host of experiences answering the same question across Egypt had me braced for a look …

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The Other Money Heist

Sometimes fiction offers better lessons in political economy than reality.

The Stifling Uniformity of Literary Theory

In 1976, the Nobel-prize winning economist, F.A. Hayek, published The Mirage of Social Justice, the second volume of his magnum opus Law, Legislation and Liberty.1 Despite being widely regarded as the definitive critique of social justice, today one would be lucky to find advocates of social justice in the academy who are familiar with the name ‘Hayek’, let alone those who have read him. Among classical liberals, libertarians, and conservatives alike, Hayek is one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century whose The Road to Serfdom represents one of the most powerful arguments against socialism ever written.2 But those in the academy who have perpetuated socialist ideas since the 1980s have practically ignored it. In this article, I will argue that this unwillingness to engage with the ‘other side’ is not only endemic in the radical intellectual schools that have overtaken literary studies, but also that it is symptomatic of their entire way of thinking which, being hermetically sealed and basically circular in its argumentation, has no language to deal with critics beyond …

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In Defence of Critical Legal Theory: A Reply to Andrew Kelman

I read Andrew Kelman’s recent Quillette article “Beyond All Warnings: The Radical Assault on Truth in Law” with interest and some appreciation. Kelman characterises his article as an attack on ‘critical legal theory.’ Invoking Jordan Peterson, Kelman connects the emergence of critical legal theory in the law school with the broader academic fad of what Peterson has called “postmodern neo-Marxism.” These relativistic philosophies, Kelman argues, have undermined the belief that there can be neutrality and truth in any field, including the law. Drawing on postmodern philosophy, critical legal theorists and their followers, convinced that all law is about power, seek to use the legal system to redistribute power to those groups they feel have been traditionally marginalised in society. “Conservatives and classical liberals must unite to find a new way to end bigotry without the tribalism of extremist identity politics…Twenty years of increasing corruption in the law has passed, and we are now beyond all warnings.” https://t.co/g5DyGRV32m — AndrewKelman (@TheUKDemocrat) April 3, 2018 Kelman argues that the influence of critical legal theorists has been pernicious. Under …

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Diversity and the Concert Hall

Orchestras have had a rough time lately. Rising deficits, inadequate facilities, internal financial squabbles, and an overall lack of interest from the general public have provided more than their share of hurdles for these venerable institutions. Now, in addition to these looming obstacles, orchestras are being faced with a whole new challenge: the call to diversify their programs with more music written by women and minority composers. To get ahead of this cultural trend, several institutions have started initiatives to synthetically bolster the number of performed works by composers in these aforementioned groups. In February, the BBC Proms announced plans for fully half of all new commissions to be granted to women composers by 2022. Earlier in March, the website ICareIfYouListen responded to a tweet accusing them of unconscious bias by reaffirming their commitment to “equitable programming” with a primary interest in “promoting the work of historically underrepresented and marginalized artists.” The website also detailed its apparently already existing policy of “turning down 100% of concert reviews and album reviews that feature works by all white men, with the only exceptions being portrait …

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The Scientific Importance of Free Speech

Editor’s note: this is a shortened version of a speech that the author was due to give last month at King’s College London which was canceled because the university deemed the event to be too ‘high risk’. A quick Google search suggests that free speech is a regarded as an important virtue for a functional, enlightened society. For example, according to George Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Likewise, Ayaan Hirsi Ali remarked: “Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society, and yes, it includes the right to blaspheme and offend.” In a similar vein, Bill Hicks declared: “Freedom of speech means you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with”. But why do we specifically need free speech in science? Surely we just take measurements and publish our data? No chit chat required. We need free speech in science because science is not really about microscopes, or pipettes, …

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Sam Harris was Right; Ezra Klein Should Know Better

Earlier this week, Ph.D. neuroscientist turned pop-philosopher Sam Harris invited Vox Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein to debate Harris on his popular podcast. The topic: Harris’s decision to feature Charles Murray for the purposes of defending him— from charges of racism, on his show last year. Murray is famous in part for writing The Bell Curve, which included a controversial chapter which mentions racial differences in IQ. But this isn’t Klein’s first flirtation with character assassinations. In case you missed it, Harris and Klein have been feuding publicly since Murray appeared on Harris’s show last year. Vox published a piece attacking Harris for featuring Murray, accusing the two of participating in “pseudoscientific racialist speculation.” Vox then refused to publish a rebuttal written by Richard Haier, respected psychologist and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Intelligence. (It finally found a home at this publication, here.) Next, Harris released his email correspondence with Klein, and that eventually led to this week’s heated podcast. Mid-way through the podcast, Harris says: you appear to be willing to believe people… are not speaking with real integrity about data because it serves political ends, …

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Training the Masculinity Out of Children

With the recent school shootings, the rise of Donald Trump, and the recent exposure of sexual assault in Hollywood and the wider media, articles about something called ‘toxic masculinity’ are doing the rounds once again. ‘Toxic masculinity,’ we are told, takes many forms in contemporary life and discourse. For example, in an (unfortunately serious) article for NBC, Marcie Bianco describes Elon Musk’s groundbreaking rocket launch as evidence of men’s patriarchal entitlement to conquer. (At the Clayman Institute for Gender Reseach, Bianco manages “the only university fellowship in the nation that aims to train students how to become feminist journalists.”) All the menz are freaking out about this article. Mission complete https://t.co/Wf0x80uMvF — Marcie Bianco (@MarcieBianco) February 21, 2018 More subtle but equally specious rhetoric, generally derived from the French postmodern tradition, analyzes the socialization of boys through an analytical prism of dominance or systems of power and knowledge. A recent article in the Washington Examiner reported that a kindergarten teacher named Karen Keller was preventing boys in her class from playing with Lego in an attempt to compensate …

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Against War in Syria

President Donald Trump has announced that he plans new missile strikes against the Syrian regime in response to an alleged chemical attack on Syrian civilians in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. The US has offered no evidence of the attack, since, as t…

How the Science Wars Ruined the Mother of Anthropology

Part I: Margaret Mead’s Original Sin When I was about 23, I embarked on a lone trip around the Vanuatu Islands. I eventually wound up on the isolated Maskelyne Island, quite a few days away from civilization in the Western sense of the word. A man had just died and many suspected that witchcraft was involved in cursing his food. For a week I attended the extensive funeral ceremonies, dove on the reef in my spare time, and drank kava with the locals at night. It all sounds very romantic, but the truth is that there was something quite off-putting about being surrounded by hundreds of people from a different culture; an unusual state of loneliness begins to creep in, accompanied by a deep desire to connect with something – anything – from Western culture. Climbing aboard the cargo vessel Big Sista to hitch a ride to Espiritu Santo, I remember hearing a Taylor Swift song on the radio. I’ve never appreciated Taylor Swift so much. However, my journey did leave me with a newfound and abiding …

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Seeking Refuge in the Embattled Centre

A few days ago, Lindsay Shepherd, the Canadian free speech Joan of Arc, bloodied but unbowed by her brush with the grand inquisitors of Laurier University’s virtue squad, announced that she was no longer left-wing, and was taking up a position in the political centre. For months she had been courted and wooed by right-wing provocateurs and held up as an exemplar of courage in the face of her university’s nosey-parker thought police. She had been interviewed by Mark Stein, Jordan Peterson, and Dave Rubin among many other older and more sophisticated interlocutors in the wake of her dressing down, and vilified by some of the louder, more insistent puritans on the Left. This 23-year-old Master’s student quickly became a sensation on Twitter and YouTube, the newly made-up face on the prow of a ship slicing through choppy ideological seas. At once defiant and confessional, Shepherd declared that she had grown to distrust the motives and aspirations of left-wing “social justice warriors.” She explained that actions and attitudes like bike-riding and worrying about the environment …

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The China Model Is Failing

Chairman Xi Jinping is preparing to prolong his rule beyond the end of his second term, thereby breaking with the two-term limit set by Deng Xiaoping. The two-term limit had been one of the few civilized elements of China’s political system, checking the worst excesses of despotism and providing some structure for the peaceful transfer of power. Xi’s stunt is, however, only the latest episode in China’s creeping return to more intensified political control. This development has yet to show its full destructive impact on China’s economic development (for that, we must wait a few more years), but it is already having a devastating effect in the realm of ideas, as it is the final nail in the coffin of the ‘China model’ philosophy. Of course, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its defenders will continue to portray China’s political system as uniquely virtuous. But, intellectually and internationally, that line will be difficult to maintain. It is precisely because those old perceptions are now threatened, that the Propaganda Ministry has ordered Chinese media to lash …

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