The Offense Industry On The Offense

Sep 16 2014 @ 11:16am

In a really terrific post during my vacation, Freddie DeBoer nailed something to the cross:

It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing, or if someone decides to misrepresent what you said as saying the wrong thing. There are so many ways to step on a landmine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them.

Freddie’s concern was with online hazing of the politically incorrect. Writers are not just condemned any more for being wrong or dumb or rigid. They are condemned as sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, blah blah blah – almost as a reflex in trying to discredit their work. That’s particularly true when it comes to fascinating issues like race or gender or sexual orientation, where liberalism today seems to insist that there are absolutely no aggregate differences between genders, races, ethnicities, or sexual orientations, except those created by oppression and discrimination and bigotry. Anyone even daring to bring up these topics is subjected to intense pressure, profound disapproval and ostracism. This illiberal liberalism is not new, of course. But it’s still depressingly common.

Sam Harris is one of its latest victims. There sure is plenty to disagree with Sam about – and we have had several such arguments and debates. But the idea that he is a sexist – and now forced to defend himself at length from the charge after a book-signing discussion – is really pathetic. His account of the episode is well worth-reading for the insight it gives into the Puritanical wing of the left. Michelle Boornstein decided to play the sexist card after a contentious interview, and then tweet it out thus:

Here’s what she was referring to (in her words):

I also asked Harris at the event why the vast majority of atheists—and many of those who buy his books—are male, a topic which has prompted some to raise questions of sexism in the atheist community. Harris’ answer was both silly and then provocative. It can only be attributed to my “overwhelming lack of sex appeal,” he said to huge laughter.

“I think it may have to do with my person[al] slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people… People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

This is impermissibly sexist because it assumes that there are some essential biological and psychological differences between men and women, and for a certain kind of leftist, this is an intolerable heresy. If that truth cannot be suppressed or rebutted in a free society, its adherents must be stigmatized as bigots. It’s a lazy form of non-argument – and may have been payback from Boorstein after Harris and she differed quite strongly on the power of fundamentalism in American culture.

But Boorstein’s premise – that because many more men than women seem to buy and read his books, there must be some sexism at work – is preposterous.

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A Paradox Of Gay Progress

Sep 16 2014 @ 11:00am

Alex Morris pinpoints it:

Tragically, every step forward for the gay-rights movement creates a false hope of acceptance for certain youth, and therefore a swelling of the homeless-youth population. …

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Abuse In The Public Eye, Ctd

Sep 16 2014 @ 10:29am

A reader sharpens the debate over female domestic violence:

I think both readers you recently quoted regarding Janay Rice hitting Ray Rice have valid points. What bothers me is that it seems to be treated as a zero sum game when we talk about reciprocity in domestic violence. Do women have it worse than men? Of course! Does that mean that violence against men shouldn’t be mentioned? I don’t think so. If anything, I think it would help the conversation if men understood how universal it is. Not talking about it seems like it only encourages men to accept abuse until they snap back. That by no means justifies when they snap, but it does contribute to it. And just making that point clear definitely doesn’t mean men have it anywhere near as bad as women in domestic violence.

This should not be a contest of who is more oppressed. Everyone suffers from toxic or outdated expectations about gender. The more open and nuanced the conversation, the better.

Two male readers share their stories of abuse:

Never thought I’d be writing to someone about this, but your discussion is prompting me to write. I suffered a severe beating at the hands of a former girlfriend – broken nose, splinters (from a 2×4) in and around the eyes.

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Gender-Bending Kids In Afghanistan

Sep 16 2014 @ 10:01am

In an essay adapted from her forthcoming book, Jenny Nordberg explains why some Afghan families raise their daughters as boys:

Officially, girls like Mehran do not exist in Afghanistan, where the system of gender segregation is among the strictest in the world. But many other Afghans, too, can recall a former neighbor, a relative, a colleague, or someone in their extended family raising a daughter as a son. These children even have their own colloquialism, bacha posh, which literally translates from Dari to “dressed like a boy.”

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Have We Outgrown Growing Up? Ctd

Sep 16 2014 @ 9:30am

In response to A.O. Scott’s essay on the death of adulthood in popular culture, Freddie sighs, “To believe that different types of cultural products should exist, and that some of these should create artistic pleasures based on work, ambiguity, or difficulty, is to be immediately and permanently labeled a snob”:

If you like any kind of artwork that does not leave its pleasures totally and utterly accessible at all times and to all people with no expectation that consuming art should involve effort, you will be lectured to by the aggrieved. You will get yelled at by the AV Club and Vulture and Slate, by Steve Hyden and Andy Greenwald and the rest of the crew at Bill Simmons’s Geographical Center of the American Middlebrow, in the New York Times and the New Yorker and every other sundry magazine, blog, site, app, Tumblr, Twittr, Tindr, Grindr, newsletter, listerv, forum, message board, image board, room & board, surfboard and broadsheet that humanity produces. …

The only part of adulthood that really matters is the part where when you finally grow up, if you ever really do, it’s because you recognize that there’s other people in the world and that they matter and their needs matter and you need to set aside your self-obsession for long enough to recognize that other people’s needs are often more pressing or important than yours and to act accordingly. Every frame of Guardians of the Galaxy exists to tell you that you are the only human being in the universe.

Alexandra Petri, who is much less perturbed by the shift, attributes it to the rise of the Internet, “where the primary mode of communication is the confessional”:

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The Senate Is A Coin Flip

Sep 16 2014 @ 9:02am

The NYT’s Senate forecast is trending towards Democrats:

NYT Senate

Nate Silver’s calculations have also become more Democrat-friendly:

When we officially launched our forecast model two weeks ago, it had Republicans with a 64 percent chance of taking over the Senate after this fall’s elections. Now Republican chances are about 55 percent instead.

Why the change? He sees money as a big factor:

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Asylum Roulette

Sep 16 2014 @ 8:28am

To qualify for asylum in the US, immigrants have to prove not only that they have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries but also that they belong to a particular social group and are being persecuted because they belong to that group. Not all victims of violence qualify. That burden of proof, as Emily Bazelon points out, leaves many asylum seekers in the lurch, including victims of domestic abuse and gang violence:

In 1996, the Board of Immigration Appeals, which functions as the country’s central immigration court (with review by the federal appeals courts) “broke new ground” on gender-related claims by “granting asylum to a Togolese woman who fled her country to escape female genital cutting,” as Blaine Bookey, a staff attorney for the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, explains in this 2012 article. The idea was that the risk of cutting both depended on gender and was widespread in some African countries.

Domestic violence, however, didn’t easily get the same kind of recognition as a basis for persecution worthy of asylum. In 1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected the asylum claim of Rody Alvarado Peña, a Guatemalan woman whose husband, she testified, treated her “as something that belonged to him and he could do anything he wanted.” Alvarado said she spent 10 years suffering frequent abuse, including the dislocation of her jawbone and a kick in the spine when she was pregnant. She was dragged by the hair, pistol-whipped, and raped. When she tried to run away, the Guatemalan police and the courts did not protect her. The BIA accepted that Alvarado had been abused but ruled that she was not part of a recognized social group—“Guatemalan women subjugated by their husbands” didn’t make the list—and that she had not shown she was abused because she was a Guatemalan woman living under male domination.


Sep 16 2014 @ 8:01am

Elizabeth Nolan Brown praises Cosmopolitan for addressing the midterm elections, but wishes they’d take a less partisan approach:

There’s nothing wrong with publications leaning one way or the other politically, or taking an institutionally centrist position while hiring individual writers that slant left or right. Yet Cosmo is trying to portray itself as a friendly, impartial arbiter of “what’s at stake” for women in this election while explicitly pushing the DNC’s wish list. This is not service journalism, nor opinion journalism; it is advocacy. And the magazine’s refusal to acknowledge that leaves me cold.

This wouldn’t be the first time Cosmo has served as a mouthpiece for Democrat policies. Throughout the past year or so, the magazine has run numerous pieces on how the Affordable Care Act is good for women and frequently devoted social media posts to urging young women to sign up with the health insurance exchanges. “The White House says it has no formal publicity agreement with Cosmopolitan,” noted Reuters in June 2013. “But [Editor-in-Chief Joanna] Coles met with senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett last week at the White House, which is in discussions with potential Obamacare promoters including the National Football League, as it prepares for a full-scale public education campaign this fall.” And Coles was back for a personal meeting with President Obama in May 2014.

Finding The Spirit Of Science

Sep 16 2014 @ 7:32am

While positing that “only matter exists,” Marcelo Gleiser also contends “that we know precious little, that we are surrounded by questions of such forbidding complexity that our knowledge will always be limited even if ever growing.” Why he finds this a reason to embrace science:

But forbidding complexity does not need to mean divine, or supernatural. Unknowns are invitations, challenges to our creativity. Obstacles are triggers, not stoppers. We go after them using the tools of science and reason with a fervor that, as Einstein remarked, has all the dressings of spiritual devotion.

So, we must rid spirituality from its supernatural prison, make it secular. Spirituality is a connection with something bigger than we are, seducing our imagination, creating an urge to know, to embrace the mystery that surrounds us and the mystery that we are.

This natural spirituality is not a form of mysticism. Mysticism presupposes that knowledge that is inaccessible to the intellect can be apprehended by contemplation or by a union with the divine. Science, at least to me, starts with a spiritual — even contemplative — connection with nature. But then it uses the intellect as the bridge between this connection and the pursuit of knowledge. As it brings together this very human spiritual attraction to the unknown (merely calling it “curiosity” sounds very impoverishing to me) and our reasoning powers, science is a unique expression of our wonderment with reality, of our awe with nature’s grandeur.

Ken Burns’s multipart documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, premiered last night. Damon Root reviews it:

[W]hile the film is clearly pro-Roosevelt in its leanings, it does make room for certain contrarian views. Among The Roosevelts‘ stable of talking heads, for example, is none other than conservative writer George Will, who pops up from time to time to remind viewers that the family’s impact was not always a benevolent one. “Building on the work of the first Roosevelt, the second Roosevelt gave us the idea, the shimmering, glittering idea of the heroic presidency. And with it the hope that complex problems would yield to charisma. This,” Will declares during one episode, “sets the country up for perpetual disappointment.”

But The Roosevelts is by no means a flawless film. For one thing, it sometimes fails to present an accurate picture of the family’s political opponents. Indeed, the film leaves the distinct impression that only reactionaries and fringe loonies ever dissented from the New Deal.

Harvey J. Kaye lodges other criticisms:

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