Political Correctness; the death of Satire and critical thought

“What are the effects of this new protectiveness on the students themselves? Does it benefit the people it is supposed to help? What exactly are students learning when they spend four years or more in a community that polices unintentional slights, places warning labels on works of classic literature, and in many other ways conveys the sense that words can be forms of violence that require strict control by campus authorities, who are expected to act as both protectors and prosecutors?”

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“There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.”

 

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Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Educationdescribing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

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“Mandela’s Socialist Failure: In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence, and crime. The main change is that the old white ruling class is joined by the new black elite. Secondly, people remember the old African National Congress which promised not only the end of apartheid, but also more social justice, even a kind of socialism. This much more radical ANC past is gradually obliterated from our memory.” – Slavoj Zizek

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New York Times

THE STONE

Below written by Slavoj Zizek | December 6, 2013

In the last two decades of his life, Nelson Mandela was celebrated as a model of how to liberate a country from the colonial yoke without succumbing to the temptation of dictatorial power and anti-capitalist posturing. In short, Mandela was not Mugabe, South Africa remained a multi-party democracy with free press and a vibrant economy well-integrated into the global market and immune to hasty Socialist experiments. Now, with his death, his stature as a saintly wise man seems confirmed for eternity: there are Hollywood movies about him — he was impersonated by Morgan Freeman, who also, by the way, played the role of God in another film; rock stars and religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification.

Is this, however, the whole story? Two key facts remain obliterated by this celebratory vision. In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence, and crime. The main change is that the old white ruling class is joined by the new black elite. Secondly, people remember the old African National Congress which promised not only the end of apartheid, but also more social justice, even a kind of socialism. This much more radical ANC past is gradually obliterated from our memory. No wonder that anger is growing among poor, black South Africans.

South Africa in this respect is just one version of the recurrent story of the contemporary left. A leader or party is elected with universal enthusiasm, promising a “new world” — but, then, sooner or later, they stumble upon the key dilemma: does one dare to touch the capitalist mechanisms, or does one decide to “play the game”? If one disturbs these mechanisms, one is very swiftly “punished” by market perturbations, economic chaos, and the rest. This is why it is all too simple to criticize Mandela for abandoning the socialist perspective after the end of apartheid: did he really have a choice? Was the move towards socialism a real option?

It is easy to ridicule Ayn Rand, but there is a grain of truth in the famous “hymn to money” from her novel Atlas Shrugged: “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other.” Did Marx not say something similar in his well-known formula of how, in the universe of commodities, “relations between people assume the guise of relations among things”?

In the market economy, relations between people can appear as relations of mutually recognized freedom and equality: domination is no longer directly enacted and visible as such. What is problematic is Rand’s underlying premise: that the only choice is between direct and indirect relations of domination and exploitation, with any alternative dismissed as utopian. However, one should nonetheless bear in mind the moment of truth in Rand’s otherwise ridiculously-ideological claim: the great lesson of state socialism was effectively that a direct abolishment of private property and market-regulated exchange, lacking concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination. If we merely abolish market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation.

The general rule is that, when a revolt begins against an oppressive half-democratic regime, as was the case in the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilize large crowds with slogans which one cannot but characterize as crowd pleasers – for democracy, against corruption, for instance. But then we gradually approach more difficult choices: when our revolt succeeds in its direct goal, we come to realize that what really bothered us (our un-freedom, humiliation, social corruption, lack of prospect of a decent life) goes on in a new guise. The ruling ideology mobilizes here its entire arsenal to prevent us from reaching this radical conclusion. They start to tell us that democratic freedom brings its own responsibility, that it comes at a price, that we are not yet mature if we expect too much from democracy. In this way, they blame us for our failure: in a free society, so we are told, we are all capitalist investing in our lives, deciding to put more into our education than into having fun if we want to succeed.

At a more directly political level, the United States foreign policy elaborated a detailed strategy of how to exert damage control by way of re-channeling a popular uprising into acceptable parliamentary-capitalist constraints – as was done successfully in South Africa after the fall of apartheid regime, in Philippines after the fall of Marcos, in Indonesia after the fall of Suharto and elsewhere. At this precise conjuncture, radical emancipatory politics faces its greatest challenge: how to push things further after the first enthusiastic stage is over, how to make the next step without succumbing to the catastrophe of the “totalitarian” temptation – in short, how to move further from Mandela without becoming Mugabe.

If we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should thus forget about celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to. We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter, old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is also a sign that he really didn’t disturb the global order of power.

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Above written by Slavoj Zizek a Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst and social theorist at the Birkbeck School of Law, University of London. He is the author of many books, including “Less Than Nothing, “The Year of Dreaming Dangerously” and “Demanding the Impossible.”

[VIDEO] MARKET 707 – TORONTO’S FIRST SHIPPING CONTAINER MARKET

“Housed in retrofitted shipping containers, Market 707 is Toronto’s most unique street food and retail market. This space brings together local entrepreneurs serving up more than 10 types of delicious international street food, along with unique goods and services to create an urban food and shopping environment unlike any other.”

Market 707 on Facebook

Market 707 official website

[BOOK] AMY CHUA’S ‘WORLD ON FIRE’ – ‘market dominant ethnic minorities’ and ‘how rapid switches to majoritarian rule and free-market democracy in many Third World countries benefit certain ethnic groups over others and lead to vicious sectarian strife’

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Yale Global Online
A Review written by Pat Sewell

Many Americans trust that unleashed markets and universal suffrage elsewhere will yield general material betterment, domestic tranquillity, and amity among democracies old and new. Thomas Friedman proclaims a “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention”, asserting “no two countries that both have McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other”.

But do freer markets and oxygenated “democracy” instead defy established expectation by mobilizing the wrath of the many? Do open markets and popular incitement sometimes kindle backlash and serve to excuse suppression by the few? Amy Chua contends that when injudiciously introduced, as most often happens, wide open markets and hot-housed majoritarianism form “a principal, aggravating cause of group hatred and ethnic violence throughout the non-Western world”. On regional and global planes, too, the dynamic of World on Fire augurs ill for stability, not to mention peace.

Chua outlines this dynamic early and with characteristic clarity: “When free market democracy is pursued in the presence of a market-dominant minority, the almost invariable result is backlash. This backlash typically takes one of three forms. The first is a backlash against markets, targeting the market-dominant minority’s wealth. The second is a backlash against democracy by forces favorable to the market-dominant minority. The third is violence, sometimes genocidal, directed against the market-dominant minority itself.” Continue reading

[AUDIO] CBC RADIO’S IDEAS: A 3-part series called “RETHINKING DEPRESSION” — After several decades of messing around, it may now be time to question the pharmacologicalization of melancholia and why the blues may indeed have an overlooked purpose in personal growth, self-development and brain-body communication

CBC IDEAS

“With the help of a number of local and world-renowned experts in the field, producer Mary O’Connell explores what we know – and what we think we know – about depression and the medications we use so often to treat it. The patient and interested listener (the entire series runs for three hours) will be rewarded with some really fascinating but often not well-publicized facts about the social, commercial and political factors that are conspiring to make psychotropic medications “a $20billion per year industry worldwide” and have led the World Health Organization to predict that depression will be the second leading caused of global disability by 2020.” Three Parts, 1 hour each.

what-is-depression

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PART ONE:

Depression. It has been called the mean reds. The blue devils. The black dog. And through history, treatments for depression have varied wildly. In the Middle Ages, depressives were caged in asylums. In Victorian England, wealthier patients were sent to seaside resorts for a change of air. In the 1930’s, procedures like lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy were used. Psychiatry’s tools were crude and limited.  No wonder then, when the Age of the Antidepressant arrived, it was considered psychiatry’s triumph.  Prozac came onto the market in 1988, followed quickly by many similar drugs. But, since then, the number of people afflicted with depression has soared.  In this 3 part program, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell explores the short and troubling history of the antidepressant. 
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PART TWO:

Over the years, the descriptions have varied: melancholia, the Black Dog, down in the dumps. The term most used today is “depression”. The World Health Organization says depression is set to become second only to heart disease as the world’s leading disability by the year 2020. An alarming conclusion when you consider the history. One hundred years ago depression was thought to be extremely rare, with 1% of the population suffering. Today it’s often called the common cold of mental illness. But just how effective are antidepressants in treating depression?  
Unpublished clinical trials have come to light and they reveal that the antidepressant was never the triumphant treatment many psychiatrists hoped it would be.  And we’re also learning that the theory that antidepressants restore serotonin in the brain could be false. However, despite this news about serotonin and sadness, the number of depressed people continues to grow. Now some researchers wonder whether the modern antidepressant has increased rates of depression instead of lowering them. In episode two of Rethinking Depression, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell examines the debate around antidepressants. 
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PART THREE:

The World Health Organization says depression is set to become second only to heart disease as the world’s leading disability by the year 2020. More recent research over the past decade tells us that antidepressants do not work very well, if at all, for mild or moderate depression. And in severe depression, antidepressants only work in a small number of cases. 

So how can those who suffer from depression receive effective treatment and even possibly recover? In the third hour of Rethinking Depression, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell brings us the stories of the depressed who are on the path to wellness and the methods that can be used to get them there.
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The Medicated Me 

written by CHRIS NORRIS; Mens Journal
 

It’s just after dawn, and I’m sitting on someone’s sofa in someone’s apartment somewhere in New York City. An attractive young woman I used to know is sleeping 15 feet away. Books I read, photos I took, CDs I reviewed as a music critic — all sit like props from a play I half remember. The sunlight looks toxic, radioactive. The murmur of distant traffic sounds alien, hostile, a predator’s low growl. Everything is exactly as it was yesterday yet feels totally different — in a bad way and down to a subatomic level. I feel like a character in some lame sci-fi novel who wakes up in a parallel universe or as a head in a jar. I’d skimmed over this sensation in nightmares and during extreme jet lag but never felt it descend as a full-blown totality, never felt it suck me down into it. I’d compare it with a bad trip if not for one terrifying irony now sinking in. This is my brain off drugs.

Six months ago, after 10 emotionally uneventful years on antidepressants — years that somehow included getting married, losing my job, and watching two skyscrapers implode from 20 blocks away — I began tinkering with my prescription, casting about for just the right med while the sturdy old Effexor trickled out of my system, a few milligrams less each week, a long goodbye to my silent partner of a decade.

Now, having decided to go off everything, putting my years-long chemistry experiment on pause, I am drug-free at last. For the first time in a decade, I am experiencing life in all its rich tones and vivid hues, and I’m about to throw myself in front of the 6 train.

I wasn’t actually depressed when I started taking antidepressants.

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The DSM-V reviewed as if it was a dystopian novel…

“Great dystopia isn’t so much fantasy as a kind of estrangement or dislocation from the present; the ability to stand outside time and see the situation in its full hideousness. The dystopian novel doesn’t necessarily have to be a novel.”

A new dystopian novel in the classic mode takes the form of a dictionary of madness

“As you read, you slowly grow aware that the book’s real object of fascination isn’t the various sicknesses described in its pages, but the sickness inherent in their arrangement.

Who, after all, would want to compile an exhaustive list of mental illnesses? The opening passages of DSM-5 give us a long history of the purported previous editions of the book and the endless revisions and fine-tunings that have gone into the work. This mad project is clearly something that its authors are fixated on to a somewhat unreasonable extent. In a retrospectively predictable ironic twist, this precise tendency is outlined in the book itself. The entry for obsessive-compulsive disorder with poor insight describes this taxonomical obsession in deadpan tones: “repetitive behavior, the goal of which is […] to prevent some dreaded event or situation.” Our narrator seems to believe that by compiling an exhaustive list of everything that might go askew in the human mind, this wrong state might somehow be overcome or averted. References to compulsive behavior throughout the book repeatedly refer to the “fear of dirt in someone with an obsession about contamination.” The tragic clincher comes when we’re told, “the individual does not recognize that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.” This mad project is so overwhelming that its originator can’t even tell that they’ve subsumed themselves within its matrix. We’re dealing with a truly unreliable narrator here, not one that misleads us about the course of events (the narrator is compulsive, they do have poor insight), but one whose entire conceptual framework is radically off-kilter. As such, the entire story is a portrait of the narrator’s own particular madness. With this realization, DSM-5 starts to enter the realm of the properly dystopian.”

Read the entire review by Sam Kriss in The New Inquiryepitomizing perhaps, the function of artful perspective

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The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats

[BOOK] Michael Specter’s ‘Denialism’: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

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Weekend Edition

First Broadcast: November 07, 2009

Refusing Flu Shots? Maybe You’re A ‘Denialist’

Nearly 20 percent of the families in Vashon Island, Wash., aren’t getting their children vaccinated against childhood diseases. At the Ocean Charter School near Marina del Rey, Calif., 40 percent of the 2008 kindergarten class received vaccination exemptions. Author Michael Specter says the parents in these upscale enclaves are prime examples of what he calls “denialism.”

That’s also the title of his new book, . “We can all believe irrational things,” the author of Denialism tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “The problem is that I think an increasing number of Americans are acting on those beliefs instead of acting on facts that are readily present.”

The Motives And Consequences of ‘Denialism’

But the Vashon Island and Marina del Rey communities aren’t places where religious or cultural traditions argue against vaccinations —- like the Amish or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Instead, they believe vaccinations are harmful to their children, citing stories they’ve heard about mistakes by doctors or pharmaceutical fraud.

But, Specter says, when parents make that decision, they focus on the one-in-10-million chance that a vaccine could kill a child and ignore the one-in-1,000 chance that a disease will do so. “These people retreat into denialism,” he says. “It’s like denial, but writ large, [because] this has consequences.”

Those consequences don’t just affect the children who go unvaccinated, but everyone they interact with as well, Specter adds. He points out that diseases like measles, which had almost been eradicated in North America, are now coming back.

The Fetish Of Organic Food

“Denialism,” the author says, is evident in far more than vaccination rates. Take organic food. Specter considers himself a fan, but he draws the line at demonizing genetically engineered food.

“In other parts of the world,” he says, “a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Those people need science to help them. It isn’t about whether people want to go to Whole Foods or not … The thing that killed the most people in the history of the world — except maybe for insects —- was pure water and natural, untreated food.”

He argues that some people look at “natural” products, such as vitamins, and think that they’re automatically good. But, he argues, “it’s no different than anything else you swallow.”

“Someone told me they didn’t want to take a flu shot because they didn’t want to put a foreign substance into their body,” says Specter. “What do they think they do at dinner every night?”

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Excerpt: ‘Denialism’

by MICHAEL SPECTER

The most blatant forms of denialism are rarely malevolent; they combine decency, a fear of change, and the misguided desire to do good — for our health, our families, and the world. That is why so many physicians dismiss the idea that a patient’s race can, and often should, be used as a tool for better diagnoses and treatment. Similar motivations — in other words, wishful thinking — have helped drive the growing national obsession with organic food. We want our food to taste good, but also to be safe and healthy. That’s natural. Food is more than a meal, it’s about history, culture, and a common set of rituals. We put food in the mouths of our children; it is the glue that unites families and communities. And because we don’t see our food until we eat it, any fear attached to it takes on greater resonance.

The corrosive implications of this obsession barely register in America or Europe, where calories are cheap and food is plentiful. But in Africa, where arable land is scarce, science offers the only hope of providing a solution to the growing problem of hunger. To suggest that organic vegetables, which cost far more than conventional produce, can feed billions of people in parts of the world without roads or proper irrigation may be a fantasy based on the finest intentions. But it is a cruel fantasy nonetheless.

Denialist arguments are often bolstered by accurate information taken wildly out of context, wielded selectively, and supported by fake experts who often don’t seem fake at all. If vast factory farms inject hormones and antibiotics into animals, which is often true and always deplorable, then all industrial farming destroys the earth and all organic food helps sustain it. If a pricey drug like Nexium, the blockbuster “purple pill” sold so successfully to treat acid reflux disease, offers few additional benefits to justify its staggering cost, then all pharmaceutical companies always gouge their customers and “natural” alternatives — largely unregulated and rarely tested with rigor — offer the only acceptable solution.

We no longer trust authorities, in part because we used to trust them too much. Fortunately, they are easily replaced with experts of our own. All it takes is an Internet connection. Anyone can seem impressive with a good Web site and some decent graphics. Type the word “vaccination” into Google and one of the first of the fifteen million or so listings that pops up, after the Centers for Disease Control, is the National Vaccine Information Center, an organization that, based on its name, certainly sounds like a federal agency. Actually, it’s just the opposite: the NVIC is the most powerful anti-vaccine organization in America, and its relationship with the U.S. government consists almost entirely of opposing federal efforts aimed at vaccinating children.

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Fifty years ago, we venerated technology. At least until we placed our feet on lunar soil, our culture was largely one of uncritical reverence for the glories that science would soon deliver. The dominant image of popular American culture was progress. TV shows like Star Trek andThe Jetsons were based on a kind of utopian view of the scientific future. Even the Flintstones were described as a “modern” Stone Age family. We were entering an era without disease or hunger. If we ran out of water we would siphon salt from the seas and make more; if nature was broken we could fix it. If not, we could always move to another planet.

That vision no longer seems quite so enchanting. No doubt our expectations were unreasonable — for science and for ourselves. We also began to recognize the unintended consequences of our undeniable success. About a month before Neil Armstrong made his large step on the moon, the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River erupted in flames near Cleveland, creating an indelible image of industry at war with nature. A few years later, in 1976, Karen Ann Quinlan was removed from life support, igniting the first horrific battle of the modern era over how we live and die. The end of the decade was marked by the ghastly accident at Three Mile Island, which showed more clearly than ever that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were not all benign. The thalidomide disaster, mad cow disease, even the dramatic and sustained lies of Big Tobacco have all contributed to the sense that if the promise of science wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t exactly the truth either.

Today the image of a madman whipping up a batch of smallpox, or manufacturing an effective version of bird flu in his kitchen, while not exactly as easy as baking a cake, is no longer so far-fetched. Indeed, if there is anything more frightening than the threat of global nuclear war, it is the certainty that humans not only stand on the verge of producing new life forms but may soon be able to tinker with them as if they were vintage convertibles or bonsai trees.

Our technical and scientific capabilities have brought the world to a turning point, one in which accomplishments clash with expectations. The result often manifests itself as a kind of cultural schizophrenia. We expect miracles, but have little faith in those capable of producing them. Famine remains a serious blight on humanity, yet the leaders of more than one African nation, urged on by rich Europeans who have never missed a meal, have decided it would be better to let their citizens starve than to import genetically modified grains that could feed them.

Food is a compelling example of how fear has trumped science, but it is not the only evidence that we are waging a war against progress, rather than, as Peter Melchett would have it, against nature. The issues may be complex but the choices are not: we are either going to embrace new technologies, along with their limitations and threats, or slink into an era of magical thinking. Humanity has nearly suffocated the globe with carbon dioxide, yet nuclear power plants that produce no such emissions are so mired in objections and obstruction that, despite renewed interest on every continent, it is unlikely another will be built in the United States. Such is the opposition to any research involving experiments with animals that in scores of the best universities in the world, laboratories are anonymous, unmarked, and surrounded by platoons of security guards.

Excerpted from Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, by Michael Specter.

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New York Times

Firing Bullets of Data at Cozy Anti-Science

Published: November 4, 2009
 

“I always say that electricity is a fantastic invention,” the British economist Michael Lipton once told Michael Specter, whose bristling new book, “Denialism,” explores the dangerous ways in which scientific progress can be misunderstood. “But if the first two products had been the electric chair and the cattle prod,” Mr. Lipton continued, “I doubt that most consumers would have seen the point.”

Here is what they would have done instead, if Mr. Specter, a staff writer for The New Yorker and former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, correctly captures the motifs that shape the stubbornly anti-scientific thinking for which his book is named: they would have denounced electricity as a force for evil, blamed its prevalence on venal utility companies, universalized the relatively rare horrific experiences of people who have been injured by electrical currents and called for a ban on electricity use.

The term “denialism,” used by Mr. Specter as an all-purpose, pop-sci buzzword, is defined by him as what happens “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”

In this hotly argued yet data-filled diatribe, Mr. Specter skips past some of the easiest realms of science baiting (i.e., evolution) to address more current issues, from the ethical questions raised by genome research to the furiously fought debate over the safety of childhood vaccinations. Continue reading