When I first read about plans for a new academic periodical called The Journal of Controversial Ideas, I got the wrong end of the stick. Fantastic news, I thought, particularly when I saw the distinguished group of intellectuals behind it. They include Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford; Peter Singer, the well-known Australian philosopher; and Francesca Minerva, a bio-ethicist at the University of Ghent. An authoritative magazine bearing the imprimatur of these distinguished free-thinkers is a great way to persuade other, less celebrated academics to stick their heads above the parapet and publish essays that dissent from groupthink.
Then I spotted an important detail: all the material will be published pseudonymously. That’s right — the contributors won’t use their own names. Far from a cause for hope, this is confirmation of my worst fears. The Maoist intolerance of anyone who dares to challenge the ‘woke’ orthodoxy has reached such a pitch that the only way to persuade non-conforming intellectuals to contribute to public debate is to guarantee they won’t be identified. (To read more, click here.)
Once identified as right-wing you are beyond the pale of argument,’ wrote Sir Roger Scruton. ‘Your views are irrelevant, your character discredited, your presence in the world a mistake. You are not an opponent to be argued with, but a disease to be shunned. This has been my experience.’
Unfortunately, that experience is due to intensify for the 74-year-old conservative philosopher. Last weekend, the government announced it had set up a commission to try and make new housing developments ‘beautiful’ and appointed Sir Roger as its chair. It’s one of the few sensible things the present government has done; so, of course, it’s caused a scandal. (To read more, click here.)
I feel some sympathy for the director Anthony Ekundayo Lennon. According to the Sunday Times, which broke the story last weekend, he’s the beneficiary of an Arts Council England grant intended for ‘theatre practitioners of colour’ even though he’s white. To obtain the grant, Lennon described himself as ‘mixed heritage’ but what’s interesting about this case is that both the Arts Council and the theatre he’s linked to are standing by him. They have defended his right to identify as a person of colour, claiming it’s not an act of deception but a choice he’s made and which they respect.
Needless to say, he’s come in for a fair amount of criticism from the left-wing theatre community, including some prominent black actors, and he may yet be thrown under a bus. But this poses an interesting dilemma for the identitarian left. If it’s perfectly fine for someone born male to identify as female, why isn’t it OK for someone born white to identity as mixed heritage? (To read more, click here.)
Well done to Sara Thornton, a senior police officer who has warned against extending the definition of a ‘hate crime’ to include misogyny, misandry and ageism. Yesterday, she told a conference of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners that they should be allowed to focus on ‘core’ crimes like burglary, rather than being forced to increase the already ridiculous amount of time they spend investigating hate crimes. In 2016, British police detained and questioned 3,300 people for making ‘offensive’ comments on social media – roughly nine arrests per day. Meanwhile, West Yorkshire Police, the fourth largest force in England, is failing to investigate 56 per cent of cases – and these aren’t minor crimes, but include things like theft, assault and burglary.
A ‘hate crime’ is any crime motivated by prejudice towards someone based on certain ‘protected’ characteristics. At present, those characteristics are race or ethnicity, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, and transgender identity, but the Law Commission is currently reviewing whether to add to them. Diane Abbott told police leaders this morning that she’s in favour of making misogyny a hate crime, although it won’t surprise anyone to learn that Labour’s shadow home secretary has misunderstood what a hate crime is. Merely harbouring hostility towards someone in one of the protected categories is not, by itself, a ‘hate crime’, so adding ‘gender’ to that list won’t make ‘misogyny’ a hate crime. In addition, the accused would have to commit an actual crime, such as sending an unsolicited, malicious email. In the words of the criminal justice system, a hate crime is an ‘aggravated offence’ it is not an offence in its own right. Then again, Abbott may actually want to bring forward a bill proposing that merely having a thought that she disapproves of should be classed as a ‘hate crime’. (To read more, click here.)
My heart goes out to William Sitwell, the editor of Waitrose Food Magazine who's just been forced to resign for making a joke about vegans. To lose your job as a result of a gag shows how extreme the climate of Maoist intolerance has become. When free speech advocates like me make comparisons between contemporary Britain and America and the former Communist states of Eastern Europe we are called ‘alarmist’ and ‘hysterical’, but this episode reminds of the first novel of Milan Kundera, the great Czech dissident. Set in Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia and called ’The Joke’, it concerns the fate of a young man who sends a postcard to his girlfriend that says, "Optimism is the opium of mankind! A healthy spirit stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!” Being a horrid little sneak, the girlfriend passes it on to the local Communist Party official who doesn’t see the funny side and the poor man loses his job and is dispatched to the coldest part of the country to work in a coal mine. I daresay William won’t end up down a pit in Yorkshire, but the principle is the same. If you make an inappropriate joke, you risk losing your livelihood. It says something about the age we live in that a novel written to satirise the most oppressive aspects of Communist Czechoslovakia could, with very few changes, be about contemporary Britain. (To read more, click here.)
Last week I spoke at an event at Nottingham University to commemorate the 60th anniversary of The Rise of the Meritocracy, the book by my father that added a new word to the English language. A dystopian satire in the same mould as Nineteen Eighty-Four, it describes a nightmarish society of the future in which status is based on a combination of effort and intelligence rather than inherited privilege.
That sounds like an improvement and, to my father’s annoyance, the word ‘meritocracy’ has come to stand for something politically desirable when he intended the book to be a warning. As a lifelong socialist, he didn’t like meritocracy because he thought it gave the appearance of fairness to the economic inequalities thrown up by free-market capitalism, thereby delaying the emergence of a more egalitarian society.
In my speech I explained that I liked meritocracy for much the same reason. I regard inequality as an inevitable by-product of limited government, which history teaches us is preferable to excessive state power. In common with many utopian socialists, my father believed the state would just ‘wither away’ once it had overseen a massive redistribution of wealth and power, but I’ve always been sceptical. Such optimism is contingent on a conception of human nature that is belied by science, particularly evolutionary psychology: that man is a peace-loving, altruistic creature who can be depended upon not to engage in predation, cruelty, warfare, sexual enslavement and homicidal violence once the workers’ paradise has been created. (To read more, click here.)
The British edition of GQ is 30 years old and, to celebrate its birthday, it is conducting a ‘dissection of masculinity’. I can’t help feeling that’s a bit of a shame – if a men’s magazine won’t celebrate masculinity, who will? – but fear not. The male gender still has one unapologetic champion – step forward Canadian psychology professor Dr Jordan Peterson – and, as part of this promotional push, GQ sent Helen Lewis to interview him.
Those hoping for a re-run of Peterson’s famous encounter with Cathy Newman, the Channel 4 News presenter, will be disappointed. Peterson comes out on top, of course, but Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman, is better prepared than Newman. She’s been to one of his talks, read 12 Rules For Life and – by the looks of things – has studied some of his previous jousting matches on YouTube. (To read more, click here.)
he influence of Twitter continues to grow. Scarcely a day passes without someone being “called out” for an ill-judged tweet, often with career-ending consequences. Indeed, my own career suffered at the beginning of the year after a team of offense archaeologists found some historic treasures in my Twitter account. But I’ve never heard of an imprudent tweet leading to a change in the law – until now.
Earlier this week, an American TV presenter caused uproar when she tweeted a picture of herself posing next to a dead goat on a Hebridean island. “Beautiful wild goat here on the Island of Islay in Scotland,” wrote Larysa Switlyk, presenter of Larysa Unleashed. “Such a fun hunt!! Made a perfect 200 yard shot and dropped him with the gunwerks and nightforce-optics!”
At the time of writing, her tweet has attracted 19,000 comments, most of them using words like “sickening”, “abhorrent” and “evil”. Not surprisingly, many of the people upset by the tweet called for a ban on goat-hunting, including Andy Murray’s mum. The response of the Scottish government, however, was less predictable. (To read more, click here.)
Some interesting scientific research on gender differences was published last week. Two social scientists studied the preferences of 80,000 people in 76 countries to determine whether there’s a link between the attitudes of men and women to risk-taking, patience, altruism, trust and so on, and how advanced a country is in terms of economic development and gender equality.
If gender is a social construct, as many feminists claim, you’d expect men and women’s preferences to be more divergent in places like Pakistan, Malaysia and Nigeria, where gender roles are quite traditional and women have fewer economic opportunities, than in the Nordic countries. However, the opposite is true. The researchers discovered that the more economically developed a country is and the greater the gender equality, the less likely men and women’s attitudes are to converge. This suggests that average psychological differences between men and women are partly biological. How else to account for the fact that when men and women are free to pursue their own interests, gender differences become more pronounced, not less? (To read more, click here.)
On 11 October 2017 an anonymous Google spreadsheet began doing the rounds of American newspapers and magazines — a document that would have far-reaching consequences for Stephen Elliott, a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. Called ‘Shitty Media Men’, the spreadsheet had been created by Moira Donegan, a former assistant editor at the New Republic, and named various men rumoured to be guilty of sexual misconduct. Donegan closed it down a few days later, but by that time it had been widely circulated and many names had been added, alongside a summary of their alleged crimes. The entry for Elliott read: ‘Rape accusations, sexual harassment, coercion, unsolicited invitations to his apartment, a dude who snuck into Binders???’ (Binders is a Facebook group for women writers.)
The spreadsheet contained a disclaimer: ‘This document is only a collection of allegations and rumours. Take everything with a grain of salt.’ Needless to say, that was largely ignored. Numerous articles appeared celebrating the list as a much–needed ‘reckoning’, with not many people pausing to consider whether the men on the list were guilty. Elliott had a collection of essays to promote, but interviews were pulled, readings cancelled and his book tour fizzled out. His television agent stopped returning his calls and some friends began to distance themselves. He found himself at the centre of a Kafka-esque nightmare. (To read more, click here.)