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Culture war games: politically-religiously tainted knowledge

Is Humanity Getting Better?
By Leif Wenar

The real trick to understanding our world is to see it with both eyes at once. The world now is a thoroughly awful place — compared with what it should be. But not compared with what it was.

Human Progress Quantified
By Steven Pinker

People are living longer and healthier lives, not just in the developed world but globally. A dozen infectious and parasitic diseases are extinct or moribund. Vastly more children are going to school and learning to read. Extreme poverty has fallen worldwide from 85 to 10 percent. Despite local setbacks, the world is more democratic than ever. Women are better educated, marrying later, earning more, and in more positions of power and influence. Racial prejudice and hate crimes have decreased since data were first recorded. The world is even getting smarter: In every country, IQ has been increasing by three points a decade.

A common belief among activists is that any optimistic datum must be suppressed lest it lull people into complacency. Instead, one must keep up the heat by wailing about ongoing crises and scolding people for being insufficiently terrified.

The Epistemic Trainwreck Of Soft-Side Psychology
By Philip Tetlock

The road to scientific hell is paved with political intentions, sometimes maniacally evil ones and sometimes profoundly well intentioned ones. If you value science as a purely epistemic game, the effects are equally corrosive. When you replace the pursuit of truth with the protection of dogma, you get politically-religiously tainted knowledge.

The explosive science of genetics
By Margaret Wente

The idea of innate differences is anathema to many people who value equality. If genes are so important, what happens to our efforts to create social justice? What happens to our notions of social reform progress? There’s also the grim spectre of the past. Genetic determinism has been linked with some of the vilest chapters in recent history.

No wonder many people – especially social scientists, feminists, and progressive politicians – think behavioural genetics is a Pandora’s box that should be slammed shut as soon as possible. They remain heavily invested in cultural determinism – the idea that your environment, not your origins, makes you who you are, and also that the right social policies can significantly change the outcomes.

But genetic denialism has its own risks. One risk is that by not acknowledging the importance of heritability, a lot of social science research is misleading and useless. And many of the policies it has inspired won’t work.

Today the social sciences face a deepening crisis of legitimacy – largely because social scientists, who are overwhelmingly liberal, can’t bring themselves to acknowledge what’s staring them in the face. Yet good social policy depends on it. Dr. Plomin believes this is especially true in education, which should be both more effective and more humane. “It does poor service to social change to subordinate truth to politics,” he says.

Alice in Blunder Land
By Robert King

If your work does not allow you be fitted into a simple political camp then you are likely to get attacked by both of them. If you did not take the precaution of being from some sort of oppressed minority then this is a further danger. Being a good writer is risky – because then your books will actually be read by those who might become offended. Most interestingly she identifies the Galilean personality as the biggest risk factor of all. This is the personality that behaves as if the truth matters more than anything else. More than feelings, more than politics, more than the self. The Galilean personality is the one that animates science, because nothing other than this can brush aside the things that hinder science: reliance on authority, tradition and intuition.

The man who studies the spread of ignorance
By Georgina Kenyon

Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue.

Another academic studying ignorance is David Dunning, from Cornell University. Dunning warns that the internet is helping propagate ignorance – it is a place where everyone has a chance to be their own expert, he says, which makes them prey for powerful interests wishing to deliberately spread ignorance.

“While some smart people will profit from all the information now just a click away, many will be misled into a false sense of expertise. My worry is not that we are losing the ability to make up our own minds, but that it’s becoming too easy to do so. We should consult with others much more than we imagine. Other people may be imperfect as well, but often their opinions go a long way toward correcting our own imperfections, as our own imperfect expertise helps to correct their errors,” warns Dunning.

Universities must challenge, not conform
By Joanna Williams

A political consensus impacts on the future direction of academic work and the range of legitimate ideas that can be pursued. Researchers exploring trends in social psychology suggest that a lack of intellectual diversity may result in ‘the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterise liberals and conservatives alike’. They point to the existence of high-profile replication failures and suggest ‘one largely overlooked cause of failure is a lack of political diversity’. A culture of intellectual conformity within academia prevents the checks and balances on research that emerge from discussion with colleagues who do not share the same political outlook or value framework.

The Strongest Prejudice Was Identified
By Jonathan Haidt

… rising cross-partisan hostility means that Americans increasingly see the other side not just as wrong but as evil, as a threat to the very existence of the nation, according to Pew Research. Americans can expect rising polarization, nastiness, paralysis, and governmental dysfunction for a long time to come.

This is a warning for the rest of the world because some of the trends that have driven America to this point are occurring in many other countries, including: rising education and individualism (which make people more ideological), rising immigration and ethnic diversity (which reduces social capital and trust), and stagnant economic growth (which puts people into a zero-sum mindset).

This is extremely bad news for science and universities because universities are usually associated with the left. In the United States, universities have moved rapidly left since 1990, when the left-right ratio of professors across all departments was less than two to one. By 2004, the left-right ratio was roughly five to one, and it is still climbing. In the social sciences and humanities it is far higher. Because this political purification is happening at a time of rising cross-partisan hostility, we can expect increasing hostility from Republican legislators toward universities and the things they desire, including research funding and freedom from federal and state control.

Missouri Lawmakers Push To Punish Mizzou Because Students Protested
By Tyler Kingkade

A committee of the Missouri legislature voted this week to penalize the University of Missouri’s flagship campus financially because students there engaged in protests.

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger (R-Jackson) cited student activism as the reason to pass a budget amendment that would exclude Mizzou from any increase in state support for higher education next year, according to local media reports.

The trouble with ‘racial awareness’ on campus
By Brendan O’Neill

“Racial understanding” sounds nice; it’s always good to be understanding, right? Yet the logic of it strikes me as dire. It rehabilitates, in politically correct lingo, the belief that skin color is more important than what lies beneath.

This is what the politics of identity has wrought. As we’re implored to define ourselves by our race, gender, sexuality or some other given trait over which we have little control, we become separated from one another. Some will say I can afford to be colorblind because I’m a white man. I don’t experience racialized hardship, so it’s easy for me to say: “Race doesn’t matter.” But challenging racial thinking doesn’t mean denying the reality of racism.

Antiracism, Our Flawed New Religion
By John McWhorter

One hearkens to one’s preacher to keep telling the truth—and also to make sure we hear it often, since many of its tenets are easy to drift away from, which leads us to the next evidence that Antiracism is now a religion. It is inherent to a religion that one is to accept certain suspensions of disbelief. Certain questions are not to be asked, or if asked, only politely—and the answer one gets, despite being somewhat half-cocked, is to be accepted as doing the job.

“Why is the Bible so self-contradictory?” Well, God works in mysterious ways—what’s key is that you believe. “Why does God allows such terrible things to happen?” Well, because we have free will … and it’s complicated but really, just have faith.

Campus Protesters Aren’t Reliving the 1960s
By Josh Zeitz

Fifty years ago, college students self-identified with repressed minorities at home and abroad and demanded freedom from the shackles of in loco parentis supervision and stewardship. They clamored to be treated as emancipated adults and foisted on their elders a noisy and disruptive free speech culture. Today’s students, who are certainly no less politically minded than their forbearers, are demanding the opposite. Far from freeing themselves of stewardship, they demand faculty “create a home” in which they remain children in the protection of more powerful elders. They insist on protection from ideas and voices that upset them and require a nurturing and therapeutic environment that bears no relationship to the real world of politics (or, for that matter, of business, technology, art or culture).

Today’s protesters may think they are marching in the footsteps of those who came before. In fact, they are undoing much of that generation’s enduring accomplishment.

The College Where Martin Luther King Is Problematic
By Robby Soave

This movement reached peak insanity at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, where students petitioned administrators to rename the Lynch Memorial Hall, a building dedicated to former college president Clyde Lynch, because, well, “lynching” is bad.

It’s perfectly all right for students to organize protests against campus buildings that were named after, say, slaveholders—though they should be reminded that such efforts are purely symbolic and do not actually advance human rights in any measurable way.

recolonized by the past
By Kenan Malik

Of course, the past shapes the present. But the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaigners seem to believe that black and ethnicity minorities are trapped by their history; and that history is the cause of unending psychological trauma. This suggests not an assertion but a diminishment of agency, a view of black and ethnic minorities as not so much the shapers of history, as its victims. Whereas the real decolonizers sought to throw off the yoke of history, ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaigners appear to have let the past recolonize them.

Never mind Rhodes – it’s the cult of the victim that must fall
By Brendan O’Neill

This depiction of history as a wounding thing speaks to today’s cult of self-victimisation, the deep 21st-century urge to define oneself as a victim of circumstance rather than a shaper of destiny. Because the students who make up Rhodes Must Fall are among the most comfortable, cosseted young people in Western Europe, enjoying the extraordinary privilege of reading and thinking in one of the world’s oldest, most prestigious universities, they must trawl the past in search of victim status. Unable to find anything unpleasant in their cushioned lives, they instead plunder the suffering of earlier black generations in order to discover some hurt they might claim as their own. These are the very students most likely to complain about ‘cultural appropriation’, yet they engage in a most foul form of what we might call historical appropriation: they claim to feel the pain of the enslaved and the colonised as they sip tea in the swooning towers of Oxford. It would be like me demanding a ban on images of potatoes on the basis that they make me feel the stabbing hunger pains of my ancestors who perished in the Irish Famine.

Should Anything Be ‘Beyond A Joke’?
By Mick Hume

Of course, nobody has to approve of offensive humour, and anybody is free to heckle or hit back in kind. We have witnessed the rise of a new wave of comedians or deliberate provocateurs whose aim is to appear as offensive as possible. This is best understood as the flipside of the campaign to sanitise humour, an attempted backlash against those stultifying trends. It is regrettable that the only way some seem able to take a stand for free speech these days is by becoming an offence-seeking caricature of themselves.

This Is the Hollowed-Out World That Outrage Culture Has Created
By Ryan Holiday

It’s about time that we come to terms with a fundamental reality of this attention economy we live in: human beings will put up with all sorts of indignities, rage, criticism, mockery, and disdain in exchange for getting attention. They’ve learned that if they simply wait out the knee jerk reactions and noise, they still get to stay on stage. And often in the competitive, noisy times we live in, the easiest way to get on that stage in the first place is to do something dumb, out of touch, ridiculous, provocative, offensive or shameless. Especially if the attention that behavior earns can be more easily translated into money than other more rational acts.

Fear, Loathing and Victimhood
By Wendy Kaminer

Who’s doing what to whom? That is the question posed by identity politics and our debased legal and political discourse. Framing ideological opponents as either victims or oppressors exacerbates the rigidity of identity groups and invites authoritarianism, right and left. By reflexively declaring yourself a victim, you doubt or diminish your own agency and encourage appeals by demagogues who confirm your angry sense of impotence and promise to take charge – to be strong where you are weak. That is one ominous lesson of the Trump campaign, an exemplary and often overlooked exercise in victimism and identity politics.

Like the political-correctness crusades he disdains, Donald Trump relies on constituent feelings of victimhood. He assures his supporters that they have reason to be scared and resentful and exhorts them to feel besieged – by incompetent politicians, immigrants and terrorists.

Donald Trump’s hate for political correctness is comfort food to racists
By Cathy Young

Some mainstream conservatives have defended not only Trump-mania but also the “alt-right” as a justified backlash against political correctness. In Twitter discussions, several people told me that “alt-right” supporters who spew white supremacism simply want to defy the stigma against bigotry because that stigma is so often used to silence dissent. That logic is, to put it politely, deeply flawed. Besides, a look at the profiles of many “alt-rightists” shows that they are not merely trolling, but consistently defending, racist views. If you play a white supremacist on the Internet full time, you are, for all intents and purposes, a white supremacist.

The alt-right and, to some extent, the larger Trump fandom, are manifestations of white identity politics — which is partly a response to the “progressive” identity politics of race and gender, but also taps into older prejudices.

How Intersectionality Makes You Stupid
By James Kirchick

Proponents of intersectionality have elevated its categorical paradigms of all-encompassing, omnipresent “oppression,” and its attendant, identity-based hierarchies of virtue, to that of a Weltanschauung, a new morality to replace the basic, classical liberal principles of freedom, individual rights, and equality before the law on which Western civilization is based. Because of intersectionality’s insistence that identity politics trumps all, reflexive condemnation replaces reasoned discussion, and those claiming to represent a higher good smother the rights of individuals. Likewise, intersectionality compels one to adopt agendas that have nothing to do with his or her own. Worse, in the name of “solidarity” with other supposedly “oppressed” groups, it leads to alliances with those actively hostile to one’s cause.

Shame On The Liberals Who Rationalise Terror
By Nick Cohen

Every step you take explaining radical Islam away is apparently rational and liberal. Each takes you further from rationalism and liberalism. In your determination to see the other side’s point of view and to avoid making it “really angry about this or that”, you end up altering your behaviour so much that you can no longer challenge the prejudices of violent religious reactionaries. As you seek rationales for the irrational and excuses for the inexcusable, you become a propagandist for the men you once opposed.

The scurrilous lies written about Charlie Hebdo
By Robert McLiam Wilson

Only two days after the murders, the New Yorker published a riotously ignorant article that took Charlie to task for its evident Nazi-standard racism. It was in the New Yorker so it must have been true.

It was a filthy and stupid libel. And hugely influential too, the urtext for the asinine. If Charlie Hebdo is racist then it’s not very good at it. Witness the routine and constant support of Charlie on the part of SOS Racisme, France’s main anti-racism campaigning group. And know too that justice minister, Christiane Taubira, the “victim” of the infamous monkey cartoon, was so wounded and offended that she gave an extraordinary, moving speech at the funeral of one of the murdered cartoonists. The New Yorker’s arrogant libel was the equivalent of a French person who speaks no English confidently asserting that Chris Rock is a dodgy fascist.

In Reality, the Bernie Bro Argument Shifts Endlessly
By Matt Bruenig

The problem with shifting explanations and shifting descriptions is that they are usually signs of motivated dishonesty. When you tell me someone is bad because he did A and then later you say he didn’t do A but he did B, and then later again you say he didn’t do B but he did C, the natural inference is that you just don’t like the guy, but that you aren’t being forthcoming about why.

The “Bernie Bros” Narrative: a Cheap Campaign Tactic Masquerading as Journalism and Social Activism
By Glenn Greenwald

… truth doesn’t matter here — at all. Instead, the goal is to inherently delegitimize all critics of Hillary Clinton by accusing them of, or at least associating them with, sexism, thus distracting attention away from Clinton’s policy views, funding, and political history and directing it toward the online behavior of anonymous, random, isolated people on the internet claiming to be Sanders supporters. It’s an effective weapon when wielded by Clinton operatives. But, given its blatant falsity, it has zero place in anything purporting to be “journalism.”

This Is How Hillary Clinton Gets the Coverage She Wants
By J.K. Trotter

Hillary Clinton’s supporters often argue that mainstream political reporters are incapable of covering her positively—or even fairly. While it may be true that the political press doesn’t always write exactly what Clinton would like, emails recently obtained by Gawker offer a case study in how her prodigious and sophisticated press operation manipulates reporters into amplifying her desired message—in this case, down to the very word that The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder used to describe an important policy speech.

Before You Get Too Excited About That GitHub Study…
By Scott Alexander

A non-peer-reviewed paper shows that women get more requests accepted than men. In one subgroup, unblinding gender gives women a bigger advantage; in another subgroup, unblinding gender gives men a bigger advantage. When gender is unblinded, both men and women do worse; it’s unclear if there are statistically significant differences in this regard. Only one of the study’s subgroups showed lower acceptance for women than men, and the size of the difference was 63% vs. 64%, which may or may not be statistically significant. This may or may not be related to the fact, demonstrated in the study, that women propose bigger and less-immediately-useful changes on average; no attempt was made to control for this. This tiny amount of discrimination against women seems to be mostly from other women, not from men.

The media uses this to conclude that “a vile male hive mind is running an assault mission against women in tech.”

Jon Ronson: how the online hate mob set its sights on me
By Jon Ronson

I was basically being told, “It’s fine to write about those wronged people, but don’t write about that wronged person because it makes us look bad.” But a wronged person is a wronged person, even when they are an unfashionable wronged person.

I wrote about Justine not because I identified with her, although I did, but because I identified with the people who tore her apart. I consider myself a social justice person. It was my people, abusing our power.

The violence of the Safe Space
By Brendan O’Neill

Things are burnt, people are harassed, and books, newspapers and songs are banned in the name of “safety”. Menace, fire and threats are used to create “safety”. Discomfort is deployed in the name of comfort. Intimidation is used to tackle alleged intimidation. Violence is safety.

The Totalitarian Doctrine of “Social Justice Warriors”
By Cathy Young

There is a word for ideologies, religious or secular, that seek to politicize and control every aspect of human life: totalitarian. Unlike most such ideologies, SocJus has no fixed doctrine or clear utopian vision. But in a way, its amorphousness makes it more tyrannical. While all revolutions are prone to devouring their children, the SocJus movement may be especially vulnerable to self-immolation: Its creed of “intersectionality”—multiple overlapping oppressions—means that the oppressed are always one misstep away from becoming the oppressor.

When Social Justice Isn’t About Justice
By Nathaniel Givens

This isn’t a critique of the principles of social justice. This isn’t an attack on equality, diversity, or the existence of systematic oppression. But it is an indictment of what happens when inattentiveness to other considerations—considerations of pluralism and truth and free inquiry—allows fervor to drift toward fanaticism. And it is a warning that, within the context of victimhood culture, social justice activism is particularly prone to being hijacked by upper-class activists who—intentionally or not—increasingly deploy the rhetoric and tactics of social justice activism not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of power.

yes Virginia, there is a left-wing reform movement
By Fredrik deBoer

What do these people object to? They’re tired of the prioritization of the symbolic over the substantive; of the ever-more-obscure left-wing vocabulary; of the near-total silence on class issues; of the abandonment of labor organizing as a principal method of political action; of the insistence that people who aren’t already convinced must educate themselves, when convincing others is and has always been the basic requirement of political action; of the confusion of pop culture ephemera with meaningful political victory; of the celebrity worship; of the clumsy Manicheanism that divides the world into all good and all bad; of the use of cruelty, shaming, and character assassination; of the insistence that people within a political movement should “just listen” when someone makes a claim, no matter how outlandish, misguided, unfair, or wrong; of the expectation that everyone should know how to speak and act in perfect congruence with obscure and elitist conceptions of righteous behavior; of the profound conservatism of demanding that everyone occupy a narrow band of cultural practices, refusing to enjoy the world’s vast cultural bounties, out of fear of appropriating someone else’s culture; and, more than anything, of the willful obscurity and inaccessibility, the total and complete indifference towards actually reaching out and building a bigger movement by meeting people halfway and trying to adapt to them as you ask them to adapt to you, the replacement of a mass political movement with an exclusive social circle.

Claims that doing yoga is impermissible cultural appropriation, arguments that we should drop phrases like “I see what you mean” because they’re ableist, the assumption that linking to Tweets constitutes violence but harassing and degrading people to the point of suicide is noble activism, filing Title IX claims against people for writing essays in major magazines, allowing your position to become synonymous with attacks on the right to free expression, claiming that you can fight capitalism and the state with hashtags — this is the behavior of a movement that cannot win.

How did my communist family get it so wrong? Because politics was their religion
By Martin Kettle

This left of today looks to me suspiciously as if it is developing into another church. This left too is marked by a reluctance to ask necessary but difficult questions about its plans for the world beyond the church walls. This left too seems happiest as a fellowship of true believers, squabbling among itself, dismissive of all those who remain sceptics or whose beliefs the elders find unacceptable. Just as the communists knew things deep down that they should have faced up to, so too does this left.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a politics that is essentially a religion, providing that you recognise it for what it is, something personal between you and your friends. But I’ve been there and done that. If politics is an act of faith – rather than a programme and a willingness to change and adapt to new times – it will fail, as communism did. That’s fine for those for whom belief in socialist principles matters more than anything else, just as it was for the communists. But it won’t work. And in the end people will hate it too.

When gender politics treats individuals as pawns in a political game
By Claire Lehmann

The Left was once a proponent of individualism in the ’60s and ’70s. It celebrated self-determination, and freedom from oppressive, outdated social orthodoxies. However, a leftie today is more likely to enforce social orthodoxy than question it.

Ultimately this approach – the undermining of individual difference and personal sovereignty in the hope of achieving political ends – is counter-productive.

It becomes sexist in its mission to fight sexism. It creates stereotypes in order to fight stereotypes. It becomes exactly what it professes to hate. It essentialises and reduces individual adults to mere pawns in a larger political game.

Springtime for Demagogues
By David Paxton

There is an anti-enlightenment strand in both the far Left and far Right. Both embrace a world view which sees people in terms of identity groups and collective forces and it is why they both share a totalitarian impulse.

Treat people as individuals and equals or don’t. But people come here to be treated as representatives of themselves and have their efforts judged accordingly. If you decide they are better off treated as representatives of a group, try not to be too surprised when your political enemies start doing so too.

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