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Culture war games: a modern-day auto-da-fé

Don’t Fight Their Lies With Lies of Your Own
By Masha Gessen

Fraudulent news stories, which used to be largely a right-wing phenomenon, are becoming increasingly popular among those who oppose the president. (I prefer not to add to the appeal of such stories by citing them, but an example is the string of widely shared items that purported to link every death of a more-or-less prominent Russian man to Russian interference in the election.) Each story dangles the promise of a secret that can explain the unimaginable. Each story comes with the ready justification that desperate times call for outrageous claims. But each story deals yet another blow to our fact-based reality, destroying the very fabric of politics that Mr. Trump so clearly disdains.

Why Has Trust in Media Collapsed? Look at Actions of WSJ, Yahoo, Business Insider and Slate.
By Glenn Greenwald

If you publish serious claims without any basis that mislead readers, and then refuse to acknowledge new evidence that disproves your original claims – all because you dislike the people you originally smeared with falsehoods too much to correct your error or because you hope the embarrassment will disappear faster if you don’t admit error – why should anyone view you as being different than Macedonian teenagers or “alt-right” conspiracy sites? What are the cognizable differences?

The rise of left-wing, anti-Trump fake news
By BBC Trending

One of the reasons for the growth in liberal fake news is financial.

“Those people who generate this kind of fake news don’t care about politics. They just care about generating clicks, and so sometimes they generate similar messages for the right and the left,” says Filippo Menczer, a professor of Informatics and Computer Science at Indiana University who runs the fake news tracking site Hoaxy.

Yahoo’s Demise Is a Death Knell for Digital News Orgs
By Adrienne LaFrance

Print newspapers will continue to fold, but Yahoo’s demise is a signal that web-native companies are next. If you run a business that relies on digital-advertising revenue for an outsized portion of your funding, you need to find new streams of revenue. Now. It may already be too late.

Unless you’re Facebook or Google, that is. Facebook and Google are practically drowning in ad revenue—together they command a huge portion of global digital-ad dollars—and that’s the root of the problem for every other business trying to clamor for a piece of it. The precise estimates vary. One often-repeated stat, based on last year’s financials, is that Facebook and Google account for 85-percent of every new dollar spent on digital advertising.

But the numbers may be even more stark than that. Jason Kint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, estimates that Facebook and Google accounted for about 99 percent of all advertising growth in the third quarter of 2016—54 percent of the pie for Google, 45 percent of it for Facebook, 1 percent for everybody else.

The Media Bubble is Real — And Worse Than You Think
By Jack Shafer and Tucker Doherty

Is America trapped? Certainly, the media seems to be. It’s hard to imagine an industry willingly accommodating the places with less money, fewer people and less expertise, especially if they sense that niche has already been filled to capacity by Fox. Yet everyone acknowledges that Trump’s election really was a bad miss, and if the media doesn’t figure it out, it will miss the next one, too.

‘Journalism is becoming powerless’: Inside a nervous Turkish newsroom as the government closes in
By Kareem Fahim

In a recent column, Engin wrote about his fear that the crackdown on journalists would become normalized in Turkey, the concern that he and others at Cumhuriyet were losing the public by constantly writing about the imprisonment of their colleagues. The response was heartening, he said. The column drew more than twice the traffic he normally receives.

But it seemed a small comfort to maintain the support of the paper’s loyalists, including what is known as the secular Kemalist elite. Journalists in Turkey faced a far deeper challenge addressing their broader audience: a polarized society in a country arguing over its identity, the nature of its democracy and the question of who belongs.

free speech and unsafe spaces
By Kenan Malik

There has perhaps been no period in recent history in which the need for social engagement and robust debate has been more urgent. Societies have become fragmented, even tribalized. Broader political, cultural and national identities have eroded, traditional social networks, institutions of authority and moral codes have weakened, and people’s sense of belonging has become more narrow and parochial.

The politics of identity has exacerbated this process of social disaggregation. The frameworks through which we make sense of the world are defined less in political terms than in cultural terms, less as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ than as ‘Muslim’ or ‘white’ or ‘American’ or ‘black’. And even when people talk of ‘liberal’ or conservative’, these are seen as cultural identities as much as they are political viewpoints. Fear of the Other – whether that be migrants, or Muslims, or the ‘deplorables’ of the working class – dominates much political discourse.

Aliens, Antisemitism, and Academia
By Harrison Fluss and Landon Frim

Criticizing Enlightenment thought has become fashionable across the political spectrum. For the past several decades, more and more academics have called reason into question, especially the sort of rationalist worldview that emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

This is especially true among left-leaning, postmodern, and post-structuralist thinkers. While it seems surprising that someone like Jorjani would come out of a self-consciously progressive department, suspicion of Enlightenment rationalism has become endemic to liberal philosophy programs like the one at Stony Brook.

This coincides with one of the Alt-Right’s primary tactics: adopting leftist rhetoric as cover for its racialist, nativist, and often misogynistic agendas.

Its appropriation of identity politics for its own chauvinist brand of white identity politics attests to this strategy’s success. If the Left wants to resist the alt-right’s growing power, it needs to return to the roots of Enlightenment rationality, which insists on the equality of all people and provides a strong theoretical basis for social transformation and universal emancipation.

Has Europe Ceased to Exist?
By Kacem El Ghazzali

I encountered Europe in person in the Spring of 2011, when I arrived in Geneva as a political refugee. It was a great shock to discover that the Europe of the enlightenment — the Europe that I read about in the books that had moved me to write and fight for freedom — had ceased to exist. While it may still exist geographically — you can still see it and you can visit it — you can no longer unconditionally immerse yourself in its ideas or experience the values and humanist principles it was founded upon.

It is now another Europe. It is a Europe where artists and writers must censor themselves in fear of death threats. A Europe where making caricatures of Jesus is considered freedom of speech, but drawing Mohamed is hate speech. A Europe where many liberals and feminists bury their heads in the sand when faced with the suffering of apostates, women, and minorities in the Islamic world; At the same time, far-Right populists exploitatively portray themselves as the new voice of freedom and enlightenment values, while their actions demonstrate an utter rejection these principles.

The lies of the right that debase civilised society
By Nick Cohen

There is a powerful case to be made against the version of multiculturalism that abandons women in ethnic minority communities to second-class lives and the institutionalised bigotry of religious courts. One has an absolute duty to support liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims in the struggle against theocratic power and my generation of alleged liberals and leftists has disgraced itself by its failure to be adamant on this point.

But the alt-right is not saying that human rights are universal or they are nothing. It damns human rights, however they are applied. It doesn’t want a multiculturalism that does not use fake accusations of racism and Islamophobia as a cover for the abuse of religious power. It wants a white monoculture. It maintains that hundreds of millions of people with wildly variant beliefs can be lumped together as “the Muslims”. The feminist fighting sharia councils is no different from the apologist for Iran. The defender of freedom of speech is no better than the blasphemy-damning Sunni cleric. Now they are in power, let us see where their “ideas” lead.

Why Won’t Steve King Assimilate and Embrace American Values?
By Conor Friedersdorf

The time has come for the folks on the right who’ve spent decades extolling color-blindness, while decrying identity politics and multiculturalism, to show themselves to have been in earnest—or to stay silent, like hypocrites or cowards. Silence abets men like King who would turn movement conservatism into a three-legged stool resting on tax cuts for the rich, opposition to abortion for the religious, and white nationalism for the subset of European Americans who remain unassimilated.

ideological violence and sociopathic rage
By Kenan Malik

Deranged fury cloaked in ideological rage is not uniquely Islamist. Two days before Masood mowed down his victims on Westminster Bridge, James Harris Jackson allegedly stabbed to death Timothy Caughman in Manhattan. Jackson was white, Caughman black. Jackson is said to have come to New York from Baltimore armed with a knife and a sword and with the aim of killing as many black people as possible. ‘I hate blacks’, he allegedly told police. He chose to make New York the scene of his murderous act because it was ‘the media capital of the world’ and he ‘wanted to make a statement’, investigators say. The police are uncertain whether Jackson had any formal links to racist groups. But, as with many Islamist killings, this stabbing blurs the line between ideological violence and psychotic rage. At his arraignment, the prosecutor called it ‘an act, most likely, of terrorism’. Defence counsel talked of Jackson’s ‘obvious psychological issues’.

This murderous act is not an isolated incident. In 2015, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old American obsessed with white supremacist ideas, shot dead nine African-American worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Last July, Ali David Sonboly went on a rampage in a Munich shopping mall, shooting dead nine people, and injuring another 36. He was of Iranian origin. But being Iranian meant to him not ‘Muslim’, but ‘Aryan’. He was obsessed by mass shootings and lauded Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian neo-Nazi who killed 77 people in Oslo and Utøya in 2011, and proud of sharing his birthday with Adolf Hitler. A month earlier, in Britain, Thomas Mair, a 53-year-old man with links to far-right groups, had shot and stabbed to death Jo Cox, a Labour MP, while she was campaigning in the EU referendum, in Birstall, Yorkshire.

Why Fury Over Emmett Till Artwork At Whitney Biennial Is So Dangerous
By Cathy Young

The idea of racial purity in culture has its own hideous history, from anti-Semitic depictions of Jews as cultural parasites to the Nazi campaign against “degenerate art.” To see this idea repackaged as “progressive” is grotesque.

And yet the war on “cultural appropriation” is a major cause of the social justice movement, targeting yoga classes, Asian food at a college cafeteria, and white belly dancers. It has even gone beyond the classic paradigm of the privileged appropriator taking from a marginalized or colonized culture. Latina pop singer Selena Gomez has been “called out” for wearing a bindi — a jeweled red forehead dot, traditionally a Hindu religious symbol—during a performance. Do Latinos have a history of oppressing Hindus?

Ironically, Gomez’s bindi-wearing was defended by Bollywood singer Priyanka Chopra, who saw it as “an embrace of Indian culture” and pointed out that many women in Southeast Asia wear the bindi as a secular decoration. This highlights a paradox of the cultural appropriation debate: the foes of “appropriation” often speak over the very people they claim to champion.

away with the gatekeepers!
By Kenan Malik

In many European nations, minority groups have come to be seen as distinct communities, each with their own interests, needs and desires, and each with certain so-called ‘community leaders’ acting as their representatives. Such leaders are frequently religious, often conservative, and rarely representative of their communities. But they wield great power as mediators between their communities and wider society. In effect, they act as gatekeepers to those communities.

Their role as gatekeepers is particularly problematic when it comes to policing not fashion styles or cuisine but ideas. Community leaders often help define what is acceptable to say about particular communities, and what is ‘offensive’. And notions of ‘offence’ are often used to police not just what outsiders may say about a particular community, but to shut down debate within those communities – think of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie or the shutting down by Sikh activists of Sikh playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti, which explored the role of women within Sikh communities.

The campaign against cultural appropriation is, in other words, part of the broader attempt to police communities and cultures. Those who most suffer from such policing are minority communities themselves, and in particular progressive voices within those communities. The real fight against injustice begins with ridding ourselves of our self-appointed gatekeepers.

In anti-intellectual email, Wellesley profs call engaging with controversial arguments an imposition on students – FIRE
By Alex Morey and Samantha Harris

“I find it absurd that six faculty members at Wellesley can call themselves defenders of free speech and also conflate my recent talk with bullying the disempowered,” Kipnis told FIRE in an email. “What actually happened was that there was a lively back and forth after I spoke. The students were smart and articulate, including those who disagreed with me.”

“I’m going to go further and say — as someone who’s been teaching for a long time, and wants to see my students able to function in the world post-graduation — that protecting students from the ‘distress’ of someone’s ideas isn’t education, it’s a $67,000 babysitting bill.”

Camille Paglia Discusses Her War on ‘Elitist Garbage’ and Contemporary Feminism
By Mitchell Sunderland

How should young people preserve free speech?
Stand up, speak out, and refuse to be silenced! But identify the real source of oppression, which is embedded in the increasingly byzantine structure of higher education. Push back against the nanny-state college administrators who subject you to authoritarian surveillance and undemocratic thought control! I sent up a prophetic warning shot about this in my 1992 article, “The Corruption of the Humanities in the US,” which was published in London and is reprinted in my new book. The rapid, uncontrolled spread of overpaid administrators on college campuses over the past 30 years has marginalized the faculty, downgraded education, and converted students into marketing tools. Administrators are locked in a mercenary commercial relationship with tuition-paying parents and in a coercive symbiosis with intrusive regulators of the federal government. Young people have been far too passive about the degree to which their lives are being controlled by commissars of social engineering who pay lip service to liberalism but who are at root Stalinist autocrats who despise and suppress individualism. There is no excuse whatever for the grotesque rise in tuition costs, which has bankrupted families and imposed crippling debt on students trying to start their lives. When will young people wake up to the connection between rampant student debt and the administrator-sanctioned suppression of free speech on campus? Follow the money—the yellow brick road leads to the new administrator master class.

In 18 Years, A College Degree Could Cost About $500,000
By Venessa Wong

Tuition has been rising by about 6% annually, according to investment management company Vanguard. At this rate, when babies born today are turning 18, a year of higher education at a private school — including tuition, fees, and room and board — will cost more than $120,000, Vanguard said. Public colleges could average out to $54,000 a year.

That means without financial aid, the sticker price of a four-year college degree for children born today could reach half a million dollars at private schools, and a quarter million at public ones. That’s for a family with one kid; those with more could be facing a bill that reaches seven figures.

Illiberal arts colleges: Pay more, get less (free speech)
By Richard V. Reeves

We have crunched some numbers using data gathered by the non-partisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and found that the schools where students have attempted disinvite speakers are substantially wealthier and more expensive than average. Since 2014, there have been attempts at some 90 colleges to disinvite speakers, mostly conservatives. The average enrollee at a college where students have attempted to restrict free speech comes from a family with an annual income $32,000 higher than that of the average student in America.

There is much to disagree with in Murray’s work. But his depiction of class separation is on the nose. In fact, I go even further than that he does in my own book, Dream Hoarders (for which, to be transparent, Murray has provided some advance praise). The upper middle class is separating dangerously from the rest of society. This is driven in part by unfair “opportunity hoarding” mechanisms, including regressive tax expenditures, corrupt internships, and unfair zoning laws. But perhaps the greatest symbol of upper middle class separation is the elite university itself. Colleges like Middlebury—buoyed by such practices as legacy preferences in admissions—not only reflect but reinforce the continued growth of inequality.

The Dangerous Safety of College
By Frank Bruni

Protests aren’t the problem, not in and of themselves. They’re vital, and so is work to end racism, sexism, homophobia and other bigotry. But much of the policing of imperfect language, silencing of dissent and shaming of dissenters runs counter to that goal, alienating the very onlookers who need illumination.

It’s an approach less practical than passionate, less strategic than cathartic, and partly for that reason, both McWhorter and the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt have likened it to a religion.

“When something becomes a religion, we don’t choose the actions that are most likely to solve the problem,” said Haidt, the author of the 2012 best seller “The Righteous Mind” and a professor at New York University. “We do the things that are the most ritually satisfying.”

He added that what he saw in footage of the confrontation at Middlebury “was a modern-day auto-da-fé: the celebration of a religious rite by burning the blasphemer.”

Flemming Rose: Censorship and self-censorship in the 21st century
By Flemming Rose

Censorship in Europe was first and foremost connected to the church. The church exercised strict control over the dissemination and interpretation of the holy scriptures. The church and the state were for centuries so close that what was seen as injurious to the church was automatically regarded as injurious to the state.

The church’s authority to act as censor started to erode as a result of the Reformation when the heresy of choice was introduced. It became impossible to maintain that there were no possible alternatives to the Roman way.

The impact of the Reformation in the aftermath of the invention of the printing press proved to be decisive in determining a changing attitude to censorship. It lead to a conceptual separation of words and deeds, of expression and action …

… the distinction between words and deeds is fundamental to upholding freedom of speech. It paved the way for a doctrine of religious tolerance and religious freedom and later for freedom of expression. The distinction serves as a line separating democracy from dictatorship, a free society from an unfree society. The former does not treat words as if they were actions, the latter does. That’s why dissidents end up in jail for word crimes in a dictatorship while they sit in parliament or become presidents in democracies. Think of Vaclav Havel or Andrei Sakharov.

I believe that it is of the utmost importance to keep this fundamental distinction in mind in today’s world, where so many people are eager to equalise words with deeds insisting that words can be as harmful as actual physical violence and therefore we have to criminalise them. We don’t want to return to the Middle Ages.

Eyewitness to a Title IX Witch Trial
by Laura Kipnis

… as I weigh the evidence in my own inner courtroom, I can understand why the university wanted to jettison Ludlow. Personally, I don’t think he abused his power. The problem was that he didn’t share the conception of power in vogue in academic precincts. Yes, Ludlow was guilty — though not of what the university charged him with. His crime was thinking that women over the age of consent have sexual agency, which has lately become a heretical view on campus, despite once being a crucial feminist position. Of course the community had to expel him. That’s what you do with heretics.

Still, the history of purification rituals is a pretty squalid one. Heading down this path once again requires a lot of historical amnesia from everyone involved. That college campuses should be where history goes to be forgotten is depressing on all levels, not least when it comes to the future of higher education — and freedoms of every stripe.

Why Banning Laura Kipnis Would Betray Wellesley’s Academic Mission
By Conor Friedersdorf

In bygone eras, many college students have expressed genuine, deeply held distress at ideas as varied as the equality of races, humankind’s evolution from apes, the wisdom of extending the franchise to women, the injustice of punishing gay sex, and the propriety of allowing gays to marry (a position that Wellesley’s most famous alumna came to many decades after graduating, and some years after Dick Cheney).

Today, six Wellesley faculty members are urging that their students be kept from ideas on the basis of finding them distressful, a standard that, applied with sufficient success, would have delayed or prevented all of the aforementioned advances. That context underscores the hubristic arrogance in their framework: They write as if, uniquely in history, the feelings of their students, shaped by their guidance, will prove so infallible that they can abandon the enlightenment idea that it is folly to close oneself to rebuttals as if certain one is right.

On Political Correctness
By William Deresiewicz

The assumption on selective campuses is not only that we are in full possession of the truth, but that we are in full possession of virtue. We don’t just know the good with perfect wisdom, we embody it with perfect innocence. But regimes of virtue tend to eat their children. Think of Salem. They tend to turn upon themselves, since everybody wants to be the holiest. Think of the French Revolution. The ante is forever being upped. The PC commissariat reminds me of the NRA. Everyone is terrified of challenging the NRA (everyone in a position to stop it, at least), so it gets whatever it demands. But then, because it can, it thinks up new demands. Guns in playgrounds, guns in bars.

So it is with political correctness. There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.

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