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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Shocking that people keep asking me Emma Who? Emma GOLDMAN (1869 – 1940) was an anarchist known for her political activism, writing, and speeches. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.

“There are, however, some potentates I would kill by any and all means at my disposal. They are Ignorance, Superstition, and Bigotry — the most sinister and tyrannical rulers on earth.”
Emma Goldman, responding to audience questions during a speech in Detroit (1898); as recounted in Living My Life (1931), p. 207; quoted by Annie Laurie Gaylor in Women Without Superstition, p. 382

Perhaps one of my top five humans ever. She lived near Queen and Spadina, and her body was laid in state at the building which today is that big Dim Sum restaurant at St Andrews and Spadina, which was in 1940 a Labour Lyceum. Toronto has been cool (culturally/politically influential) for a pretty long time….

346 Spadina Avenue

Torontoist

Although she only lived in Toronto on three occasions over a 14-year period, and never for more than a year and a half at a time, Emma Goldman had an outsized cultural impact on the city. The well-known anarchist and feminist whom J. Edgar Hoover dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America” filled local lecture halls for talks on topics ranging from birth control and women’s rights to literature, communism, and anarchism. After her death in Toronto in 1940, she become a feature of the Toronto literary landscape, appearing as a character in John Miller’s A Sharp Intake of Breath (2006) and Steven Hayward’s The Secret Mitzah of Lucio Burke (2005). But she spent much her time in Toronto trying to leave it, desperate to return to the United States.

Born in Kovno, Russia (now Kaunas, Lithuania) in 1869, Goldman immigrated to upstate New York with her family in 1885. There she became interested in political activism, particularly in the aftermath of the Haymarket Bombing in Chicago in 1886. She moved to New York City and became a well-known orator and spokeswoman of the anarchist movement. By the age of 24, in the words of Sheldon Kirshner in the Canadian Jewish News (May 28, 2004), Goldman was “widely regarded by friends and enemies alike as a compelling professional agitator and public speaker.” A collection of her essays was published as Anarchism And Other Essays (1910).  Continue reading this article…

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Emma Goldman: Marriage and Love

Postmodernism: what the heck is it and what does it have to do with cats and our perception of reality?

Having been taking photographs around Toronto lately using funky filters on my cheap indestructible smartphone camera (a knockoff Blackberry Motorola running Android)—no one else seems to own nor want to have—I have been enjoying the strange perceptions it’s given me, regarding light and how we view things–in my case the city, its architecture, its denizens and both its daytime and nighttime responses to light; or lack thereof.

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After posting some of these shots online, I’ve received feedback such as: “What a crappy filter!” “Stop, that’s not reality!” “Why do you do that?!” “Is your camera broken?”

I like the perspective they give, I am not trying to be a true photographer; nor even claiming any sort of artistic license–although I guess those are simply granted by others if they appreciate/are emotionally affected by, what I am trying to capture or show with what I take pictures of, and the manner in which I take them. A  ‘true photographer’ by my definition, is one able to replicate on demand, one who possesses the esoteric knowledge of depth of field, film speeds and what they alter, one who is capable of retaking the shot they took a year ago in almost any environmental condition, and the intelligence, education, skill and practice necessary for all of this. I possess none of these, and may never achieve this calibre of mastery, as I am one lazy sonofabitch.

Funnily though, I had been pondering how people online talk about cats–how stupid they are, or how nonsensical their behaviour be (or mystical or spiritual or…whatever). Living with a cat—one I consider pretty damn sharp—I’ve noticed similar behaviour; such as chasing things I can not see, or staring into the distance…

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But I understand that she has optical apparati completely different from mine.  Sometimes I’m able to catch a slight glimpse of something moving–perhaps a headlight on the wall, or a tiny flying insect, or someone a few blocks away opening a window and reflecting a quick flash of light from the sun through my apartment.  But at other times, I too am at a loss.  But this, to me at least, makes me aware of the limitations of my eyes, not the “stupidity of an animal”.  I’ve read in some places where people have spoken of folktales where cats were said to communicate with the dead–again, for the same reasons.  This of course just leads to my disappointment in humanity and people not using the gift of reason that we have evolved to possess.

Interestingly though, all of this has a lot to do with a metaphor I use regarding postmodern thinking and analysis.  Lenses.  Lenses provide us with a particular perspective, while limiting our vision at the same time.  This is true in most every human enterprise, but namely politics.  As I have grown older, I realize that I am accumulating more and more lenses of perception.  As I spontaneously meet and engage intellectually with more and more humans (something I love about living in downtown Toronto in 2013), I find myself able to identify with, if not agree with completely, many who hold very strong views about a multitude of issues.  Many though, seem to fail to understand that they may merely disagree with those towards whom they profess eternal hatred and enmity, due to a different lens or two..or ten.  Most every human endeavour, in my opinion, seeks excellence as well as the betterment of something someone (or some group) holds dear. Humans are not intrinsically evil, nor out to hurt others, without some sense of righteousness. Unless of course they are insane, but that is not to what I refer.

The video below too, (a small vignette of a great documentary series by Richard Hammond called ‘Invisible Worlds’ by the way) made me realize something about reality–so much of what we consider (perceive as) beautiful in this world (flowers for example), we are ONLY limited to perceive through a narrow band of the light spectrum.

This is also true for our sense of hearing.  This is a recording of cricket chirps slowed down so their lifespans match those of humans–they now sound like some sort of ethereal hymnal choir:

Our senses limit us in SO many ways, and yet we rarely, if ever, speak to this–we do not tell this to our children.  Human-conceived religions and gods and ponderances of our eternal purpose consistently have failed to mention, oh, by the way, most of this reality? —is not available with our software edition. This is actually one of the greatest reasons NOT to believe in God or Intelligent Design or whatever, but I guess the same explanation has been used throughout the world for the contrary argument.

Which all brings me to a vsauce segment. I am addicted to vsauce. It is such the intellectually pornographic injection of thought. He touches on so much, much of what I had been thinking and articulated above, and then some. I have actually made good friends with familiar strangers, just by saying ‘vsauce’ to them instead of hello, on a regular basis.

Postmodern thinking asks you to ‘think outside the box’ but it assumes that you have in fact perceived the existence of a box. This perception requires an awareness of lenses in order that one can become aware of all kinds of boxes, and bubbles and biases; outside of which may just be other realities and dimensions you are unable, or have yet, to perceive.

 

 

[VIDEO] A SLAVOJ ZIZEK RAPE JOKE

“In the good old days of Really-Existing Socialism, a joke was popular among dissidents, used to illustrate the futility of their protests. In the 15th century Russia occupied by Mongols, a farmer and his wife walk along a dusty country road; a Mongol warrior on a horse stops at their side and tells the farmer that he will now rape his wife; he then adds: “But since there is a lot of dust on the ground, you should hold my testicles while I’m raping your wife, so that they will not get dirty!” After the Mongol finishes his job and rides away, the farmer starts to laugh and jump with joy; the surprised wife asks him: “how can you be jumping with joy when I was just brutally raped in your presence?” The farmer answers: “But I got him! His balls are full of dust!” This sad joke tells of the predicament of dissidents: they thought they are dealing serious blows to the party nomenklatura, but all they were doing was getting a little bit of dust on the nomenklatura’s testicles, while the nomenklatura went on raping the people… Is today’s critical Left not in a similar position? Our task is to discover how to make a step further – our thesis 11 should be: in our societies, critical Leftists have hitherto only dirtied with dust the balls of those in power, the point is to cut them off”

–Slavoj Fuckin Zizek

MORE ZIZEK POSTS

[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

[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