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Culture war games: when censorship is crowdsourced

Caught on Tape
By Evan Kindley

What seems most distant about the America that Shaw recalls in Narrowcast is not its paranoia, its political divisions, or its technological dialectic of utopia and dystopia: all of those, mutatis mutandis, are still with us, though certainly the valences have shifted a bit. (Who would have thought in 1965 that state intelligence agencies would be regarded as a progressive bulwark? But here we are.) No, what seems lost, and perhaps irrecoverable, is the sense of threat that poetry poses to the state, the idea that poets and government agents are anything like opponents of equal stature. Even if a poet today approached Ginsberg’s superstar status, it’s hard to believe the government would bother tracking his or her movements. In 2018, it’s possible to be a little nostalgic for the idea that a poet’s activity would even be worth monitoring.

The Nation Magazine Betrays a Poet — and Itself
By Grace Schulman

Last month, the magazine published a poem by Anders Carlson-Wee. The poet is white. His poem, “How-To,” draws on black vernacular.

Following a vicious backlash against the poem on social media, the poetry editors, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith, apologized for publishing it in the first place: “We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem ‘How-To.’ We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem,” they wrote in an apology longer than the actual poem. The poet apologized, too, saying, “I am sorry for the pain I caused.”

I was deeply disturbed by this episode, which touches on a value that is precious to me and to a free society: the freedom to write and to publish views that may be offensive to some readers.

In my years at The Nation, I was inspired by the practical workings of a free press. We lived by Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that “error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

When Censorship Is Crowdsourced
By Jonathan Kay

… the gravest threats to free speech in democratic countries now have little or nothing to do with government action (which is what Constitutions serve to restrain). And with few exceptions, public officials now sit as bystanders to the fight over who can say what.

In many creative spheres, in fact, censorship hasn’t just been decentralized. It’s been crowdsourced. Which is to say: The very writers, publishers, poets, musicians, comedians, media producers and artists who once worried about being muzzled by the government are now self-organizing on social media (Twitter, especially) to censor each other. In its mechanics, this phenomenon is so completely alien to top-down Big Brother-style censorship that it often doesn’t feel like censorship at all, but more like a self-directed Inquisition or Chinese communist “struggle session.” However, the overall effect of preventing the propagation of stigmatized ideas is achieved all the same.

Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis
By Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg and Jack Nicas

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and sparked a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack.

While Mr. Zuckerberg conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, persuading a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

… a Facebook official quickly called the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish civil rights organization, to flag the sign. Facebook and other tech companies had partnered with the civil rights group since late 2017 on an initiative to combat anti-Semitism and hate speech online.

That afternoon, the A.D.L. issued a warning from its Twitter account.

“Depicting Jews as an octopus encircling the globe is a classic anti-Semitic trope,” the organization wrote. “Protest Facebook — or anyone — all you want, but pick a different image.” The criticism was soon echoed in conservative outlets including The Washington Free Beacon, which has sought to tie Freedom from Facebook to what the publication calls “extreme anti-Israel groups.”

An A.D.L. spokeswoman, Betsaida Alcantara, said the group routinely fielded reports of anti-Semitic slurs from journalists, synagogues and others. “Our experts evaluate each one based on our years of experience, and we respond appropriately,” Ms. Alcantara said. (The group has at times sharply criticized Facebook, including when Mr. Zuckerberg suggested that his company should not censor Holocaust deniers.)

Facebook also used Definers to take on bigger opponents, such as Mr. Soros, a longtime boogeyman to mainstream conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitic smears on the far right. A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.

The Hazards of Demonizing Donors
By Cathy Young

Whether, and when, Soros-bashing is anti-Semitic is a loaded question. It is certainly not anti-Semitic to criticize Soros, who has said and done plenty of controversial things over the years — from his Bush-era statements calling the United States “the main obstacle to a stable and just world” and equating the War on Terror with Al Qaeda’s terrorism to his support for the Israel boycott movement. Indeed, National Review’s Jim Geraghty argues that some of Soros’s own comments about the pernicious influence of the “Israel lobby” feed into anti-Semitic stereotypes.

In fact, Soros-bashing is much like Israel-bashing: the legitimate criticism can, and often does, easily turn into fantasies of demonic evil and nefarious world domination that reek of familiar anti-Semitic tropes. And some of the anti-Soros-bashing has been pretty vile, including the debunked claim that he was a Nazi collaborator during the time he was in hiding as a Jewish teenager in occupied Hungary. (At most, he may have helped inventory a Jewish family’s confiscated property while accompanying a Hungarian official who was helping him hide and was passing him off as his godson.)

At the end of her article, Nomani writes, “Mr. Soros, much like the Koch brothers, funds causes he cares about.” That’s a fitting parallel, since the Koch obsession on the left is a mirror image of the Soros obsession on the right. Charles and David Koch are not Jewish, but the “Kochtopus” rhetoric bears a startling resemblance to conspiracy theories about Jewish financiers — and to the Soros hysteria. As with Soros, people have every right not to like the Kochs’ activities. But the objections easily escalate to paranoia and demonization.

The Truth About George Soros
By James Kirchick

Just as he can label Republicans Nazis while simultaneously calling for a return to bipartisanship, or his foundation can produce a report condemning “extreme polarization and breakdown in civic discourse” while disbursing vast amounts of money to organizations heightening that very polarization and breakdown, so now do Soros and Open Society think that they can position themselves as virulent critics of a major tech company and avoid being criticized in response. It hardly seems beyond the realm of legitimate “civic discourse” for a company to hire a Republican firm to lobby a Republican Congress and distribute opposition research concerning the incredibly rich man who has openly called for the destruction of your company. Attacking Facebook has become something of a personal cause for Soros; speaking at Davos earlier this year, adopting the oracular pose beloved by men of his wealth and station, he predicted that Facebook’s “days are numbered.”

Having seen Definers’ Soros research, I can tell you exactly what was in it: links to articles from mainstream media outlets about “Freedom From Facebook,” a coalition of progressive activist groups, and the funding some of them have received from OSF. Right down to the use of bold fonts to highlight important information and the placement of citations in parentheses, it’s the sort of milquetoast document rival candidates and lobbying campaigns routinely publish about each other, and utterly unremarkable to anyone working in Washington politics or journalism.

There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy to Soros using charges of anti-Semitism, especially given his own use of the same tropes he decries as anti-Semitic against people who object to him. At Davos, Soros referred to Facebook as a “menace” in the process of creating a “web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined.” During a congressional hearing last summer at which Facebook executives testified, protesters hired by Freedom From Facebook held up posters depicting company leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg as a two-headed octopus, the very sort of anti-Semitic caricature in which Soros himself often features. Soros and the myriad activists and organizations he funds play the American political game as dirty as everyone else, and then protest that there’s gambling taking place in the casino.

Europe’s Jew Hatred, and Ours
By Bari Weiss

Anti-Semitism, though, isn’t just a brand of bigotry. It’s a conspiracy theory in which Jews play the starring role in spreading evil in the world. While racists see themselves as proudly punching down, anti-Semites perceive themselves as punching up.

The Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi put it elegantly: “What anti-Semitism does is turn the Jews — the Jew — into the symbol of whatever a given civilization defines as its most loathsome qualities.” When you look through this dark lens, you can understand how, under Communism, the Jews were the capitalists. How under Nazism, the Jews were the race contaminators. And how for Mr. Corbyn and his ilk on the left, Israel, the Jew among the nations, is the last bastion of white, racist colonialism.

European Jews must now contend with this three-headed dragon: Physical fear of violent assault, often by young Muslim men, which leads many Jews to hide evidence of their religious identity. Moral fear of ideological vilification, mainly by the far left, which causes at least some Jews to downplay their sympathies for Israel. And political fear of resurgent fascism, which can cause some cognitive dissonance since at least some of Europe’s neo-fascists profess sympathy for Israel while expressing open hostility to Muslims.

Now these three strains of hate are beginning to show up on this side of the Atlantic.

‘I’m Dr. Cohen’: The powerful humanity of the Jewish hospital staff that treated Robert Bowers
By Eli Rosenberg

Baseless conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic undertones have been circulating in right-wing media circles — bubbling up all the way to the feeds of a prominent Fox News host and a Republican congressman — that the migrant caravan at the border was orchestrated by liberal groups and Jewish financier George Soros. Bowers had reposted several comments on a since-deactivated social media account about the “third-world caravan” of approaching “invaders.”

Cohen saved his harsh words for the people he said are responsible for the toxic climate in the country.

“It’s time for leaders to lead,” he said. “And the words mean things. And the words are leading to people doing things like this, and I find it appalling.”

U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It.
By Janet Reitman

White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist. The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism has reported that 71 percent of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements. Islamic extremists were responsible for just 26 percent. Data compiled by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database shows that the number of terror-related incidents has more than tripled in the United States since 2013, and the number of those killed has quadrupled. In 2017, there were 65 incidents totaling 95 deaths. In a recent analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.

These statistics belie the strident rhetoric around “foreign-born” terrorists that the Trump administration has used to drive its anti-immigration agenda. They also raise questions about the United States’ counterterrorism strategy, which for nearly two decades has been focused almost exclusively on American and foreign-born jihadists, overshadowing right-wing extremism as a legitimate national-security threat. According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Stimson Center, between 2002 and 2017, the United States spent $2.8 trillion — 15 percent of discretionary spending — on counterterrorism. Terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists killed 100 people in the United States during that time. Between 2008 and 2017, domestic extremists killed 387 in the United States, according to the 2018 Anti-Defamation League report.

“We’re actually seeing all the same phenomena of what was happening with groups like ISIS, same tactics, but no one talks about it because it’s far-right extremism,” says the national-security strategist P. W. Singer, a senior fellow at the New America think tank. During the first year of the Trump administration, Singer and a colleague met with a group of senior administration officials about building a counterterrorism strategy that encompassed a wider range of threats. “They only wanted to talk about Muslim extremism,” he says. But even before the Trump administration, he says, “we willingly turned the other way on white supremacy because there were real political costs to talking about white supremacy.”

For Israel, there’s little political cost to killing Palestinians
By Ishaan Tharoor

The right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered neither sympathy nor remorse. “Israel is acting determinedly and decisively to protect its sovereignty and the security of its citizens,” Netanyahu said. Officials described the protest as a “camouflage” for Hamas infiltrators supposedly launching an attack across the fortified border. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman rebuffed international calls for an investigation, saying that “under no circumstances” would there be an inquiry into the incident and opining that the Israeli soldiers manning the fence “deserve a commendation.”

On Saturday, the IDF even boasted that its troops had maintained total control of the situation down to the number of bullets fired. But the Israeli military soon deleted the tweet as more footage surfaced of panicked Palestinians being gunned down while trying to flee.

‘Stop romanticising that viral image of a Palestinian protester – it’s not a poetic moment’
By Louis Staples

This year has seen hundreds of deaths at the hands of Israeli forces, who have been condemned by the United Nations for using “excessive force” against protestors. Unarmed medics, such as 21 year-old Razan al-Najjar, are among the fatalities. A 12 year-old boy was shot dead earlier this month. A UN report has warned that Israel’s blockade will make Gaza, the world’s third most densely populated area, “uninhabitable“ by 2020. 97 per cent of the territory’s drinking water is undrinkable and there are only four hours of electricity a day.

CNN Submits to Right-Wing Outrage Mob, Fires Marc Lamont Hill Due to his “Offensive” Defense of Palestinians at the UN
By Glenn Greenwald

Some on the pro-Israel right who agitated for Hill’s firing have previously mocked what they call “outrage culture,” in which people are fired for controversial comments. The Washington Examiner’s Executive Editor and fanatical Israel defender, Seth Mandel, has long denounced and ridiculed such “mobs,” angrily objecting, for instance, when Disney recently fired director James Gunn for provocative Twitter remarks about pedophilia. Mandel used similarly derisive language (“internet outrage machine”) to denounce the removal by Business Insider of a column by Daniella Greenbaum that many found to be hurtful and traumatizing because it was, they insisted, transphobic.

Yet the very same Seth Mandel who finds “outrage mobs” so offensive when they target people who have similar political views to his own helped lead his own “internet outrage mob” to have Hill fired. This Stalwart Champion of Free Expression posted a series of tweets directed at CNN claiming that Hill was an anti-Jewish bigot and an advocate of genocide, and then posted multiple childish tweets with gifs celebrating Hill’s firing.

There are few people more craven or contemptible than those who pretend to support free expression and oppose the attempts of “internet mobs” to have those they disagree with fired, only to instantly change positions when it comes to those whose views diverge from their own. Seth Mandel is the poster child for such principle-free, duplicitous frauds, but he is far from alone.

REVEALED: Secret ADL Memo Slammed Anti-BDS Laws As ‘Harmful’ To Jews
By Josh Nathan-Kazis

The documents attack the anti-BDS laws as unconstitutional, bad policy, and generally bad for the Jews. The first document, titled “ADL’S POSITION ON ANTI-BDS LEGISLATION,” says that the anti-BDS laws are bad for American Jews, diverting “community resources to an ineffective, unworkable, and unconstitutional endeavor instead of investing in more effective multi-layered strategies.” It says that bills raise the profile of the BDS movement while giving “the appearance that the Jewish community exercises undue influence in government.”

The memo argues that the model many state-level laws have followed, of identifying companies that boycott Israel and then banning financial ties between them and state governments, was unworkable, since it would be difficult to prove why a particular company wasn’t doing business with Israel.

It says that government investigation into the reasons why a particular company isn’t doing business with Israel “would represent a significant government intrusion.”

It goes on to argue that a decision to boycott a country, “as despicable as it may be in the case of Israel,” is constitutionally protected as a form of political speech.

“Anti-BDS bills often are portrayed as ‘McCarthyistic’ attacks on free speech and democratic values,” the document reads. “In turn, they give more attention to BDS supporters and turn them into First Amendment martyrs.”

She Wouldn’t Promise Not to Boycott Israel, So a Texas School District Stopped Paying Her
By Jacey Fortin

Officials who support anti-B.D.S. laws often cite trade with Israel as a motivating factor. Last year, according to data from the International Trade Administration, Texas’ exports to Israel were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Imports exceeded $1 billion. But in terms of total value of trade, Israel is outranked by dozens of other countries including Canada, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The Texas law has invited scrutiny before. National Public Radio reported that last year in Dickinson, a city on the outskirts of Houston, some people applying for repair grants after Hurricane Harvey had to sign a form saying that they would “not boycott Israel during the term of this agreement.” That was a misinterpretation of the law, Mr. King, the state representative, said at the time.

In his statement on Tuesday, Mr. King said that he would soon file “a simple bill to alleviate any confusion” about the law, which was always intended to “address companies involved in discriminatory commercial activity,” though he did not elaborate.

Ms. Amawi said she would like to see the law taken off the books altogether. “It’s unconstitutional and it’s un-American,” she said. “I want to be able to overturn it because it really affects everyone, not just me.”

Anti-Semitism in Europe may not in fact be rising
By The Economist

Historically, eastern Europe has been the main staging ground of modern anti-Semitism and genocide, not just during the Holocaust but in events such as the revolt of Bogdan Khmelnitsky, a Cossack hetman (military commander) in the 17th century, and the pogroms of the Black Hundreds, a Tsarist militia in the 19th century.

Yet curiously, in Ukraine, where the history of anti-Semitism is as bloody as anywhere, just 5% are unwilling to see Jews as citizens. Unlike Catholic Poland, Ukraine is multi-religious (though mainly Orthodox Christian) and has a substantial Jewish population, of around 300,000. Vyacheslav Likhachev, a sociologist who monitors anti-Semitism, says that apart from a fad for neo-Nazi youth subculture a decade ago, it has not really caught on. Radical-right parties with anti-Semitic ideologies have rarely won more than 1% of the vote. More recently, he points out, “because of Russian aggression they have a real enemy. They don’t need conspiracy theories about the Zionist Occupation Government.”

Indeed, in most countries, anti-Semitism rises or falls in concert with nationalism and identity politics. David Feldman of the Pears Institute notes the importance of “competitive victimhood”, in which claims of oppression by Jews, Muslims and other groups step on each others’ toes. Dariusz Stola, head of the Polin Museum of Polish Jewish History, says the same is true in Poland, where the national story is one of victimisation by Germany and Russia. It is more accurate, he thinks, to see anti-Semitism as part of a general wave of chauvinist sentiment since the migrant crisis of 2015; levels of hostility to Muslims, gays and Roma have risen too. Says Mr Stola: “Xenophobia is not selective.”

Is the Women’s March Melting Down?
By Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel

Since it was conceived on the rooftop in the chaotic days after Trump’s election, the Women’s March has never really escaped the contradictions and internal conflicts present at its founding. There wasn’t any one rift that could be healed or moved beyond; there were many—over personalities, ideology, money and organization. Is it a 501(c)(4) organization called Women’s March Inc. or a different entity, a 501(c)(3) called the Women’s March Foundation? And why is it that there are two entities and the group will only acknowledge one? But those are not the only kinds of questions that have pulled at the seams of the movement. There are profound questions, too, about its core values and what, exactly people are marching for.

Over time, these questions became flashpoints. In one heated exchange, Julianne Hoffenberg, who works at the Gathering for Justice, lashed out at a woman on Facebook who criticized Sarsour for alleged anti-Semitism. “Did you march? You marched for Palestine,” Hoffenberg wrote. “You wore a pink pussy hat??? You advocated against the state of Israel and for Palestine.” The assertion that anyone who marched in January 2017 was marching against the state of Israel likely came as a surprise to most of the thousands of women present—including the hundreds who marched that day outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

“The statement attributed to Julianne Hoffenberg does not reflect her actual comment. Moreover, it was posted from her personal Facebook account,” the Women’s March wrote in an email to Tablet. Moreover, the group wrote, Hoffenberg, “holds no position in the Women’s March organization and is not a spokesperson for Women’s March nor for The Gathering for Justice.”

While she is not a spokesperson, Hoffenberg is the Gathering for Justice’s director of operations and, according to the group’s 2016 tax returns, its highest-paid employee.

Women Are Angry
By Eboo Patel

When progressives say ‘women’ do we really mean only the women with whom we agree? And if we do really mean the latter, why don’t we just say it? Instead of saying ‘women are angry’, for example, why not be more specific and say ‘The women I generally agree with on politics are angry about issue X’?

Intellectuals and academics pride themselves on the precise use of language. It is therefore surprising how we go from using identity labels like ‘black’ or ‘women’ in a way that mostly describes physical/biological characteristics and then a moment later deploying the same term as an ideological category. It happens frequently and without fair warning.

A simple illustration: when progressives talk about the importance and effectiveness of women’s anger, they are not talking about Sarah Palin. Yet Sarah Palin is clearly angry, and she is clearly effective. After all, no other American woman has sailed on her anger to a major party Vice Presidential nomination.

So, is Sarah Palin not a woman? Does someone have to fit a certain ideological definition of ‘woman’ to count in the physical/biological category ‘woman’? Who gets to make that decision?

Indeed, there is often a vast distance between the views of individuals in the biological/physical identity category and views of the (often self-appointed) leaders of the ideological identity category.

The Rise of the Ironic Man-Hater
By Amanda Hess

On its most basic level, ironic misandry functions like a stuck-out tongue pointed at a playground bully: When men’s rights activists hurled insults at feminist writer Jessica Valenti on Twitter last month, she posted a picture of herself grinning in an “I BATHE IN MALE TEARS” T-shirt, and dedicated the message to the “misogynist whiners.” But ironic misandry is more than just a sarcastic retort to the haters; it’s an in-joke that like-minded feminists tell even when their critics aren’t looking, as a way to build solidarity within the group. “A lot of young feminists who I follow on Instagram and love this shit are teenagers,” Valenti says. (Search the tag #maletears and you’ll find dozens of young women—and a few young men—posed with a novelty mug.) “The feminism they grew up with was the feminism of snarky blog posts, and this is a natural extension of that.”

So young feminists have taken to deploying the claim of “misandry” like a parlor game, competing to push the idea of a vast, anti-man conspiracy to its most gleefully absurd limits. When the Atlantic’s CityLab reported that “every American killed by lightning so far this year has been male,” Twitter feminists joked that institutionalized misandry was to blame. Zimmerman riffed on the meme in a post on the Hairpin, reframing lightning as the misandrist sorcery of a feminist “witch cabal,” and imagining future natural disasters that the witches would inflict upon men. (Headlines include “Fedoras Recalled Due to Spontaneous Combustion” and “Mysterious Vocal Cord Stenosis Continues to Afflict Male Pundits”). And on the Toast, co-founder Mallory Ortberg reimagines famous paintings with a man-hating subtext and injects the lyrics of children’s nursery rhymes with misandrist lines (“Hush little baby, don’t say a word/ Ever, your sister is talking”). At its best, the joke is too weird to even explain: “Our misandry, like the wings of the butterfly, is too beautiful to pull apart in order to see its workings,” Toast co-founder Nicole Cliffe told me in an email. Attempting to ground it in a real-life political context “might spoil the joke.”

Hardline feminist Clementine Ford’s Lifeline speech is CANCELLED after thousands demanded the charity remove her as keynote speaker for tweeting ‘all men must die’
By Stephen Johnson

Adam Smith’s campaign against Ms Ford’s appearance at the Lifeline event had amassed 13,917 signatures by Tuesday morning, three weeks after his petition went live.

‘It is extremely important that they remain distant from the hateful comments previously made very loudly and consistently by Ms Ford,’ it said.

‘She MUST be removed from the speaking lineup for the protection of the very people you are funded to support.’

Petition author Adam Smith had included screen shots of the Fairfax Media columnist’s inflammatory tweets and argued she was synonymous with the hashtag, ‘#killallmen’.

CNN fires Kathy Griffin over offensive Donald Trump photo
By Andrea Mandell

A day after Griffin released a picture holding a mock “decapitated” head of President Trump shot by self-proclaimed “provocateur” photographer Tyler Shields, CNN announced Wednesday that they have terminated their decade-long contract with the comedian to appear with Anderson Cooper on New Year’s Eve.

“CNN has terminated our agreement with Kathy Griffin to appear on our New Year’s Eve program,” spokesman Shimrit Sheetrit confirmed to USA TODAY in a statement Wednesday.

The network used even stronger language a day earlier: “We found what she did disgusting and offensive,” read a statement sent to USA TODAY Tuesday night by Sheetrit. “We are pleased to see she has apologized and asked that the photos be taken down.”

Kevin Hart Quits Oscars Hosting Gig Over Past Homophobic Tweets, Social Media Mobs Win Again
By Robby Soave

Most of the people I saw on Twitter demanding penance from Hart were journalists at generally left-of-center publications, which makes this something of a left-led lynch mob. For comparison, the previous notable social media pile-on—which targeted Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn over his gross child sex jokes—was driven by far-right Twitter personalities Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec. Recall that when Cernovich and Posobiec did this same thing—dig up weird comments from a different era of the internet and force modern corporate PR concerns to do their work—they were accused of launching a bad-faith smear campaign of retaliation. It will be interesting to see whether those who put Hart in this same position are capable of reflecting on the similarities. I’m betting not.

A man lost his job to a rape joke. Are you cheering?
By Laura Kipnis

I asked Vanessa Place, author of a tiny new book called Rape Jokes: You Had to Be There, what she thought about Edelstein being sacked from Fresh Air. Place is a criminal defense attorney who represents indigent convicted sex offenders in appeal cases; also a writer and performance artist. The book, a compilation of, yes, rape jokes, is the text version of a live performance piece.

Place saw Edelstein as a proxy for anger at Bertolucci – a relatively marginal player on whom anger and frustration can be displaced – the anger being that Bertolucci, via Brando, had sexually aggressed against Schneider. But the larger objection, Place surmises, is that we liked watching – and may still like watching – scenes of sexual humiliation. “To take this even a step further, perhaps the current cultural guilt lies in our ability to enjoy both the humiliation in the film and the humiliation of the critic. There’s nothing better than being shocked by pornography, or retweeting an offense.” She also pointed out the irony of it being a movie star, Martha Plimpton, humiliating and bringing down a film critic. I replied, perhaps a little meanly, that this was a star of declining wattage.

The exchange with Place made me understand a little more what I had found disquieting about this episode: so many subterfuges about power, so much veiled aggression, so much obfuscation about motives. So little reflection.

Maybe it’s time to stop hiding behind the “speak truth to power” mantra, when women have power aplenty – we can wreck a guy’s career with a tweet! Let’s stop assigning all the aggression in the world to men, and own ours, rather than masking it behind a scrim of trauma or sexual ethics. If you’re going to bring a colleague down for a deleted social media post, or fire a longtime employee for a flub, I say own it. If we’re retaliating against millennia of male power one film critic at a time, let’s at least be honest about the enterprise.

Scott Thompson goes toe-to-toe with political correctness … again
By Brad Wheeler

One of my monologues is on toxic femininity. Everything now is about toxic masculinity, but I like to be ahead of the curve. I think the world hasn’t quite realized that a lot of feminism has curdled into hatred of men. I do see a war on masculinity and a war on males. Straight white males especially are no longer allowed to say anything in comedy.

I have a great ability to detect bullies. And I’m not afraid of calling them out, regardless of who they are. They can be a man, a woman, gay, straight, black, white, thin, fat – everybody is capable of it. Everybody screws up power. Everybody abuses it. So, when I see something curdle, like feminism, I cannot not talk about it.

It’s almost my sacred role. My job is to explain, in some ways, the male camp to the female camp and vice versa. I think that’s the role of queer people throughout history, to stop the male camp and the female camp from going to war. Certainly, men do things that need to be called out. But this idea that one sex is bad, that’s just bigotry. I really want to live in a place beyond identity politics. In some ways, I feel like I’m one of the architects of it. But now people have built a building, and I don’t want to live in it any more.

Comedian refused to sign ‘behavioural agreement’ before gig
By BBC News

Konstantin Kisin was warned about a “no tolerance policy” on topics including racism, sexism and transphobia.

He was asked to perform at a gig at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London, organised by university society Unicef on Campus.

The group has since apologised and the Students’ Union says it “believes fully in freedom of speech”.

Konstantin told Radio 1 Newsbeat the experience reflects a growing trend of free speech becoming stifled on university campuses across the UK.

He shared the “behavioural agreement form” online, saying the title “nearly made me puke”.

“I just think it reflects an attitude among a group of people, people at university particularly, where it seems that they have become places of indoctrination rather than learning,” he said.

“Students are being taught to prevent offence rather than to seek truth and pursue experiences.

“Universities used to be all about that, but now it seems they’re places where students are being taught to be woke. I think it reflects a broader issue, where increasingly there are people who value safety, or what they perceive to be safety.”

The full list of topics listed by the organisers were “racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism”.

Camille Paglia: ‘Hillary wants Trump to win again’
By Camille Paglia

As a bumptious adolescent in upstate New York, I stumbled on a British collection of Oscar Wilde’s epigrams in a secondhand bookstore. It was an electrifying revelation, a text that I studied like the bible. What bold, scathing wit, cutting through the sentimental fog of those still rigidly conformist early 1960s, when good girls were expected to simper and defer.

But I never fully understood Wilde’s caustic satire of Victorian philanthropists and humanitarians until the present sludgy tide of political correctness began flooding government, education, and media over the past two decades. Wilde saw the insufferable arrogance and preening sanctimony in his era’s self-appointed guardians of morality.

We’re back to the hypocrisy sweepstakes, where gestures of virtue are as formalized as kabuki. Humor has been assassinated. An off word at work or school will get you booted to the gallows. This is the graveyard of liberalism, whose once noble ideals have turned spectral and vampiric.

Facebook Censors Art Historian for Posting Nude Art, Then Boots Him from Platform
By Zachary Small

Facebook is no stranger to censorship controversies. In 2016, Hyperallergic reported that the company had censored a photo of Copenhagen’s famous “The Little Mermaid” statue, which is ironically the Danish country’s most photographed sculpture. And back in 2013, Hyperallergic itself was censored by Facebook for posting an article that included artist Kate Durbin’s photograph of a woman’s exposed backside. And more recently in August 2018, we reported that the company had censored a Montreal Museum of Fine Art advertisement featuring one of Pablo Picasso’s painted cubist nudes.

News of Cordova’s banishment has spread across academic circles as a warning against art historians and artists who might want to aggregate their research on Facebook’s platform. Véronique Plesch, an art professor at Colby College in Maine, found the news especially upsetting. “This is an extremely disturbing situation for all of us in the art world,” she told Hyperallergic via email.

Facebook and the Art of Censorship
By Ruben Cordova

The most prominent art personality to be suspended by Facebook for posting art images is the National Magazine Award and Pulitzer Prize Award-winning critic Jerry Saltz, who writes for New York Magazine. Saltz, who has an enormous following on Facebook, explains why he was twice suspended in 2015: “I did not run afoul of Facebook algorithms or morality… I ran afoul of art world people sending objections to Facebook about my ‘immoral imagery.’” This raises another censorship issue: anyone with a very large following can be punished for complaints that might not have merit.

UK advertising watchdog to crack down on sexist stereotypes
By Jim Waterson

Adverts showing a woman struggling to park a car or a man refusing to do housework while his wife cooks dinner will be banned from next year as part of an industry-wide crackdown on sexist stereotypes.

Under the new rules, British companies will no longer be able to create promotions that depict men and women engaged in gender-stereotypical activities, amid fears that such depictions are contributing to pay inequality and causing psychological harm.

Adverts will no longer be able to show a person failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender, such as a man unable to change a nappy or a woman unable to do DIY.

The rules will also ban adverts that suggest that transforming your body will make you romantically successful, while also clarifying rules on the sexualisation of young women.

The Advertising Standards Authority will enforce the new code from June 2019. Members of the public will be able to report adverts to the regulator if they feel they breach the code.

The ASA’s Ella Smillie, who helped to devise the new rules, said: “We don’t see ourselves as social engineers, we’re reflecting the changing standards in society. Changing ad regulation isn’t going to end gender inequality but we know advertising can reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, which can limit people’s choices or potential in life.”

Tube ad with topless man, 58, banned ‘for objectifying’ the model who features in it
By Lizzie Edmonds

An advert featuring a topless model in his fifties has been banned amid claims it sexually “objectified” him.

The dating app campaign showed 58-year-old Paul Orchard, wearing just braces, holding a phone with the tagline: “Pull a cracker this Christmas.”

Transport for London’s advertising agent, Exterion Media, demanded that it be changed to feature a clothed model with a “less suggestive” tagline.

It claimed the advert for Lumen, the first dating app exclusively for the over-fifties, was “not compliant” with Committee of Advertising Practice guidelines and said it “could be seen as objectifying the man and his physique”.

Fighting on Twitter? In the UK, You Could Be Arrested for That.
By Katie Herzog

This debate is largely taking place online (where, naturally, the level of virulence is ramped up), but it’s left the realm of social media plenty. During a period in which the government was soliciting comments on the proposed changes, a woman purchased a billboard in Liverpool that displayed the dictionary definition of the term “woman.” “Woman,” the billboard read, “noun; adult human female.” The billboard was only up for a little while before a prominent queer activist and family physician named Adrian Harrop complained to the billboard company, saying it made transgender people feel unsafe. The billboard was quickly taken down.

And failing to be considerate of others in the UK can have serious consequences. In 2016, according to The Times of London, UK police arrested an average of nine people a day for posting content online that someone, somewhere, considered offensive. In all, over 3,300 Brits were detained and questioned in 2016, a 50 percent increase from two years before. And the numbers have likely gone up since then because the government, according to the paper, “announced a national police hub to crack down on hateful material online.”

Of course, what’s hateful and what’s not is all in the eye of the tweeter. But local police departments seem to be complying with this directive. In September, the official South Yorkshire Police account tweeted, “In addition to reporting hate crime, please report non-crime hate incidents, which can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing. Hate will not be tolerated in South Yorkshire. Report it and put a stop to it.” This tweet was widely mocked; as one tweeter responded: “Non-crime-hate-incidents’ is a bit wordy. Might I suggest you condense it. I think ‘thought crime’ has a nice ring, don’t ya think?”

Camille Paglia: It’s Time for a New Map of the Gender World
By Claire Lehmann

Do you believe that politics and in particular social justice (i.e., anti-racism and feminism) are becoming cults or pseudo-religions? Is politics filling the void left by the receding influence of organized religion?

Paglia: This has certainly been my view for many years now. I said in the introduction to my art book, Glittering Images (2012), that secular humanism has failed. As an atheist, I have argued that if religion is erased, something must be put in its place. Belief systems are intrinsic to human intelligence and survival. They “frame” the flux of primary experience, which would otherwise flood the mind.

But politics cannot fill the gap. Society, with which Marxism is obsessed, is only a fragment of the totality of life. As I have written, Marxism has no metaphysics: it cannot even detect, much less comprehend, the enormity of the universe and the operations of nature. Those who invest all of their spiritual energies in politics will reap the whirlwind. The evidence is all around us—the paroxysms of inchoate, infantile rage suffered by those who have turned fallible politicians into saviors and devils, godlike avatars of Good versus Evil.

The Virtue Signalers Won’t Change the World
By John McWhorter

The idea that whites are permanently stained by their white privilege, gaining moral absolution only by eternally attesting to it, is the third wave’s version of original sin. The idea of a someday when America will “come to terms with race” is as vaguely specified a guidepost as Judgment Day. Explorations as to whether an opinion is “problematic” are equivalent to explorations of that which may be blasphemous. The social mauling of the person with “problematic” thoughts parallels the excommunication of the heretic. What is called “virtue signaling,” then, channels the impulse that might lead a Christian to an aggressive display of her faith in Jesus. There is even a certain Church Lady air to much of the patrolling on race these days, an almost performative joy in dog-piling on the transgressor, which under a religious analysis is perfectly predictable.

Yes, there is a war between science and religion
By Jerry Coyne

In contrast to the methods of science, religion adjudicates truth not empirically, but via dogma, scripture and authority – in other words, through faith, defined in Hebrews 11 as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In science, faith without evidence is a vice, while in religion it’s a virtue. Recall what Jesus said to “doubting Thomas,” who insisted in poking his fingers into the resurrected Savior’s wounds: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

And yet, without supporting evidence, Americans believe a number of religious claims: 74 percent of us believe in God, 68 percent in the divinity of Jesus, 68 percent in Heaven, 57 percent in the virgin birth, and 58 percent in the Devil and Hell. Why do they think these are true? Faith.

But different religions make different – and often conflicting – claims, and there’s no way to judge which claims are right. There are over 4,000 religions on this planet, and their “truths” are quite different. (Muslims and Jews, for instance, absolutely reject the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God.) Indeed, new sects often arise when some believers reject what others see as true. Lutherans split over the truth of evolution, while Unitarians rejected other Protestants’ belief that Jesus was part of God.

And while science has had success after success in understanding the universe, the “method” of using faith has led to no proof of the divine. How many gods are there? What are their natures and moral creeds? Is there an afterlife? Why is there moral and physical evil? There is no one answer to any of these questions. All is mystery, for all rests on faith.

The New Evolution Deniers
By Colin Wright

I did not train to be a scientist for over a decade just to sit quietly while science in general, and my field in particular, comes under attack from activists who subvert truth to ideology and narrative. When I reflect on my initial reasons over a decade ago for choosing a career as an academic scientist, it was largely due to the inspiration I felt from outspoken public intellectuals like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Stephen Fry, and the late Christopher Hitchens, who led by example and followed reason wherever it took them. At the time, it seemed to me that a career as an academic scientist would be the most intellectually satisfying profession imaginable. It would allow me to dive deep into questions at the frontier of human knowledge, teach and train students to think critically, and pass on the virtues of boldly engaging with unreason in the search for truth to a new generation.

But it seems clear to me that academia now is not as it was advertised a decade ago when I started down this path. It is no longer a refuge for outspoken, free-thinking intellectuals. Instead, it seems one must now choose between living a zipper-lipped life as an academic scientist, or living a life as a fulfilled intellectual. Currently, one cannot do both.

In Defense of the Chicago Principles
By Michael Poliakoff

The worst irony of all is that the world of higher education, which should be eager for vigorous debate and challenge, often lags behind the diverse leaders who embrace free speech as the engine of progress. U.S. congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis asserted, “Without freedom of speech and the right to dissent, the civil rights movement would have been a bird without wings.” And, in a more recent struggle, Jonathan Rauch, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and LGBTQ advocate, observed, “Not long ago, gays were pariahs. We had no real political power, only the force of our arguments. In a society where free exchange is the rule, that was enough. We had the coercive power of truth.”

Voting Is Good, but Higher Ed Must Do More
By Michael S. Roth

It is true enough that politicians from various points on the political spectrum have long pontificated, stretched the truth, pumped themselves up and distorted inconvenient facts. But over the last two years, we have seen a callous disregard for truth become an ordinary part of public life. Educators must push back on this trend, but not just by digging into our own ideological commitments. People of goodwill, of course, can disagree about issues concerning freedom, the role of the military, the importance of markets and the responsibilities of the state to protect law and order and to help the most vulnerable members of society. No political tradition has a monopoly on the truth. In fact, that’s why intellectual diversity and freedom of inquiry are so vital: we need that diversity and freedom to see the errors of our own ways and to discover more equitable and effective ways of facing the issues before us.

But we must also recognize that our public discourse has entered a new arena of willful misrepresentation.

Academic Freedom or Social Justice: What Kind of University is Portland State?
By James A. Lindsay

On October 2, 2018, the Wall Street Journal broke a story that detailed an unprecedented audit of certain sectors of academic research, specifically those we—its authors—called “grievance studies.” In that effort, which has come to be known as the Grievance Studies Affair, Portland State University assistant professor of philosophy Peter Boghossian joined the two of us in writing and submitting a series of academic papers in fields like gender studies, race studies, sexuality studies, and so on. Our goal was to understand and expose a corruption of scholarship that puts politically motivated research ahead of honest inquiry in these disciplines. Given that seven of our papers were published—with a realistic potential for several more,—the international headlines, and ensuing academic debate on the issue, we think we were reasonably successful.

Of note, “Dog Park” was, by far, the silliest of our papers, which was a point we always intended to reveal in full to the public once our audit was completed. In it we claimed, extremely implausibly, to have examined 10,000 dogs’ genitals before interrogating their owners about their sexual orientations. This clearly preposterous “data” was used as a basis for interpreting human reactions to unwanted dog-humping incidents so as to conclude that a human rape culture exists and could be improved by training men like dogs. We wanted to see if reviewers or editors would ask to see this data or question the conclusions we drew from it. They did not and, in fact, the paper was recognized for excellence within feminist geography.

This is very troubling. So too is the fact that some academics are now claiming that the problem with this paper is that we didn’t actually examine dogs’ genitals by the thousands …

“It’s not a replication crisis. It’s an innovation opportunity”
By Jon Brock

The crux of the problem, he argues, is academia’s focus on what he calls “sexy results”. “The incentives are to get a paper published in whatever journal so that I become famous, so that I get my next grant, so that I get elected to the academy. That’s the cycle that is perpetuated. That’s fundamentally the system that we have in academia. We’re talking about human behaviour. You provide people with an incentive and they’ll try and achieve what is required to get the reward. It’s like rats in a cage.”

“It’s pretty depressing,” I say. Begley counters immediately. “I’m not depressed,” he replies. “I’m actually incredibly optimistic about science. The advances that we’ve made in the last decades were unimaginable when I was in medical school. We’ve got treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis [a form of arthritis affecting the spine], inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, hepatitis C.” He shakes his head incredulously. “The world now has the opportunity to eradicate hepatitis C. Unimaginable! So one can’t be negative about science. And, if you go more broadly, the decrease in infant mortality, the increase in longevity both in western countries and in third world countries. Phenomenal! So you can’t be depressed.

“What you can say,” he continues, “is that we could do better. We’ve made enormous advances but we’ve wasted a lot of money. In the US the estimate is that it’s costing $28 billion a year for sloppy science. So there is a lot of lost opportunity. But the advances we’ve made are incredible. You’ve got to hold that in tension. That’s why I’ve never described this as a replication crisis. I’ve never used that word. It’s an opportunity. Because if we can take the funding from the lazy scientists and give it to the really good scientists, we’ll do even better. It really is an innovation opportunity.”

More science than you think is retracted. Even more should be.
By Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky

Although retractions are considered the nuclear option in scholarly publishing, they’re really a sign that science is operating as advertised. At its heart, science is the ultimate self-correction machine. Advance a hypothesis, take a stab at finding proof, then try to replicate the results if successful — or, if not, try again. When something goes awry with a publication, science is already well prepared for both the detection of problems and the means of dealing with them.

Retractions — and the growth in their numbers — are also a story of sleuths. People such as Elisabeth Bik, a microbiologist who reviewed more than 20,000 papers by hand and found that about 4 percent of them had evidence of inappropriately manipulated images. Or James Heathers and Nick Brown, who refer to themselves as “data thugs” and have devised simple but illuminating mathematical tools to quickly find evidence of potentially suspect statistics.

One truth of modern science is that technology — particularly software for editing images — makes perpetrating fraud easier than ever. But it makes being a detective easier, too. No reputable publisher goes to press with a manuscript today without first running it through a program to identify plagiarism.

School Boots Professor Off Campus After He Exposes Its Complicity In Predatory Publishing Schemes
By Tim Cushing

Some of those who were reaping the rewards of being published by taking advantage of pay-for-play publications were Pyne’s associates at Thompson Rivers University. They didn’t appreciate being the data set Pyne used in his research paper. This backlash has led to Pyne being ousted from the campus of the school that employs him. (via Reason)

As a result of that 2017 paper and the media attention that followed, Pyne says, he’s been effectively banned from campus since May. He may visit only for a short list of reasons, such as health care. Teaching is out and so, too, is the library. It’s unclear when, or if, Pyne will be allowed to resume his normal duties.

This isn’t the only thing Pyne has done to piss off his colleagues. He’s also engaged in a number of heated arguments with faculty about the quality of the school’s grad programs and brought his numerous complaints to the press. Administrators claimed coworkers were afraid of him and demanded he undergo a psychological evaluation. His keys were taken and he was banned from campus. Pyne cleared the psych eval — one that found (understandably) Pyne felt persecuted by his employer. He’s now back on the payroll, but has been told to “cease communicating inappropriate, defamatory and insubordinate statements” about the school.

Sarah Lawrence Professor’s Office Door Vandalized After He Criticized Leftist Bias
By Robby Soave

Abrams’ dealings with Judd have further unnerved him. During their conversation, she implied that he should have cleared his public writings with her before submitting them, something he described as unacceptable.

Several of Abrams’ colleagues met with Judd to discuss the vandalism and express their view that such acts could not be tolerated. Judd agreed, but did not pledge to take any further actions. These professors thought she seemed scared that the students might hold more protests, creating a public relations disaster, according to Abrams.

Academic Ethics: Should Scholars Avoid Citing the Work of Awful People?
By Brian Leiter

You should not — under any circumstances — adjust your citation practices to punish scholars for bad behavior. You betray both your discipline and the justification for your academic freedom by excising from your teaching and research the work of authors who have behaved unethically. Universities would, in principle, be justified in disciplining you for scholarly malfeasance, subject to appropriate peer assessment.

Such academic misconduct is unlikely to constitute a firing offense — unlike, say, serious plagiarism or fabrication of data. But researchers or teachers who let moral indignation interfere with scholarly judgment do betray the core purposes of the university and so open themselves to professional repercussions. The foundations of academic freedom demand nothing less.

New journal for controversial academics
By Martin Rosenbaum

Prof McMahan stressed that the new cross-disciplinary publication will be fully peer-reviewed in line with normal academic standards.

“The screening procedure will be as rigorous as those for other academic journals. The level of quality will be maintained,” he said.

He and his colleagues are establishing an intellectually diverse international editorial board with representation from the left and the right, as well as religious and secular thinkers, to ensure the journal is not identified with a specific viewpoint. They will soon issue a call for papers.

Others involved include the prominent Australian philosopher Peter Singer, and Francesca Minerva, a bio-ethicist at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Prof McMahan said the team behind the journal regarded it as a response to the spirit of the times.

“I think all of us will be very happy if, and when, the need for such a journal disappears, and the sooner the better.

“But right now in current conditions something like this is needed.”

Academics’ Mobbing of a Young Scholar Must be Denounced
By Quillette Magazine

Accusing a young scholar of “psuedoscientific racism,” and claiming his work is “ethically suspect” and “methodologically flawed,” is not something that should be done lightly, given the likely impact on his career. So for a group of over 300 academics to sign their names to this charge sheet without appearing to have conducted even the most cursory examination of Dr Carl’s work is an absolute scandal. These are trumped up charges, brought against Dr Carl because he dissents from the prevailing orthodoxy about a controversial field of academic research. He hasn’t even waded into these dangerous waters himself—he has just defended the right of academics to do so. But that alone is enough for a group of his colleagues to attempt to ruin him. So much for the principles of academic freedom and open inquiry, not to mention diversity, tolerance and inclusion. This is academic McCarthyism.

Dear Humanities Profs: We Are the Problem
By Eric Bennett

For going on 50 years, professors in the humanities have striven to play a political role in the American project. Almost without exception, this has involved attacking the establishment. As harmful as institutionalized power can be, as imperfect as even the most just foundations inevitably appear, they are, as it turns out, all we’ve got. Never has a citizen been so grateful for institutions — for functioning courts, for a professionalized FBI, for a factually painstaking CBO or GAO — as since November 2016.

Even the most devoted relativist cannot behold Fox News or Breitbart and not regard these media outlets as propagandistic in the most flagrant sense. Eisenhower would have balked. Promoting conspiracy theories, granting vile charisma a national platform, amplifying peccadillos into crimes and reducing crimes to peccadillos, they embody everything that literary studies was meant, once, to defend against — not through talking politics, but by exercising modes of expression slow enough to inoculate against such flimsy thinking. Yet the editorial logic of right-wing media resembles closely the default position of many recent books and dissertations in literary studies: The true story is always the oppositional story, the cry from outside. The righteous are those who sift the shadows of the monolith to undermine it in defense of some notion of freedom.

The Bizarro World of Literary Studies
By Michael Clune

The vampiric Avital Ronell flourished in this disciplinary twilight zone. A widely read essay by the former chair of the German department who hired her shows her eviscerating the discipline’s norms, skills, and even objects of study. Supported by the dean as a rising star of interdisciplinary theory, Ronell became chair. As a student said of the world she created, “We study in a German department where French theory is taught in English.” Books like her own Crack Wars (University of Nebraska Press, 1992) — in which the obscurity of the prose occasionally parts to reveal an astonishing ignorance of the most basic facts about addiction — were presented as the new models. The eradication of disciplinary limits opened the way to unlimited tyranny. Kramnick defines a discipline as “a body of skills, methods, and norms able to sustain internal discussions and do explanatory work.” But in Ronell’s department, the star theorist’s words became the sole standard. Students were expected to cite Ronell or her master Derrida in every essay. And as the famous emails starkly reveal, the boundary separating the life of the student from the total domination of the totally liberated professor dissolved.

Most U.S. College Students Afraid to Disagree with Professors
By James Freeman

A majority—53%—also reported that they often “felt intimidated” in sharing their ideas, opinions or beliefs in class because they were different from those of the professors. A slightly larger majority feared expressing themselves because of differences with classmates. On this question 54% said they often felt intimidated in expressing themselves when their views conflicted with those of their peers, compared to 44% who said they didn’t often feel this way.

Report: 9 in 10 American colleges restrict free speech

The vast majority of students at America’s top colleges and universities surrender their free speech rights the moment they step onto campus, according to a new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Released today, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses analyzes the written policies at 466 of America’s top colleges and universities for their protection of free speech. The report finds that 89.7 percent of American colleges maintain policies that restrict — or too easily could restrict — student and faculty expression. All of the analyzed policies are accessible in FIRE’s Spotlight Database. FIRE rates schools as “red light,” “yellow light,” or “green light” based on how much, if any, speech protected by the First Amendment their policies restrict.

“Most colleges impose burdensome conditions on expression by maintaining policies that restrict students’ free speech rights,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Laura Beltz, lead author of the study. “Colleges should be a place for open debate and intellectual inquiry, but today, almost all colleges silence expression through policies that are often illiberal and, at public institutions, unconstitutional.”

Conflicts over the politics of the Middle East are corroding academic freedom on U.S. campuses
By Robert Shibley and Samantha Harris

In October, a professor at the University of Michigan refused to write a recommendation letter for a student to study in Israel because of the professor’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Elsewhere, pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian speakers have been uninvited from events. Students on both sides of the debate complain that they have been harassed or silenced by their peers, which has led to legislative and regulatory efforts that would compound the problem by putting some political speech out of bounds.

People are, of course, free to demand that their opponents be silenced, though those in authority are not free to grant those requests. But if the right to free speech is to mean anything, it has to mean that a public university professor cannot be fired for making controversial comments on public issues, and that speakers will not be censored or harassed for expressing their views on an issue of public concern. Likewise, students deserve a campus environment where they can freely discuss these issues and fully take advantage of educational opportunities.

The Constitution of Knowledge
By Jonathan Rauch

It should be routine for universities to welcome conservative scholars and champion conservative scholarship; to engage civilly and even appreciatively with controversial speakers; to shrug off provocations and reject censorship in all its forms; to eschew the politicization of research; to define safety as something other than intellectual conformity; to teach students to transcend their tribal identities rather than to burrow into them; to regard diversity of perspective as a reason to have conversations, not to shut them down. Universities are the mainstays of the constitution of knowledge. They train students and scholars in the methods and mores of structured inquiry; they build and safeguard knowledge; they ask the questions that others overlook or avoid.

Universities avoid politically controversial commencement speakers after student protests
By Alex Morey

When universities give into these demands or stand idly by as speakers withdraw, it signals students that protection from certain ideas is more important than critical engagement with diverse perspectives. It also teaches would-be censors that their illiberal tactics work.

The depressing logical endpoint of this allergy to disagreement has already been reached at the University of South Carolina, which completely controversy-proofed commencement by scrapping outside speakers altogether. This, at a university where the school seal quotes Roman poet Ovid on humanity’s search for common ground through liberal arts education, and depicts the goddesses of liberty and wisdom arriving at mutual understanding, shaking hands instead of going to war.

“The university must be that special place,” Carolina’s website proclaims, “where students can together pursue truth and strengthen both character and intellect.” But not, apparently, at graduation.

As students prepare to tackle society’s toughest challenges, top colleges and universities must consider whether their own commencement message — that potentially controversial messages are not worth considering — is one they really want to send.

Must Writers Be Moral? Their Contracts May Require It
By Judith Shulevitz

This past year, regular contributors to Condé Nast magazines started spotting a new paragraph in their yearly contracts. It’s a doozy. If, in the company’s “sole judgment,” the clause states, the writer “becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” Condé Nast can terminate the agreement. In other words, a writer need not have done anything wrong; she need only become scandalous. In the age of the Twitter mob, that could mean simply writing or saying something that offends some group of strident tweeters.

Agents hate morality clauses because terms like “public condemnation” are vague and open to abuse, especially if a publisher is looking for an excuse to back out of its contractual obligations. When I asked writers about morality clauses, on the other hand, most of them had no idea what I was talking about. You’d be surprised at how many don’t read the small print.

One writer who did was the fantasy and science-fiction novelist Ursula K. Le Guin, who died last year. When she discovered the morality clause in her HarperCollins contract in 2011, she posted on her blog a satirical letter from a fictional writer confessing sins to Rupert Murdoch, who owns the company: “It was nothing really materially damaging, only just the money and I.D. I stole from the old man with the walker and some things I said about some schoolgirls with big tits.” Please, the letter went on, don’t “make me pay back the money because I can’t because I already had to give most of it to some stupid lawyer who said I had defaulted on a loan and was behind on my child support, which is just a lie. That stupid brat was never mine.”

Jeannie Suk Gersen, a Harvard Law School professor who writes regularly for The New Yorker, a Condé Nast magazine, read the small print, too, and thought: “No way. I’m not signing that.” Ms. Gersen, an expert in the laws regulating sexuality, often takes stands that may offend the magazine’s liberal readers, as when she defended Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s rollback of Obama-era rules on campus sexual-assault accusations. When I called Ms. Gersen in November, she said, “No person who is engaged in creative expressive activity should be signing one of these.”

It’s not that a company should have to keep on staff a murderer or rapist, she added. But when the trigger for termination could be a Twitter storm or a letter-writing campaign, she said, “I think it would have a very significant chilling effect.”

What Ian Buruma’s Departure Will Cost Us
By Laura Kipnis

Do we now live in such unforgiving times that one problematic essay (or interview) guillotines a job? If so, my fear is that no editor in America will be taking editorial risks ever again. Whatever one thinks of the Ghomeshi essay — my purpose isn’t to defend it; I understand why many found it sniveling and dissembling — I suspect that The Review’s parting of ways with Mr. Buruma will change the nature and content of intellectual culture in our country.

Mr. Buruma was my editor at The Review, so perhaps I’m not objective enough. And I don’t know what precise calculations informed the decisions concerning his departure. But I have sympathy for The Review’s owner-publishers, who perhaps feared possible economic repercussions (rumors circulated about advertisers threatening to flee). As someone who has occasionally taken controversial stances on sexual harassment policies, I myself fear the possible economic repercussions that being on “the wrong side” of this moment could entail: Will my own opportunities to write and publish, in The Review or elsewhere, be curtailed? Self-censorship is the pragmatic move right now.

It would also be craven. What I found, writing for The Review under Mr. Buruma, was a rare opportunity — or rare in a periodical with significant circulation — to take intellectual and stylistic risks, be offbeat in my opinions and get the last word in editorial scuffles. I also got the chance to enthuse about the impact and necessity of the #MeToo movement in an essay commissioned by Mr. Buruma last November, shortly after the first wave of accused men starting falling. I hear there are now a lot of victory dances about bringing down Mr. Buruma, too. What’s painful about the stance of many now claiming the #MeToo mantle is the apparent commitment to shutting down voices and discussions that might prove distasteful or unnerving. What use is such an intellectually stifled version of feminism to anyone?

In Defence of Hate
By John Semley

Put even more bluntly, and despairingly: Why should we believe in the ability of art or culture to reshape politics and society when such a reshaping has literally never happened? Why be ruthlessly critical and productively contrary when doing so often proves historically defeatist and defeating?

The obvious, empowering answer, the one that’s meant to get piss and vinegar pumping through the veins, is that such a stance is fundamentally noble. In July 2000, the Palestinian American scholar and critic Edward Said was travelling through Lebanon with his family. While there, he took part in a protest against the state of Israel, joining fellow Arab protesters in lobbing rocks across the Lebanon-Israel border, in the general direction of Israeli border-security guards stationed at a nearby gatehouse. Given the distance of the gatehouse, there was little threat that any of the stones would do any damage. The protest was purely symbolic. Said described throwing the stone as a “gesture of joy.” Like hurling a rock at some guards you stand no chance of hitting, a critical disposition may be valuable precisely because it is pointless—because it suggests a self-ennoblement and uprightness against a culture that slouches onward. Quite simply: the contrarian, the curmudgeon, the hater rejects consensus, sloppy thinking, and the debasement of principles because it is the right thing to do. And that rectitude can be, in a world of winnowing possibility, nourishing and sustaining.

Andrew Sullivan: America, Land of Brutal Binaries
By Andrew Sullivan

This is what a cultural revolution feels like. It is given legitimacy by the top, but it is enforced horizontally from below. You are encouraged to denounce and expose your friends, your co-workers, and your bosses for the harm they inflict. Colleagues vie to signal that they are not guilty of being an oppressor, partly because they are not, and partly to avoid being the next scalp. Soon, silence is not enough – in fact, it’s suspicious. And so it becomes necessary to endorse the revolution, celebrate it, and enforce it, prove that you are in good standing. Examples are made of slackers – the more arbitrary the better – to keep fear alive in the minds of everyone. If you so much as quibble, you’ll be the next head on the chopping block. When the very existence of people is at stake – and it always is for the catastrophists – there is no limiting principle.

The Children of the Revolution
By James David Banker

Although educators and intellectuals were primary targets of the revolution, they bore some responsibility, by acts of commission or omission, for creating the conditions of its possibility. In the years prior to the Cultural Revolution, the Party had cultivated an environment of extreme political conformity. Political rallies and self-criticism sessions had become a regular feature of Maoist thought-reform campaigns. Ji Xianlin, a professor of languages at Peking, detailed how eagerly the teachers and intellectuals had supported these campaigns. In his memoir, The Cowshed, Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Ji writes with regret of his own “aptitude in crowd behavior.” He had been a true believer in Maoism and willingly persecuted other intellectuals during the Socialist Education Movement in 1957. But his Party loyalty was no defense when the revolution eventually came for him. A year into the Cultural Revolution, he found himself denounced by friends, colleagues, and students. Already in his late fifties, he was imprisoned with other intellectuals in a cowshed with former students as his sadistic prison guards. He was forced to endure constant struggle sessions and beaten and tormented mercilessly by his colleagues and Red Guards.

Sad Radicals
By Conor Barnes

Radical communities select for particular personality types. They attract deeply compassionate people, especially young people attuned to the suffering inherent to existence. They attract hurt people, looking for an explanation for the pain they’ve endured. And both of these derive meaning for that suffering by attributing it to the force that they now dedicate themselves to opposing. They are no longer purely a victim, but an underdog.

However, radical communities also attract people looking for an excuse to be violent illegalists. And the surplus of vulnerable and compassionate people attracts sadists and abusers ready to exploit them. The only gatekeeping that goes on in radical communities is that of language and passion—if you can rail against capitalism in woke language, you’re in.

Every group of people has some mixture of stable, vulnerable, and predatory individuals. That radicals have a poor mix does not doom them. However, radicals also dismiss longstanding norms that would protect them, in favour of experimental norms. They are built with the best intentions and are aimed at solving real problems. But intentions do not matter if one does not consider incentives and human nature.

Marines Testify About the “Antifa Mob” They Say Attacked Them in Philly
By Victor Fiorillo

According to the marines’ testimony, they were touring historical landmarks near Front and Chestnut streets when suspect Thomas Keenan approached them. Godinez testified that Keenan asked them “Are you proud?,” to which Godinez remembers responding “We are Marines.” Torres said that he remembers Keenan asking “Are you Proud Boys?,” an allusion to one of the alt-right groups behind the rally, and one that Torres said he didn’t understand. “I didn’t know what Proud Boys meant,” he said.

Whatever Keenan said, both marines testified that Keenan, Massey, and approximately ten other people — men and women, some masked and some unmasked — then began attacking them with mace, punches, and kicks, and calling them “nazis” and “white supremacists.”

On the stand, Godinez said that he was “bewildered” by being called a white supremacist and immediately cried out, “I’m Mexican!” After that, as the attack continued, both men said that members of the group, including Keenan, repeatedly used ethnic slurs, including “spic” and “wetback,” against the marines. (There was no testimony that Massey used any such language).

Godinez testified that he was maced at least six times, hit in the head, and kicked in the ribs, and he said that while he was being “stomped,” members of the group, which the judge and the district attorney’s office have both referred to as a “mob,” chanted “fuck him up” over and over again.

Shame Storm
By Helen Andrews

The more online shame cycles you observe, the more obvious the pattern becomes: Everyone comes up with a principled-sounding pretext that serves as a barrier against admitting to themselves that, in fact, all they have really done is joined a mob. Once that barrier is erected, all rules of decency go out the window, but the pretext is almost always a lie.

There is no content to a shame storm. It is mindless by its very nature. It is indifferent to truth, even in cases where the truth could possibly be determined. Therefore, like the Ring, it cannot be used for good.

The solution, then, is not to try to make shame storms well targeted, but to make it so they happen as infrequently as possible. Editors should refuse to run stories that have no value except humiliation, and readers should refuse to click on them. It is, after all, the moral equivalent of contributing your rock to a public stoning. We should all develop a robust sense of what is and is not any of our business. Shame can be useful—and even necessary—but it is toxic unless a relationship exists between two people first. A Twitter mob is no more a basis for salutary shaming than an actual mob is for reasoned discussion. That would be true even if the shaming’s relics were not preserved forever by Google, making any kind of rehabilitation impossible.

When moral outrage goes viral, it can come across as bullying, Stanford study finds
By Melissa De Witte

For example, in 2013 there was public outcry over a young woman who tweeted that she couldn’t get AIDS while traveling to Africa because she was white. Her post, which she said she intended as a joke, went viral across social media and quickly made its way into the news. It led to her being fired from her job.

“On the one hand, speaking out against injustice is vital for social progress, and it’s admirable that people feel empowered to call out words and actions they believe are wrong,” said Sawaoka. “On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel somewhat sympathetic for people who are belittled by thousands of strangers online, and who even lose friends and careers as a result of a poorly thought-out joke.”

Sawaoka and Monin put their observations to the test.

They conducted six experiments with a total of 3,377 participants to examine how people perceived public outcry to an offensive or controversial post on social media. They set up a variety of scenarios, including asking people how they felt when there were only one or two comments versus a mass of replies.

In one study, the researchers showed participants a post taken from a real story of a charity worker who posted a photograph of herself making an obscene gesture and pretending to shout next to a sign that read “Silence and Respect” at Arlington National Cemetery.

They asked participants how offensive they found the photograph, as well as what they thought about the responses to the post.

Sawaoka and Monin found that when participants saw the post with just a single comment condemning it, they found the reaction applaudable.

When they saw that reply echoed by many others, they viewed the original reply – that had been praiseworthy in isolation – more negatively. Early commenters were de facto penalized for later, independent responses, they said.

“There is a balance between sympathy and outrage,” said Monin about their findings. “The outrage goes up and up but at some point sympathy kicks in. Once a comment becomes part of a group, it can appear problematic. People start to think, ‘This is too much – that’s enough.’ We see outrage at the outrage.”

Bad Mobs of Good People: The Paradox of Viral Outrage
By Neuroskeptic

Further experiments showed that the disapproval for viral outrage was mediated by sympathy for the target. Yet this sympathy could be extinguished by asking participants to write their own ‘tweet’ condemning the target. These first-hand commentators did not feel bad about the viral outrage, unlike participants in the role of third-party observers:

Viral outrage creates a widening gap between how commenters see themselves and how they are seen by others, as individuals who participate in viral outrage continue to believe they are in the right, even as outside observers come to disagree.

The authors conclude that there is a real paradox here that offers no easy answers:

How can a person condemn injustice without suffering backlash? Our findings do not provide easy solutions… The challenge lies in reconciling the counterintuitive notion that a collection of individually praiseworthy actions may cumulatively result in an unjust outcome.

Personally, I do feel sympathy for the targets (most of them), but I don’t think we can blame individual members of viral mobs. I see both the targets and the mobbers as victims, in a sense, of the real monster, which is social media itself. I like social media, I use it, but it’ll eat you if it gets a chance.

These studies could be extended, and I hope they will be. I wonder how participants would view a hypothetical social media user who sees an outrageous post and consciously decides not to reply to it? It would also be nice to see what happens if we add some comments agreeing with, or defending, the target. This would be more realistic, and I predict it would actually reduce the disapproval of viral outrage.

Has Callout Culture Finally Gone Too Far?
By Pamela B. Paresky

Young people can be morally indicted not just for what they say, but for anything they once wrote to someone in an email or posted on social media. And worse, the messy, ugly parts of this generation’s childhood will live on forever, etched in cyberstone, able to be recalled with only a few taps and swipes. Young adults can now be condemned for words their 9th-grade selves used—as if by the time they enter high school, children should all be mature enough to know better.

In a swift online apology, Murray noted that his tweets were issued when he was 14 and 15. “I used a poor choice of word that doesn’t reflect who I am or what I believe. I did not intend to single out any individual or group,” he wrote. Refreshingly, the Twittersphere appears to have come to his defense. One follower succinctly reminded us that our childhood selves are not our best selves: “14-year-olds are generally stupid. They say stupid things. At 14 years old I was objectively more of a turd than I am now.” Another noted, “You were still going through puberty at the time of the tweet. The media, however, is still as childish as ever.” Many others, whether football fans or not, are posting similar sentiments.

This online reaction is encouraging. Maybe callout culture has finally gone too far, and we’re at a turning point. Perhaps it’s time for us to be more charitable about one another’s less than perfect past.

NPR Poll: Most Americans Hate Political Correctness, At Least If You Don’t Define It
By Robby Soave

The poll didn’t rigorously define political correctness, and that could have influenced the result. This of course points to a larger problem—i.e., that “political correctness” is a poorly defined term in general, and may mean vastly different things to different people.

For instance, the political scientist Kevin Collins suggested the wording should have been this: “Do you think that members of racial groups should be called by terms generally preferred by those groups, or should non-members of those groups be free to use any terms they like without social repercussions?” If the question were asked this way, I suspect fewer people would have signaled a discomfort with what Collins has defined as political correctness.

I have tried to define political correctness somewhat differently, as a system of informal social sanction deployed against people for making problematically worded but benign statements due to ignorance rather than malice (like not knowing that it’s preferable to say black people or people of color instead of African Americans or blacks).

A great many people, I suspect, would not be able to offer any workable definition of political correctness, but they know it when they see it, and for them, it takes the form of #MeToo feminists trying to get “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” yanked from the airwaves. If you really think this kind of political correctness could not possibly backfire on liberals, consider that the 70-year-old song is currently climbing the Billboard charts, and one radio station decided to play it for two hours straight just to really stick it to all those snowflakes.

Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture
By Yascha Mounk

According to the report, 25 percent of Americans are traditional or devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an “exhausted majority.” Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”

Most members of the “exhausted majority,” and then some, dislike political correctness. Among the general population, a full 80 percent believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” Even young people are uncomfortable with it, including 74 percent ages 24 to 29, and 79 percent under age 24. On this particular issue, the woke are in a clear minority across all ages.

Campus Week: The Emperor’s Woke Clothes
By Wesley Yang

PC’s opponents are a portrait of rainbow-coalition America itself—people of all ages and all colors protective of their liberties, who sense instinctively who is really at the core of the politically correct movement and oppose the ideas and motives that animate it. This diverse America is of course fundamentally at odds with the Fox News crowd and the Trumpists. But they have no more love for their would-be saviors among the politically correct, who rule through fear inspired by legalistic threats and social media mobs.

The political scientist Yascha Mounk, writing in The Atlantic, quotes one 40-year-old American Indian from Oklahoma:

It seems like everyday you wake up something has changed … Do you say Jew? Or Jewish? Is it a black guy? African-American? … You are on your toes because you never know what to say. So political correctness in that sense is scary.

The survey’s findings confirm the intuitions of those who have long regarded political correctness as what it has become: a mode of exercising power within an intramural contest between rival elites. In this contest, the fetishistic invocation of the “marginalized” is a tool the powerful use to increase the power of a given group, often to the detriment of the very people they purport to represent. The study shows that virtually no one who does not directly benefit from the exercise of this power (in the form of sinecures, professional advancement, or the destruction of rivals within liberal institutions) supports it.

The only group within which a majority of respondents do not regard political correctness as a problem are those that the study characterizes as “progressive activists,” a category that comprises 8 percent of the country. Only 30 percent of this group considers political correctness to be a problem.

“Compared with the rest of the (nationally representative) polling sample,” Mounk writes,

progressive activists are much more likely to be rich, highly educated—and white. They are nearly twice as likely as the average to make more than $100,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree. And while 12 percent of the overall sample in the study is African-American, only 3 percent of progressive activists are. With the exception of the small tribe of devoted conservatives, progressive activists are the most racially homogeneous group in the country.

The extent to which this finding might surprise you is a measure of how close you are to either elite. It is also a measure of how successfully the toxic rhetoric of warring elite cliques has gaslighted you into submitting to a narrative that is brazenly false. The findings are disquieting because they show by implication the power of that false narrative. It reveals the extent to which the overwhelming will of the majority can be continually frustrated by wildly unrepresentative, power-seeking elite factions that increasingly occupy critical chokepoints within media, educational, nonprofit, legal, government, and corporate bureaucracies. For that is what political correctness really is—a symptom of a large disorder which the vast majority of Americans of all races and creeds regard as a problem.

These Americans Are Done With Politics
By Sabrina Tavernise

The highly politically engaged tribes may have seized on the midterm elections as a victory, but for the Exhausted Majority it merely perpetuated a hopeless stalemate.

“It’s like World War I, where you’re pushing each other back and forth over the same quarter-mile of ground and nothing happens,” said Christopher Kershaw, 39, a logistics manager in rural New Jersey.

The study found that members of the Exhausted Majority are more likely than those on the far ends of the political spectrum to be women, less likely to have a college or graduate degree, less likely to be white and more likely to be young. It concluded that four in five Americans believe that the country has a problem with “political correctness,” which many said made them feel bad but also bewildered — a set of rules they had not learned to decode.

It also found that many in the Exhausted Majority tend to see both sides.

“My husband would tell you I’m a devil’s advocate,” said Mary Linda Vetter, 71, a retired teaching assistant in Woodhull, N.Y. “I’m always looking at the other side of the coin.”

During the 2016 campaign, Ms. Vetter’s husband would watch the conservative pundit Glenn Beck and then accuse her of not caring because she had little interest.

In fact, she cares a lot. Her whole life, she has voted and volunteered — at her church and at a local nursing home, visiting residents who did not have families. But she is uncomfortable with the culture of outrage and ideological conformity.

“I guess I would have to say that I’m completely confused as to who is lying and who is telling the truth,” Ms. Vetter said. “I just feel helpless.”

Partisanship may be at a modern high, but that doesn’t mean people are happy with their political choices. The study shows that most Americans have political tastes that are not uniform: They may lean toward one party, but they see things they like in both. Its findings suggest a deep hunger for political leaders who are practical and not tribal — who do not cast the world in starkly moral terms, but in bread-and-butter policy terms.

Founders Fund Partner Cyan Banister on Kanye West, Elon Musk, and the Value of Independent Thought
By Polina Marinova

BANISTER: I don’t think social media or the tech industry has been good for a respectful discourse, and what happens is that people go underground. This is how we ended up with Donald Trump in the first place. I’m not a Donald Trump supporter, but I can see plain as day why we have him as the president.

I think social media has become a silencing tool. I think that people are really frustrated and quiet, and it’s actually a vocal minority, not a vocal majority that is using these tools to suppress free speech. I don’t mean “free speech” in the sense of “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” I mean that people are suppressing their own speech because of the fear their careers will be ended or someone will take something out of context and be portrayed as a horrible person.

People come up to me all the time saying, “Cyan, you’re so brave. You say things I wish I could say.” And I’m like, “You have no idea how much I’m suppressing. I’m actually holding back. You should see the list of things I don’t say.”

The surprising history of London’s fascinating (but forgotten) coffeehouses
By Dr Matthew Green

Conversation was the lifeblood of coffeehouses. From coffeehouses all over London, Samuel Pepys recorded fantastical tales and metaphysical discussions – of voyages “across the high hills in Asia above the clouds” and the futility of distinguishing between a waking and a dreaming state. Listening and talking to strangers – sometimes for hours on end – was a founding principle of coffeehouses yet one that seems most alien to us today.

Coffeehouses brought people and ideas together; they inspired brilliant ideas and discoveries that would make Britain the envy of the world. The first stocks and shares were traded in Jonathan’s coffeehouse by the Royal Exchange (now a private members’ club); merchants, ship-captains, cartographers, and stockbrokers coalesced into Britain’s insurance industry at Lloyd’s on Lombard Street (now a Sainsbury’s); and the coffeehouses surrounding the Royal Society galvanized scientific breakthroughs. Isaac Newton once dissected a dolphin on the table of the Grecian Coffeehouse.

The flavours found in the latest incarnation of London cafes are undoubtedly superior, but the vanishing opportunities for intellectual engagement and spirited debate with strangers have been quite a trade-off.

How Culture Makes Us Smarter
By Steve Stewart-Williams

On our own, we’re not particularly smart – certainly not smart enough to unravel the mysteries of the universe or put footprints on the moon. We’re smarter than chimps, certainly, but, as I mentioned earlier, the gap between us and them isn’t as large as we usually think. It’s a river rather than a valley.

However, as a result of our ability to acquire knowledge distilled from thousands of years’ worth of thinking, each of us can understand the universe to a degree completely unmatched by even our closest animal kin. As a result of cumulative culture, we have ideas in our heads that are orders of magnitude smarter than we are. As a result of cumulative culture, we have knowledge and technology it would take a single individual millions of years to create, if a single individual could create it at all. And as a result of cumulative culture, we’re surrounded by machines and technology whose inner workings we don’t understand and could never hope to understand. Humans are chimpanzees reciting Shakespeare – dunces with the technology of geniuses.

Often, though, these humbling facts are obscured from our vision. We routinely ascribe our species’ cultural achievements to lone-wolf geniuses – super-bright freaks of who invented science and technology for the rest of us. This tendency is so pervasive it even has a name: the Myth of the Heroic Inventor. It’s a myth because most ideas and most technologies come about not through the Eureka moments of solitary geniuses but through the hard slog of large armies of individuals, each making – at best – a tiny step or two forward. … As the historian of science Joseph Needham once put it, “No single man was the father of the steam engine; no single civilization either.” … In the same way, no single individual was the originator of evolutionary theory. People attribute the theory to Darwin, but the truth is it’s not really his. It’s the product of the efforts of thousands of men and women working over several centuries. Nonetheless, friends of the theory and enemies alike want to attribute it to the great man.

Do I contradict myself by calling Darwin great? I don’t think so. Some people – Darwin among them – plainly take larger steps forward than the rest of us. But even then, we need to remember that new ideas are rarely drawn from whole cloth. They come instead from the recombination of old ideas – from ideas having sex, as Matt Ridley put it. The concept of natural selection, for instance, involved combining Malthus’s idea of the struggle in nature with the idea of selective breeding. This led Darwin to the insight that, because nature kills most of its children, it functions as a giant animal breeder. As important as this insight was, it’s essentially just a remix.

And so is most of culture. The birth of new technology, for instance, usually involves recombining existing elements in novel ways. … As L. T. C. Rolt observed, “The motor car was sired by the bicycle out of the horse carriage.” Similarly, as Ridley reports in his book The Rational Optimist, the Internet was born from the marriage of the computer and the phone, and the camera pill was born of a conversation between a gastroenterologist and a guided missile designer. … Perhaps the fairest summary of the situation is that most of our cultural achievements come not from super-bright freaks, but from cumulative culture, aided and abetted by some reasonably bright semi-freaks. In this way, our culture becomes smarter than we are.

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