Skip to content

Culture war games: dangerous ideas

Preface to Dangerous Ideas
By Steven Pinker

Many of our moral and political policies are designed to pre-empt what we know to be the worst features of human nature. The checks and balances in a democracy, for instance, were invented in explicit recognition of the fact that human leaders will always be tempted to arrogate power to themselves. Likewise, our sensitivity to racism comes from an awareness that groups of humans, left to their own devices, are apt to discriminate and oppress other groups, often in ugly ways. History also tells us that a desire to enforce dogma and suppress heretics is a recurring human weakness, one that has led to recurring waves of gruesome oppression and violence. A recognition that there is a bit of Torquemada in everyone should make us wary of any attempt to enforce a consensus or demonize those who challenge it.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” according to Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous case for freedom of thought and expression. If an idea really is false, only by examining it openly can we determine that it is false. At that point we will be in a better position to convince others that it is false than if we had let it fester in private, since our very avoidance of the issue serves as a tacit acknowledgment that it may be true. And if an idea is true, we had better accommodate our moral sensibilities to it, since no good can come from sanctifying a delusion. This might even be easier than the ideaphobes fear. The moral order did not collapse when the earth was shown not to be at the center of the solar system, and so it will survive other revisions of our understanding of how the world works.

Noise: How to Overcome the High, Hidden Cost of Inconsistent Decision Making
By Daniel Kahneman, Andrew M. Rosenfield, Linnea Gandhi, and Tom Blaser

The problem is that humans are unreliable decision makers; their judgments are strongly influenced by irrelevant factors, such as their current mood, the time since their last meal, and the weather. We call the chance variability of judgments noise.

Academic researchers have repeatedly confirmed that professionals often contradict their own prior judgments when given the same data on different occasions. For instance, when software developers were asked on two separate days to estimate the completion time for a given task, the hours they projected differed by 71%, on average. When pathologists made two assessments of the severity of biopsy results, the correlation between their ratings was only .61 (out of a perfect 1.0), indicating that they made inconsistent diagnoses quite frequently. Judgments made by different people are even more likely to diverge. Research has confirmed that in many tasks, experts’ decisions are highly variable: valuing stocks, appraising real estate, sentencing criminals, evaluating job performance, auditing financial statements, and more. The unavoidable conclusion is that professionals often make decisions that deviate significantly from those of their peers, from their own prior decisions, and from rules that they themselves claim to follow.

Daniel Kahneman: Four Keys to Better Decision Making
By Paul McCaffrey

Of course, when we make mistakes, they tend to skew in two opposing directions.

“People are very loss averse and very optimistic. They work against each other,” he said. “People, because they are optimistic, they don’t realize how bad the odds are.”

As Kahneman’s research on loss aversion has shown, we feel losses more acutely than gains.

“Our estimate in many situations is 2 to 1,” he said.

Yet we tend to overestimate our chances of success, especially during the planning phase. And then whatever the outcome, hindsight is 20/20: Why things did or didn’t work out is always obvious after the fact.

“When something happens, you immediately understand how it happens. You immediately have a story and an explanation,” he said. “You have that sense that you learned something and that you won’t make that mistake again.”

These conclusions are usually wrong. The takeaway should not be a clear causal relationship.

“What you should learn is that you were surprised again,” Kahneman said. “You should learn that the world is more uncertain than you think.”

Giving the Devil His Due: Why Freedom of Inquiry in Science and Politics is Inviolable
By Michael Shermer

The reason we need critical feedback from others is that our brains come equipped with a set of cognitive heuristics—or rules of thumb, or shortcuts—that help us navigate through the buzzing blurring confusion of information coming in through our senses. These heuristics are also known as cognitive biases because they often distort our percepts to fit preconceived concepts. These cognitive biases are part of a larger process called ‘motivated reasoning,’ in which no matter what belief system is in place—religious, political, economic, or social—they shape how we interpret information that comes through our senses and motivate us to reason our way to finding the world to be precisely the way we wish it were. As I argue in The Believing Brain, our beliefs are formed for a variety of subjective, emotional, psychological, and social reasons, and then are reinforced through these belief confirmation heuristics and justified and explained with rational reasons. … The confirmation bias, the hindsight bias, the self-justification bias, the status quo bias, the sunk-cost bias, the availability bias, the representative bias, the believability bias, the authority bias, and the consistency bias are just a few of the ways cognitive psychologists have discovered that we distort the world.

It is not so much that scientists are trained to avoid these cognitive biases as it is that science itself is designed to force you to ferret out your errors and prejudices because if you don’t someone else will, often with great glee in a public forum, from peer-review commentary to social media (where all pretensions to civil discourse are stripped away). Science is a competitive enterprise that is not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. Most ideas that people come up with are wrong. That is why science is so cautious about tossing aside old ideas that have already survived the competitive marketplace, and why scientists tend to dismiss out of hand new ideas that threaten a tried-and-true research paradigm, especially before the revolutionary theory has been properly vetted by professionals in the field. That process of generating new ideas and introducing them to your peers and the public where they can be skeptically scrutinized in the bright light of other minds is the only way to find out if you’ve come up with something true and important or if you’ve been immersed in self-deception.

The Lifespan of a Lie
By Ben Blum

In surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015, Richard Griggs and Jared Bartels each found that nearly every introductory psychology textbook on the market included Zimbardo’s narrative of the experiment, most uncritically. Curious about why the field’s appointed gatekeepers, presumably well-informed about the experiment’s dubious history, would choose to include it nonetheless, I reached out. Three told me they had originally omitted the Stanford prison experiment from their first editions because of concerns about its scientific legitimacy. But even psychology professors are not immune to the forces of social influence: two added it back in under pressure from reviewers and teachers, a third because it was so much in the news after Abu Ghraib. Other authors I spoke with expressed far more critical perspectives on the experiment than appeared in their textbooks, offering an array of reasons why it nonetheless had pedagogical value.

Greg Feist, coauthor of Psychology: Perspectives and Connections, told me that his personal view of the experiment shifted some years back after he came across the 2005 Op-Ed by Carlo Prescott, which he described as “shocking.”

“Once I found out some of the ethical and scientific problems with the study, I didn’t think it was worth perpetuating, to be honest,” Feist said.

But there it is in his textbook’s third edition, published in 2014: a thoroughly conventional telling of Zimbardo’s standard narrative, with brief criticisms appearing only later in the chapter.

The Reality of the Rise of an Intolerant and Radical Left on Campus
By Lee Jussim

I suspect that it has taken so long for defenders of science, reason, and truth to gather themselves because, until recently, most of us took for granted that these values were so self-evident they needed no defense. But they clearly do. As John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, one of the reasons to embrace civil debate even with views that are completely and utterly wrong is that, if the right view is not occasionally challenged, our ability to defend it withers away. We become vulnerable to superstition and falsehoods. Reasonable people everywhere, in the academy and out, need to stand up and support the slow rousting of the defenders of reason, evidence, and the existence of truths in the hope that this will be sufficient to stem the rising tide of unreason and intolerance.

Higher Education Is Drowning in BS
By Christian Smith

Ideas and their accompanying practices have consequences. What is formed in colleges and universities over decades shows up for better or worse in the character and quality of our public servants, political campaigns, public-policy debates, citizen participation, social capital, media programming, lower school education, consumer preferences, business ethics, entertainments, and much more. And the long-term corrosive effects on politics and culture can also be repaired only over the long term, if ever. There are no quick fixes here. So I do not speak in hyperbole by saying that our accumulated academic BS puts at risk decent civilization itself.

The world is always being overrun by political, economic, religious, and social unreason, violence, stupidity, deception, and domination through sheer power. But I have long believed that, despite its flaws, American higher education should, could, and often did stand as an elevated island, a protected reserve for the practice of open inquiry, reasoned debate, critical and self-critical reflection, persuasion through argument and evidence, and genuine progress in shared learning.

Grievously, for me that belief has become implausible. Under the accumulated weight of the mounds of BS, the island has been swamped, the reserve polluted, by many of the destructive outside forces that the academy exists to hold in check and correct. Much of American higher education now embodies the problems it was intended to transcend and transform: unreason, duplicity, refusals of accountability, incapacities to grasp complexity and see the big picture, and resorts to semi-masked forms of coercion.

The Academic Mob and Its Fatal Toll
By Brad Cran

The allegations against Harper were largely based on testimony that her department head solicited from two students; one claimed that Dr Harper might have been planning to build a hydrogen bomb to blow up the campus stadium. The student cited a lecture Dr Harper had given in which she explained the difference between acts of violence that destroy infrastructure opposed to ones that destroy an important symbol within a culture. She said that if someone bombed the Stadium on the UT campus, it would be an act of symbolic destruction because it would not affect the infrastructure of the campus.

The other student alleged that Dr Harper’s then ten-year-old daughter had threatened the life of her Department Head (who happened to be a diabetic) by joking that she intended to bake him a batch of chocolate cookies.

In what appears to read like a Hollywood comedy, the UT Police Report reads as follows:

Dr Harper did ask her daughter to tell their guests what the daughter was going to do for Dr Kramer. The daughter replied she was going to make him some chocolate cookies. [REDACTED-NAME] said that Dr Kramer is diabetic and “you don’t give a chocolate cookie to a diabetic and think something good gonna happen to them.”

I informed [REDACTED-NAME] that I would be contacting the Joint Terrorism Task Force and DOE Security about this possibly violation.

Harper fought UTK and despite the absurd nature of the allegations levelled against her, her department successfully cast her out by denying her tenure. Harper followed with a lawsuit but couldn’t hold out financially and was forced to settle out of court.

Don’t shoot the messenger when confronted with inconvenient ideas
By Russell Blackford

Once an issue has become intensely politicised, we may interpret others’ views as evidence of their overall ideology, which then sways whether or not we regard them as fundamentally ill-disposed people who are not worth listening to.

In a recent article, Neil Levy presents evidence that this is now the case with global warming. For many American conservatives, acceptance of the scientific consensus has become a marker of untrustworthiness. It’s a cue to stop listening.

Such reactions are not new, nor are they found on only one side of politics. Hostile and dogmatic reactions to ideas can be found across the political spectrum. When combined with social media shaming, they can produce cruel outcomes for well-meaning individuals.

Last Fall This Scholar Defended Colonialism. Now He’s Defending Himself.
By Vimal Patel

Q. Your critics also came in two varieties. Some didn’t think your ideas were worthy of being heard. Another group says its concern has primarily been one of process — that your paper didn’t meet the bar for scholarship and the Third World Quarterly editorial process was hazy and not clearly explained, even to board members. The board members who resigned were concerned that a peer reviewer had rejected your paper.

A. There were two reviewers. One said, “reject.” One said, “accept.”

I think where the confusion arose was, there was a special issue on the new imperialism. I initially submitted my article for consideration for that special issue. The editors of that special issue looked at it and said, No, this is not suitable for our special issue. Obviously this wasn’t suitable for their special issue because their special issue was going to be a critique of what they considered the latest round of imperialism. My article did not share their ideological slant. It was therefore, ipso facto, not appropriate for their special issue. That was a desk rejection, not a peer-review rejection.

That’s why Shahid Qadir then said, Let’s just put it in the hopper for a general submission, which is what it went through. It came back with one positive and one negative review.

Q. Have you talked to Shahid Qadir since the controversy?

A. I have not. Not since he called me and said, “We’re getting death threats. Do you mind if we withdrew it?” It’s important to remember the article was not retracted. It was withdrawn with my consent. That’s quite different from retraction.

Q. Tell me about that decision. What sorts of issues were you weighing as you decided what to do with your article?

A. I said, “Of course.” The first thing that went through my head was, “Thank God I live in obscure Oregon and not in London.” The article was already out there anyways. It will always be out there. It doesn’t matter to me in terms of racking up another peer-reviewed article. So I immediately agreed to it.

Q. Noam Chomsky, who publicly defended you, is still on the Third World Quarterly board. Was it surprising that a prominent leftist like Chomsky defended you?

A. It’s the well-known schism between the old left and the new left. Noam Chomsky is a member of the old left, and the old left was fully conversant in the importance of debate and dialectic. It’s the new left, the cultural left, the safe-spaces left, that is where the schism is. I was not surprised with that.

Professor’s Tweet That Barbara Bush Was an ‘Amazing Racist’ Ignites a Fury
By Katherine Mangan

Jarrar went on to taunt readers who had objected, according to reposted screen shots, saying that she worked as a tenured professor making $100,000 a year and that people will always want to hear what she has to say.

That prompted some to complain that her Twitter storm was an attempt to get publicity. The ratings for her newest book, which had been largely favorable, took a nose dive on Amazon after readers angry about her tweets posted reviews like the following: “Prosaic, poorly written, poor grammar, incoherent … Will make for expensive toilet paper.”

Jarrar also supplied a phone number for people to call her, but it was instead a suicide hotline. An operator there said she had been flooded with calls.

Fresno State protected its professor who ranted about Barbara Bush. Other schools should stand by free speech, too.
By Robert Shibley

One would probably still not enjoy trading places with Professor Jarrar. An online petition to fire her has so far gathered more than 80,000 signatures, the university is facing donor backlash, and threats reportedly poured into a literary event at which she was scheduled to appear.

Although it took some doing, Fresno State was ultimately prevailed upon to respect Jarrar’s right to free expression.

The same isn’t true for other college students and faculty members, who face official punishment from universities that have promised to protect freedom of expression.

Universities claim that they value free expression and academic freedom. But, as Jon Stewart memorably said, “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: They’re hobbies.” If colleges are to serve their purpose in a free society, the decisions must be made by principled professionals — not hobbyists.

There Is No Case for the Humanities
By Justin Stover

Conservatives who seek to use the coercive and financial power of the state to correct what they see as ideological abuses within the professoriate are complicit in the destruction of the old-fashioned and timeless scholarship they supposedly are defending. It is self-defeating to make common cause with corporate interests just to punish the political sins of liberal professors. Progressives who want to turn the humanities into a laboratory for social change, a catalyst for cultural revolution, a training camp for activists, are guilty of the same instrumentalization. When they impose de facto ideological litmus tests for scholars working in every field, they betray their conviction that the humanities exist only to serve contemporary political and social ends.

Caught in the middle are the humanities scholars who simply want to do good work in their fields; to read things and think about what they mean; to tease out conclusions about the past and present through a careful analysis of evidence; to delve deeply into language, art, artifact, culture, and nature. This is what the university was established to do.

Free speech on campus
By Lawrence Summers, Harvard University, and former US Treasury Secretary

First, consider how many ideas and texts that we value today were once deemed offensive, and banned. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and James Joyce’s Ulysses were both banned and confiscated under the Comstock Law of 1873, which made it illegal to send anything “obscene, lewd or lascivious” through the mail in the United States.

Examples also abound closer to home. In 1911, the Harvard Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage sought to host Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union of England. Harvard, which then admitted only men to its college, denied this request, with the president stating in a letter to faculty members: “We do not think that the subject of women’s suffrage comes under the category of our subjects.” Another Harvard administrator stated: “We did not want women lecturing in the hall.” Serious alumni movements called for ending the teaching of Keynesian economics in American universities in the early 1950s.

Second, who decides what constitutes offense? Almost anything interesting or provocative is likely to offend some group. The strident atheism of Richard Dawkins offends the religious. Speech that seeks to draw on particular religious traditions to prescribe morality offends some nonadherents. Among those who have been disinvited from or refused invitations to American college campuses are Condoleeza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Bjorn Lomborg, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I take some pride in the fact that my views on higher education were deemed sufficiently provocative a few years ago that the Regents of the University of California bowed to campus activists and rescinded an invitation for me to speak at the University of California at Davis.

Progressives who think they are advancing their interests should consider the historical record. In addition to the banning of suffrage speech at Harvard, Malcolm X was banned during the 1960s from speaking at Queens College and the University of California. The University of North Carolina banned Arthur Miller and J.B.S Haldane from speaking during the same period because of a state law prohibiting Communists and radicals from speaking at state universities.

… But even if the wording were different and only encouraged explicit limitations on, for example, the speech of racists and fascists, we still face the problem of who is to make such a determination. Winston Churchill has been called a racist by many – would we propose he be prevented from speaking on campuses if he were alive today? Gandhi was purported to admire Mussolini – does this make him a fascist? Should his like be banned from universities? In our modern climate, politicians and partisans have called President Trump and Hillary Clinton fascists – who are we to believe? Indeed, the “New York Times” headlined an article on speech suppression “We’re All Fascists Now”. Banning those seen as fascists or racists is a very slippery slope.

Of course, academic freedom does not entail freedom from criticism. It is entirely appropriate to castigate, mock, or scorn speech that is wrong or offensive. But shutting speech down is both counterproductive and dangerous—even in cases where serious injury is feared. Justice Louis Brandeis recognized that “the remedy is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Can Things Be Both Popular And Silenced?
By Scott Alexander

Caitlyn Jenner can be as visibly and fabulously transgender as she wants, because being transgender is a big part of her job. She’s organized a lot of her life around being a transgender person. Any friends she was going to lose for being transgender have already been written off as losses. Anybody who wants to harm her for being transgender is going to get stopped by her bodyguards or kept out of her giant gated mansion. When she argues that transgender people face a lot of stigma, fear, and discrimination, she mostly isn’t talking about herself. She’s talking about every transgender person who isn’t Caitlyn Jenner.

Likewise, Sam Harris is pretty invincible. As a professional edgelord, he is not going to lose his job for being edgy. Whatever friends he’s going to lose for being Sam Harris, he’s already written off as losses. I assume he has some kind of security or at least chooses not to live in Berkeley. So when he’s talking about his ideas being taboo, he means taboo for everybody who isn’t Sam Harris.

I worry that this conversation is being conducted mostly by media personalities who write controversial takes for a living. They work for ideologically-aligned publications, and everyone knows that a few crazies hating and harassing you is a common part of the job. If you didn’t call for women to get the death penalty for abortion before getting a job at The Atlantic, you’ll probably do fine.

Out in the rest of the world, if a rando on social media calls your company, tells them you’re a Nazi, and links them to an out-of-context dossier of all the worst things you ever wrote, that dossier is going straight to a humorless 60-year-old HR drone whose job is minimizing the risk of PR blowups, and who has never heard of Twitter except as a vague legend of a place where everything is terrible all the time. So if you write for a webzine, consider that you may have no idea how silenced or living-in-fear anyone else is or isn’t, and that you may be the wrong person to speculate about it.

The Other Whisper Network
By Katie Roiphe

No one would talk to me for this piece. Or rather, more than twenty women talked to me, sometimes for hours at a time, but only after I promised to leave out their names, and give them what I began to call deep anonymity. This was strange, because what they were saying did not always seem that extreme. Yet here in my living room, at coffee shops, in my inbox and on my voicemail, were otherwise outspoken female novelists, editors, writers, real estate agents, professors, and journalists of various ages so afraid of appearing politically insensitive that they wouldn’t put their names to their thoughts, and I couldn’t blame them.

Of course, the prepublication frenzy of Twitter fantasy and fury about this essay, which exploded in early January, is Exhibit A for why nobody wants to speak openly. Before the piece was even finished, let alone published, people were calling me “pro-rape,” “human scum,” a “harridan,” a “monster out of Stephen King’s ‘IT,’?” a “ghoul,” a “bitch,” and a “garbage person”—all because of a rumor that I was planning to name the creator of the so-called Shitty Media Men list. The Twitter feminist Jessica Valenti called this prospect “profoundly shitty” and “incredibly dangerous” without having read a single word of my piece. Other tweets were more direct: “man if katie roiphe actually publishes that article she can consider her career over.” “Katie Roiphe can suck my dick.” With this level of thought policing, who in their right mind would try to say anything even mildly provocative or original?

What Is the Logic of Misogyny?
By Moira Donegan

I wonder if the disguising of misogyny, or at least the unwillingness to name it as such, shifts the taboo onto the woman calling out misogyny.

I think it does.

Because it makes it seem like you’re detecting a conspiracy, and it leads into all these perceptions that are already stereotypes about women, like you’re crazy or hysterical or whatever they choose to call us that day.

In some ways, when ideological differences are made plain, it can be easier to deal with them. I thought that the domesticity, the sheer awful domesticity of the Medusa images of Hillary Clinton — just the idea that you can have an image of a decapitated woman on your mug or your tote bag — It’s really gob smacking. It would be interesting to find someone who bought that stuff, because they would have a story that would somehow mask the sexism a bit. A joke, or whatever. I don’t know what they’d say.

Samantha Bee’s vulgar Ivanka Trump insult and an unresolved question for liberals: High road or low?
By Callum Borchers

Bee was venting a frustration often repeated by Ivanka Trump’s critics, who contend that she is squandering her power to influence the president in positive ways. The aforementioned SNL sketch described her as “the woman who could stop all this but won’t.”

Yet Bee’s slur crossed into coarser territory and raised, again, a question that liberals from pop culture to politics have not yet resolved in the Trump presidency: the high road or the low road?

In a polarizing and at-times-profane stand-up routine at the White House correspondents’ dinner last month, comedian Michelle Wolf quipped that she would have dragged the absent president to the event, “but it turns out the president of the United States is the one p—y you’re not allowed to grab.”

As some in the crowd groaned, Wolf responded, “He said it first. Yeah, he did. Do you remember?”

Everyone remembers. But not everyone agrees that “he said it first” is an excuse to emulate crassness.

On Twitter, women are more misogynistic than men
By Rachel Thompson

Crook also believes that campaigns designed to encourage gender equality should address both men and women, not just men.

“It may also reflect a normalising of misogynistic language and that authors (including female authors) no longer consciously consider the terms offensive,” reads the study.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that women are playing a role in publishing misogynistic tweets. Indeed, a recent analysis by think tank Demos found that half of all misogynistic tweets came from women.

Why can’t we hate men?
By Suzanna Danuta Walters

So, in this moment, here in the land of legislatively legitimated toxic masculinity, is it really so illogical to hate men? For all the power of #MeToo and #TimesUp and the women’s marches, only a relatively few men have been called to task, and I’ve yet to see a mass wave of prosecutions or even serious recognition of wrongdoing. On the contrary, cries of “witch hunt” and the plotted resurrection of celebrity offenders came quick on the heels of the outcry over endemic sexual harassment and violence. But we’re not supposed to hate them because . . . #NotAllMen. I love Michelle Obama as much as the next woman, but when they have gone low for all of human history, maybe it’s time for us to go all Thelma and Louise and Foxy Brown on their collective butts.

Margaret Atwood is a blood-drinking monster
By Margaret Wente

Margaret Atwood as an enemy of feminism is a tough concept to get your head around. She is, after all, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, the universally acclaimed dystopian fantasy in which women are enslaved to men. Her impressive body of work – one that has profoundly informed the feminist zeitgeist – is a 50-year-long attack on misogyny and the patriarchal state. Ms. Atwood is probably the leading feminist author in the world. So what happened?

What happened is that the Revolution has entered a new phase. Having vanquished the reactionaries, the Jacobins are sending the moderates to the guillotine. The buildings must be razed so that society can begin anew. Everyone who isn’t for them is against them. Moderates like Ms. Atwood, with their odious ideas about due process and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, are traitors to the Revolution.

Exclusive: George Takei’s Accuser Has Changed His Story of Drugging and Assault
By Shane Snow

One activist I interviewed while writing this story told me, “If good people like George Takei get mistakenly swept up in the net of #MeToo, perhaps that’s a sacrifice they should be willing to make for the cause.”

Whether it’s appropriate to ask people to make those kinds of sacrifices should be up for debate itself. But one thing is clear: If we let the pendulum of justice swing too far and falsely equate lesser crimes or misunderstandings with more heinous sexual abuse accusations, such sacrifices can easily become moot anyway.

Whatever really happened between Brunton and Takei all those years ago, the meta-lesson here might just be that while our society has long failed victims of sexual harassment and crimes, correcting these monstrous injustices, while remaining ourselves just, will continue to be difficult.

‘Me Too,’ Chinese Women Say. Not So Fast, Say the Censors.
By Javier C. Hernández and Zoe Mou

They call themselves “silence breakers,” circulate petitions demanding investigations into sexual harassment and share internet memes like clenched fists with painted nails.

But Chinese women are finding it difficult to organize a far-reaching #MeToo movement, going up against not just a male-dominated culture but also the ruling Communist Party itself.

Government censors, apparently fearing social unrest, are trying to hobble the campaign, blocking the use of phrases like “anti-sexual harassment” on social media and deleting online petitions calling for greater protections for women. And officials have warned some activists against speaking out, suggesting that they may be seen as traitors colluding with foreigners if they persist.

“So many sincere and eager voices are being muted,” said Zhang Leilei, 24, an activist in the southern city of Guangzhou who has helped circulate dozens of petitions among college students. “We are angry and shocked.”

A Chinese student praised the ‘fresh air of free speech’ at a U.S. college. Then came the backlash.
By Simon Denyer and Congcong Zhang

When Yang Shuping spoke Sunday of her eternal gratitude to the University of Maryland for teaching her about “free speech” and showing her that her “voice mattered,” she may not have realized just how much it mattered.

A video of her eight-minute address at her commencement ceremony at the university went viral in China, attracting 50 million views and provoking hundreds of thousands of critical comments by Chinese netizens the following day. Even the People’s Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, weighed in, reporting on a crescendo of criticism of Yang for “bolstering negative Chinese stereotypes.”

Accused by nationalist netizens of flattering the United States and belittling China, Yang was forced to make an apology Monday.

Hansen: Omaha man ‘liked’ a tweet, and then he lost his dream job
By Matthew Hansen

Already this year, at least a dozen major companies have taken heat from the Chinese government for actions it perceives as anti-China, according to the Wall Street Journal.

And even in this specific case, where a low-level Marriott employee in Omaha clicked “like” on a tweet thanking Marriott for a survey designed by a third-party vendor, the hotel chain got in big trouble.

China forced Marriott to suspend all online booking for a week at its nearly 300 Chinese hotels. A Chinese leader also demanded the company publicly apologize and “seriously deal with the people responsible,” the Journal reported.

And boy, did Marriott ever apologize. Craig Smith, president of the hotel chain’s Asian division, told the China Daily that Marriott had committed two significant mistakes — presumably the survey listing Tibet and the liked tweet — that “appeared to undermine Marriott’s long-held respect for China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

He announced an “eight-point rectification plan” that included education for hotel employees across the globe and stricter supervision.

Chinese Nationalism Jostles With Academic Freedom in Australia
By Xiuzhong Xu

In one case in late August, at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, a group of Chinese students in an international marketing class took issue with their lecturer, Nimay Kalyani, when he referred to Taiwan as an independent country. China considers the self-governing island part of its territory.

The students covertly videotaped an argument with him and mobilized on social media to shame him and the university.

In the video, made public by the Chinese-language media, one student can be heard saying: “Chinese students are one-third of this classroom. You make us feel uncomfortable.”

The university eventually spoke up on Professor Kalyani’s behalf, describing his statement as accurate in the context of the discussion.

How China Infiltrated U.S. Classrooms
By Ethan Epstein

In 2008, a court in Israel found that Tel Aviv University, home to a Confucius Institute, had illegitimately closed an art exhibition on Falun Gong because of Chinese government pressure. A year later, North Carolina State University, host to a Confucius Institute, scuttled a planned appearance by the Dalai Lama for fear of Chinese backlash: The director of the Institute warned NC State officials that such a visit could hurt “strong relationships we were developing with China.” A few years later, similar events transpired at the University of Sydney in Australia, which drew heat from members of the Parliament of Australia.

… the institutes go to some length to obscure their political purpose. There’s the name, for example: Most Americans associate Confucius with wisdom, or cutesy aphorisms. It’s likely the centers would be less successful were they called Mao Institutes. The Institutes also offer a plethora of “fun” classes—not for academic credit, and often open to members of the general public—in subjects like dumpling making and tai chi.

The Chinese teachers are thoroughly vetted by Hanban, according to Sahlins’ report. They “must have a strong sense of mission, glory, and responsibility and be conscientious and meticulous in [their] work,” Hanban says. They’re also explicitly instructed to toe Beijing’s line on controversial political questions. There can be no discussion whatsoever of human rights in China, or the Tiananmen Square massacre. Sahlins found that should a student raise an uncomfortable question about, say, the political status of Tibet, Hanban’s instructors are ordered to refocus the discussion on, say, Tibet’s natural beauty or indigenous cultural practices (which, ironically, Beijing has spent decades stamping out).

It seems that Beijing probed, and found a weakness: money. It may be intellectually indefensible for universities to host Confucius Institutes, but at a time of reduced funding, it makes eminent sense. How ironic that the ostensibly communist Chinese seem to understand financial imperatives better than we Yankees do.

Open records request reveals donor influence at George Mason University

In his concurring opinion in Sweezy v. New Hampshire (1957), Justice Felix Frankfurter usefully identified “‘the four essential freedoms’ of a university — to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.’” Justice Frankfurter’s words are as correct now as they were then. Academic decisions must be left to the academy — not donors, legislators, or the general public. Indeed, the American Association of University Professors, which has defended academic freedom for more than a century, was founded in large part to shield academic decision-making from the influence of donors who might wish to unduly influence or dictate research, study, and instruction.

FIRE addressed the propriety of similar arrangements a decade ago, after related questions were raised about the relationship between the Charles Koch Foundation and Florida State University in 2008. FIRE president and CEO Greg Lukianoff told Inside Higher Ed that in situations “where it seems that the donor would prefer the promotion of certain viewpoints, the university must not apply the grant in a way that would violate the free speech or academic freedom rights of its faculty or students.” Greg explained that “[d]epartments (and entire fields of study) often come with certain limited intellectual assumptions built in, but when these are transformed into mandatory ideological requirements they run afoul of principles of academic freedom.”

How Censorship Crosses Borders
By Jacob Mchangama

Generally speaking some of the most commonly expressed concerns regarding freedom of expression—such as its potential detrimental effects on social conflicts (including genocide), radicalization and terrorism—are not supported by the evidence. Only in the world’s most closed societies do we find evidence that loosening censorship can exacerbate existing conflicts. For the rest of world, we find a negative relationship between free speech protections and social conflict. The evidence thus suggests that the widespread narrative characterizing unbridled freedom of expression as a catalyst for religious conflict and even genocide is at best lacking in nuance.

Our findings are supported by a new and comprehensive study on right wing extremist terrorism and violence in Western Europe. The author finds that “extensive public repression of radical right actors and opinions” has been one of the likely drivers of right wing extremist violence in Northern Europe, and highlights “the paradox that countermeasures intended to constrain radical right politics appear to fuel extreme right violence”. This is not to say that speech will never lead to instances of violence or conflict, only that overall we should expect political and religious violence to increase rather than decrease when liberal democracies fight extremism with censorship.

Why is that? Israeli scholar Amichai Magen has found that democracies that protect political freedoms enjoy a “triple democracy advantage.” They suffer fewer attacks, with a lower rate of increase, and fewer fatalities than illiberal democracies. Magen suggests that political freedom, including free speech, allows grievances to be voiced before they boil over and turn violent. In fact one of the world’s most celebrated freedom fighters has given an eloquent explanation of why it is the denial rather than the protection of free speech that leads to violence. In 1964 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage. At the trial Mandela delivered a famous speech in which he justified using violence against the Apartheid regime:

“All lawful modes of expressing opposition to [white supremacy] had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government”

If Nelson Mandela found violence legitimate in the absence of free speech, it shouldn’t surprise us if groups and individuals motivated by much less noble goals than Mandela would think so too. Even when their censors are democratically elected governments rather than authoritarian supremacists.

rethinking the challenge of anti-muslim bigotry
By Kenan Malik

The argument that we should censor speech to prevent bigotry raises a number of questions. The first is about who decides what should be censored.

In January 2006, Iqbal Sacranie, then secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, made some derogatory comments about homosexuality on Radio 4’s Today programme. Homosexuality, he said was ‘harmful’ and ‘not acceptable’. According to Sacranie, ‘scientific evidence’ showed that homosexuality led to ‘illnesses and diseases’.

Sacranie saw himself as merely expressing what he considered to be the Islamic view. Many gay groups saw his comments as promoting hatred. Scotland Yard’s community safety unit launched an investigation into whether Sacranie’s comments constituted ‘hate speech’, and whether he had fallen foul of the 1986 Public Order Act, which forbids the use of ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words’.

In response to the police investigation, 22 imams and Muslim leaders wrote to The Times demanding the right to be able to ‘freely express their views in an atmosphere free of intimidation or bullying’. They added that ‘We cannot truly claim to be a free and open society while we are trying to silence dissenting views’. Many of those same leaders had called for Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses to be banned. Sacranie himself had said of Rushdie, immediately after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa calling for the author’s murder, that ‘Death is too good for him’. And every one of the signatories to the Times letter had wanted the Danish cartoons, published just four months before Sacranie’s comments, to be censored.

The kind of hypocrisy, or moral blindness, expressed by those Muslim leaders is widespread, and far from limited to Muslims. Many of those happy to see cartoons lampooning Mohammed draw the line at anything mocking the Holocaust. Many gay rights activists want Muslims to be prosecuted for homophobia but want the right to criticize Muslims as they see fit. Racists such as Nick Griffin of the British National Party (BNP) or Tommy Robinson of the English Defence League (EDL) want to be free to spout racist abuse but want Muslim clerics locked up for doing the same. And so it goes on. The argument for the censorship of bigotry quickly degenerates into the claim that ‘my speech should be free but yours is too costly’.

Tommy Robinson and the rise of the new extremists
By Nick Cohen

… a Muslim liberal I know once asked Tommy Robinson why he didn’t stop playing the game of inciting anti-Muslim bigotry and find a proper job. ‘Fine,’ came the reply ‘if you can tell me where else I can make £4,000 a month.’ Denied traditional employment, Robinson turned to the world’s biggest bank: the Web.

How much he raised through YouTube advertising and donations from his followers no one knows, but he was confident enough to launch a crowdfunding appeal for £100,000 to equip a studio from where he could become an online broadcaster. The tendency of the Web to push people to extremes in search of an audience has been well covered; Robinson has now been jailed for contempt of court after filming himself outside a trial. To monetise your politics, you must keep your market in a profitable state of outrage by posing as a lone voice exposing the truths the establishment want to hide.

How “identitarian” politics is changing Europe
By The Economist

Western Europe’s elections last year were widely seen as dealing a blow to populism. But they also brought victory to new parties focused on identity. In the Netherlands Thierry Baudet, the leader of the FVD, which won two seats in parliament, has warned that immigration may mean the “homeopathic watering-down” of Dutch culture. In Germany the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party brought far-right nativism into the Bundestag. In Italy this year the two big winners, the Northern League and the Five Star Movement, propose strict limits on immigration. Increasingly, identity is a key issue in European elections, and the identitarian right is starting to frame the debate.

One way it gains influence is by prompting authorities to overreact. In early March Martin Sellner, an Austrian identitarian activist, was barred from entering Britain, where he had planned to deliver a speech in Hyde Park. Mr Sellner’s expulsion was big news on alt-right and identitarian websites for weeks. He condemned it as “a new totalitarianism”: “We are being replaced, conquered by radical Islam, and we are not allowed to talk about it!”

The 14 Most Common Arguments against Immigration and Why They’re Wrong
By Alex Nowrasteh

Overall, immigration is not correlated with terrorist attacks and it certainly does cause them but, in addition to that, the risk is also small. For instance, the annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attacked committed by a foreigner from 1975 through the end of 2015 was about 1 in 3.6 million per year. Almost 99 percent of the people murdered by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil were murdered on 9/11 and the attackers entered on tourist visas and one student visa, not immigrant visas.

The risk of foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil has also increased fears over the government’s vetting system for new immigrants and travelers, prompting President Trump to temporarily ban travelers and immigrants from certain countries. But according to my colleague David Bier, there have been very few vetting failures since 9/11. From 2002 through 2016, only one radicalized terrorist entered the United States for every 29 million visa or status approvals. Only one of the post-9/11 vetting failures resulted in an attack on U.S. soil, meaning that a single deadly terrorist entered as a result of a vetting failure for every 379 million visas or status approvals from 2002 through 2016. That is a very low risk especially compared to the pre-9/11 vetting system.

The Resurgent Threat of White-Supremacist Violence
By Jonathan Greenblatt

According to the latest data from Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, white supremacists were responsible for more than half of the 34 fatalities linked to domestic extremists of all stripes last year, claiming 18 lives in 2017.

That represented a reversion to the long-term trend; right-wing violence had accounted for the largest share of domestic-extremist related killings every year from 1995 until the Pulse nightclub shootings in 2016. Global totals may tell a very different story, but in the United States far-right extremist murders far exceed those carried out by Islamic extremists over the last decade: 71 percent of all murders were carried out by right-wing extremists, and 26 percent can be linked to Islamic extremists.

In recent years, much of the public discussion and the federal government’s focus have been on the violent threat posed by extremists inspired by ISIS, while less attention has been paid to the reality of right-wing violence. There’s no doubt that Islamic extremism is a significant threat, but we shouldn’t ignore any forms of extremism—we must tackle them all.

In this climate of emboldened haters and bigots, there’s no alternative but to expose and publicly reject their message, to send it back into the shadows where it, and its adherents, truly belong.

The New York Times Comes Out Against Free Speech
By Larry Sanger

Although it’s no big surprise to me that the Times has come out against free speech absolutism, declaring it to be a conservative position and something that all enlightened people have evolved beyond, it’s dismaying to see it there on the front page in black and white. Our world has changed.

So, I fully expect there to be growing calls for laws against hate speech in the United States. Support on the American left for such laws is already huge. According to a Cato Institute survey, while “just” 40 percent of Americans favor banning hate speech – that’s actually a lot considering we’re talking about doing away with the First Amendment – fully 52 percent of Democrats (i.e., most of them) support such laws. The number goes up to 61 percent of Democrats, if we specify that the laws protect black Americans against hate speech. Maybe more troubling is that 66 percent of Democrats believe hate speech is “violent”; if you believe that, then of course it’s a short step to conclude that “violent speech” should be banned (as we ban other forms of violence). Interestingly, Cato also asked for Americans’ views on the relevant constitutional question; it turns out that 56 percent of Americans believe that banning hate speech is consistent with the First Amendment. It’s a good thing they aren’t on the Supreme Court.

Free speech on campus has increasingly come under attack. One of the most telling numbers from the Cato survey was that 68 percent of students support a confidential “bias reporting system,” i.e., they imagine that it’s a good idea that there be campus speech monitors, assisted by student informants. This is almost as stunning is the fact that 48 percent of all Americans support such a totalitarian system as well.

Even if the Supremes remain free speech absolutists for another generation, the left’s intensified attack on free speech is deeply consequential. The next presidents might very well include socialists who would replace Ginsberg, Breyer, Thomas, and Alito with radical free speech skeptics. It’s easy to imagine Kagan and Sotomayor moving more and more in the direction of free speech skepticism.

Imagining a World without Free Speech
By Jacob Mchangama

In this new legal environment, state legislatures in the coastal United States, including New York, Massachusetts, and California, have passed laws that prohibit causing “emotional distress” by insulting a person on the basis of race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or religion. In addition to white supremacist and alt-right groups, these laws have been used to prosecute Tea Party members and supporters of tougher immigration laws. Most prosecutions deal with online slurs on social media, where sarcasm and humor is not always a valid defense. The denial or trivialization of the enslavement of black Africans has also been criminalized. These laws have been given more teeth by the establishment of Human Rights Commissions entitled to assist victims with complaints. Public universities have adopted elaborate speech codes that govern speech and conduct on campuses. After a number of school shootings, the advocacy of activities that may increase gun violence has been prohibited, effectively banning the activities of the NRA.

But in the South, things have turned out differently. States like Alabama, West Virginia, and Mississippi have passed laws prohibiting the denigration of the Constitution, symbols, and founding values of the United States. These laws have been used to ban or prosecute members of groups like Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and CAIR. Protesting these measures has proved difficult, since several state supreme courts have decided that demonstrations in favor of banned groups constitute denigration in itself. Accordingly demonstrations can be denied and protestors arrested.

Several states have specifically prohibited the adoption, advocacy, or defense of sharia-law, which has seen the arrest and prosecution of a number of imams. These states have also banned the construction of mosques and banned Muslims from holding public offices. Some city councils have banned pride parades, while others ban the prominent public display of “obscene or grossly immoral” material, a law which has been used to target not only porn, but atheism and LGBT literature. At southern universities, speech codes ensure proper respect for patriotic and traditional values, and prohibit teaching courses that “distort” confederate history. Several professors have been fired for teaching that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery rather than states’ rights. Southern “fake news” laws have been targeted at liberal media with CNN and MSNBC ordered to pay huge fines for disseminating false and distorting information. In both liberal and conservative states clamping down on unpopular groups has become an important part of electioneering. Politicians, sheriffs and district attorneys often promise a “zero tolerance policy” against offending speech, and being “soft on hate” is a losing strategy.

In the UK, Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn has strengthened laws against religious hatred by reviving a previously defeated bill making it a crime to insult the religious feelings of believers. Conviction under hate speech laws no longer requires threats to public order, and these laws are used to ban or prosecute members of groups like the English Defense League, PEGIDA, and UKIP. The hate speech ban has also been expanded to cover Zionism.

However, after Boris Johnson’s conservative government came to power, priorities changed. Laws are passed against advocating the boycott of Israel, as well as indirectly glorifying and condoning terrorism, which is used against pro-Palestinian activists and Muslim groups. Facing growing popular support for reentry into the EU, the conservative government is considering a law prohibiting advocacy aimed at undermining the independence of the UK. Elsewhere in Europe, Dutch Prime Minister Geert Wilders finally delivers on his promise of banning the Quran. His government also copy-pastes and expands Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s law prohibiting NGOs from advocating “illegal immigration.” The EU adopts a directive on combating fake news obliging all member states to establish public watchdogs with the power to identify and remove false information aimed at undermining the values of the member states. And after pressure from former communist states, the EU expands its current prohibition against certain forms of Holocaust denial to also cover the denial of the crimes of communism, which leads to the banning of communist literature and symbols in much of Central and Eastern Europe.

Psychology and Free Speech
By Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci

In the campus disturbances, opponents did not simply interpret the same situation differently, they actually saw different things.

A number of recent campus disruptions share one or more of these biases: opponents offered different accounts about who started the violence, the role campus police played, why each side’s affiliation with a cause led to the belief that it was especially enlightened whereas opponents’ opposite affiliation led to their own flawed reasoning, why people on each side overestimated the strength of the evidence supporting their side, and whether protesters shouting down of speakers infringed on the audience’s right to hear their views or, conversely, represented exercises in their own freedom of expression. We concluded our article with recommendations to moderate positions and inculcate a campus culture of respectful debate in which no single group appoints itself the final arbiter of what can and cannot be heard.

Having one’s beliefs criticized — even identity-forming beliefs — is an essential aspect of a good education. College is an opportunity to confront divergent opinions, even if they make us uncomfortable; being exposed to opinions that call into question their deepest beliefs will help students develop the valuable skills needed to navigate their futures, relate to others with divergent views and contribute to society. As uncomfortable as it might be, there really is no viable alternative to allowing free speech on college campuses.

How to Be Better at Being Wrong
By Clay Skipper

You talk about how it feels really bad to us, like an attack on our own self-image, to admit that we’re wrong. That’s one reason that we’re averse to being wrong, and we sort of need to give that up. At the same time, that means giving up the good feeling when you’re right. But being right about something is a visceral feeling. It’s emotional. You talk a lot in the book about how we can’t work outside the hard-wiring of our brain, so how do you walk it back from that good feeling, or when you’re wrong, how do you walk it back from that bad feeling?
I think it depends on how you define winning in the game. How are we defining what it means to be right or wrong? If we bet on something, who’s going to win: the person who’s right in the sense of, “I’m just affirming all the beliefs that I have,” or the person who’s developed the most accurate view of the world? It’s going to be the person who’s developed the most accurate view of the world.

That means that you must be open-minded to information that disagrees with you. You have to be seeking that out, because if you challenge me to a bet, I better go and figure out, “What do you know that I don’t know? What information do you have? What am I missing? What could I go read that’s going to help me figure out whether this is a good bet or not?” It’s going to immediately put me into a more open-minded stance toward information.

Data says we’re healthier, wealthier, freer than those who came before us, says Harvard professor Steven Pinker
By Shalini Umachandran

Have you always been a reasonable, rational optimist or was it the study of data and science that turned you into one?

It was looking at the data. One of my earlier books, The Blank Slate, which came out in 2002, had a darker view of the human condition. I argued that there is such a thing as human nature and wrote about the many nasty traits that humans have, especially dominance, revenge and fallacious thinking. But on seeing graphs that demonstrated human progress, I started thinking about things differently. I don’t have an optimistic outlook or temperament. It’s not a case of seeing the glass as half full. It’s really a matter of calling people’s attention to facts that they didn’t even know were facts. People simply had not seen the decline in warfare, poverty or violence. It’s a question of pointing out the water in the glass.

Transcript of “Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers”
By Steven Pinker

We are born into a pitiless universe, facing steep odds against life-enabling order and in constant jeopardy of falling apart. We were shaped by a process that is ruthlessly competitive. We are made from crooked timber, vulnerable to illusions, self-centeredness and at times astounding stupidity.

Yet human nature has also been blessed with resources that open a space for a kind of redemption. We are endowed with the power to combine ideas recursively, to have thoughts about our thoughts. We have an instinct for language, allowing us to share the fruits of our ingenuity and experience. We are deepened with the capacity for sympathy, for pity, imagination, compassion, commiseration. These endowments have found ways to magnify their own power. The scope of language has been augmented by the written, printed and electronic word. Our circle of sympathy has been expanded by history, journalism and the narrative arts. And our puny rational faculties have been multiplied by the norms and institutions of reason, intellectual curiosity, open debate, skepticism of authority and dogma and the burden of proof to verify ideas by confronting them against reality.

As the spiral of recursive improvement gathers momentum, we eke out victories against the forces that grind us down, not least the darker parts of our own nature. We penetrate the mysteries of the cosmos, including life and mind. We live longer, suffer less, learn more, get smarter and enjoy more small pleasures and rich experiences. Fewer of us are killed, assaulted, enslaved, exploited or oppressed by the others. From a few oases, the territories with peace and prosperity are growing and could someday encompass the globe. Much suffering remains and tremendous peril, but ideas on how to reduce them have been voiced, and an infinite number of others are yet to be conceived.

We will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one. But there’s no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing. This heroic story is not just another myth. Myths are fictions, but this one is true, true to the best of our knowledge, which is the only truth we can have. As we learn more, we can show which parts of the story continue to be true and which ones false, as any of them might be and any could become.

Posted in Games.