… I am still bugged by the quality of reviewing generally accorded science fiction. Or let’s call it “speculative fiction” for a moment because one of the things that bugs me the most is that some critics seem strongly indisposed to permit a writer to speculate.
It seems to me that the only excuse for the sort of fiction we write (whatever it is called) is speculation, as far-ranging and imaginative as the author can manage.
But is this permitted? Don’t make me laugh, it hurts. The usual critic drags in his Procrustean bed at the first hint of free-swinging speculation. There has grown up an extremely conservative orthodoxy in science fiction, spineless, boneless, suffocating. It is almost amorphous but I can sketch the vague outlines. It is do-goodish and quasi-socialist — but not Communist; this critic wouldn’t recognize dialectical materialism if it bit him in the face. It is both “democratic” and “civil libertarian” without the slightest understanding that these two powerful and explosive concepts can frequently be in direct conflict, each with the other. It is egalitarian, pacifist, and anti-racist — with no notion that these concepts might ever clash. It believes heartily in “freedom” and “equality” — yet somehow thinks that “older & wiser heads” are fully justified in manipulating the human psyche to achieve these ends — after all, it’s for their own good … [sic] and these new orthodoctrinaires are always quite certain that they know what is good for the human race.
Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).
March 24, 2015
February 2, 2015
January 29, 2015
December 26, 2014
Mark Steyn on how the brave and timely action of a “special-events employee” in Riverside California just barely averted a horrific hate-ish crime-ish:
I passed through Shannon Airport in Ireland the other day. They’ve got a “holiday” display in the terminal, but guess what? It says “Merry Christmas.” The Emerald Isle has a few Jews, and these days rather a lot of Muslims, and presumably even a militant atheist or two, but they don’t seem inclined to sue the bejasus out of every event in the Yuletide season. By contrast, the Associated Press reports the following from Riverside, Calif.:
A high school choir was asked to stop singing Christmas carols during an ice skating show featuring Olympic medalist Sasha Cohen out of concern the skater would be offended…
I hasten to add this Sasha Cohen is not the Sacha Baron Cohen of the hit movie Borat. The Olympic S. Cohen is a young lady; the Borat S. Cohen is a man, though his singlet would not be out of place in a louche Slav entry to the ice-dancing pairs. Likewise, the skater-puts-carols-on-ice incident seems as sharply satirical of contemporary America as anything in Borat, at least in its distillation of the coerciveness of “tolerance”:
A city staff member, accompanied by a police officer, approached the Rubidoux High School Madrigals at the Riverside Outdoor Ice Skating Rink just as they launched into ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ and requested that the troupe stop singing…
The cop and the staffer — “special-events employee Michelle Baldwin” — were not acting on a complaint from the celebrity skater. They were just taking offense on her behalf, no doubt deriving a kinky vicarious thrill at preventing a hypothetical “hate crime.” The young miss is Jewish, and so they assumed that the strains of “Merry Gentlemen” wafting across the air must be an abomination to her. In fact, if you go to sashacohen.com, you’ll see the headline: “Join Sasha On Her Christmas Tree Lighting Tour.” That’s right, she’s going round the country skating at Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Christmas tree lighting ceremonies accompanied by singers singing Christmas music that uses the C word itself — just like Sasha does on her Web site.
Nonetheless, the Special Events Commissar and her Carol Cop swung into action and decided to act in loco Cohenis and go loco. Many of my fellow pundits find themselves fighting vainly the old ennui when it comes to the whole John Gibson “War On Christmas” shtick, but I think they’re missing something: The idea of calling a cop to break up the singing of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” would strike most of the planet as insane.
September 11, 2014
What about the rationalization that charitable extracurricular activities teach kids important lessons of moral engagement? There are reasons to be skeptical. A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back — forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.
Steven Pinker, ” The Trouble With Harvard: The Ivy League is broken and only standardized tests can fix it”, The New Republic, 2014-09-04.
September 5, 2014
At Samizdata, Perry de Havilland unflinchingly points the finger of blame:
The English ‘fascist‘ movement is a bit like a bowel movement, smelly but easily disposed of. In truth they are so trivial in terms of their support or intellectual influence that I cannot escape the notion they get as much publicity as they do primarily to keep them as a boogieman to be pointed at by their equally irrelevant confrères on the loony left.
The Rotherham scandal is not about comically half witted and pleasingly unphotogenic fascists (sorry Ed Temple). It is not about Islam or Pakistanis (sorry BNP, EDL et al.). It is not even about immigration (sorry UKIP). It is entirely about how the political culture pushed unfailingly by the BBC and Guardian (and the increasingly indistinguishable Telegraph and other formerly ‘Tory’ papers) for decades has so completely enervated British institutions along with all the mainstream political parties, that such thugs could not be dealt with. We do not need more laws, we have more than enough to deal with what happened. What we need is the preposterous culture of political correctness and its obsession with race to be flushed down the toilet.
So my caring sharing multicultural leftie chums… Rotherham? That is entirely down to you. Yes, YOU
July 23, 2014
Anyway, I should be delighted by the news that the comic’s titular “Archie” is, at last, deceased. Shot to death, even.
But while I hasten to add that I was nowhere near Riverdale when that happened, my relief is tempered.
You see, in last Wednesday’s number of the Life with Archie series, the redheaded, eternally youthful hero took a bullet for a gay politician.
Of course he did.
This scenario represents progress of a sort, in that the homosexual character isn’t the one who dies this time. The gay counterpoint to the “magical negro” is what you might call the “tragical homo,” a pop culture trope exhaustively catalogued in Vito Russo’s 1981 classic The Celluloid Closet. But we’re well into a new century, and gays have milked that Harvey dry, I guess. Time to switch it up, and make the straight guy the “lovable but doomed best friend” instead.
“The way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie,” beams Archie’s head honcho, Jon Goldwater. “He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It’s what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years.”
Which is … what, exactly? Butt sex? Political assassination? Naked, shameless pandering?
Oh, wait, I know: “Eat your spinach or else” liberal propaganda! Dummy me.
Maybe there’s a comic book industry bar bet the rest of us aren’t in on. This week alone, Captain America became a black guy and Thor got a sex change.
Kathy Shaidle, “Comic Con Job”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-07-22.
July 20, 2014
This week’s Goldberg File email newsletter included an interesting discussion of the power of political correctness and how society continues to change:
What is commonly called “political correctness” doesn’t get the respect it deserves on the right. Sure, in the herstory of political correctness there have been womyn and cis-men who have taken their
seminalovulal ideas too far, but we should not render ourselves visually challenged to the fact that something more fundawomyntal is at work here.
Political correctness can actually be seen as an example of Hayekian spontaneous order. Society has changed, because society always changes. But modern American society has changed a lot. In a relatively short period of time, legal and cultural equality has expanded — albeit not uniformly or perfectly — to blacks, women, and gays. We are a more heterodox society in almost every way. As a result, many of our customs, norms, and terms no longer line up neatly with lived-reality. Remember customs emerge as intangible tools to solve real needs. When the real needs change, the customs must either adapt or die.
Many conservatives think political correctness forced Christianity and traditional morality to recede from public life. That is surely part of the story. But another part of the story is that political correctness emerged because Christianity and traditional morality receded. Something had to fill the void.
I wish more conservatives recognized that at least some of what passes for political correctness is an attempt to create new manners and mores for the places in life where the old ones no longer work too well. You can call it “political correctness” that Americans stopped calling black people “negroes.” But that wouldn’t make the change wrong or even objectionable. You might think it’s regrettable that homosexuality has become mainstreamed and largely de-stigmatized. But your regret doesn’t change the fact that it has happened. And well-mannered people still need to know how to show respect to people.
Now, I don’t actually think Christianity is necessarily inadequate to the task of keeping up with the changes of contemporary society. (The pagan Roman civilization Christianity emerged from was certainly less hospitable to Christianity than America today is. You could look it up.) But Christianity, like other religions, still needs to adapt to changing times and the evolving expectations of the people. I’m nothing like an expert on such things, but it seems to me that most churches and denominations understand this. Some respond more successfully than others. But it’s hardly as if they are oblivious to the challenge of “relevance.”
My concern here is more about mainstream conservatism. I think much of what the Left offers in terms of culture creation is utter crap. But they are at least in the business of culture creation.
June 21, 2014
Charles C.W. Cooke on an outbreak of offensensitivity on the part of players of Cards Against Humanity, a game that only exists to be politically incorrect and offensive:
“Offended” has become such a fluid and subjective term these days that I can’t possibly keep up — and, frankly, I don’t especially care to. Either way, that the outrage brigade would go after this game is nothing short of extraordinary. Whatever case there is for polite society, universities, or television networks attempting to keep their language within the malleable and brittle bounds that our arbiters of taste have contrived this week to establish, there is no reason whatsoever for it to be applied to a party lark. Make no mistake: The entire purpose — quite literally the only point — of Cards Against Humanity is to be shocking and objectionable. Pretty much every single card in the pack is shocking and objectionable. The game is “offensive”? Gosh, what gave it away? Was it, perhaps, the words Cards Against Humanity emblazoned on the box? Or, perhaps, the description, “A party game for horrible people”? Maybe it was that the stated aim is to be as “despicable” as possible? A card “wasn’t okay”? Well, obviously.
Perhaps I just read too much of the Left’s output, but I’m starting to wonder whether “trans” people are engaged in some sort of concerted effort to be the most vocally boring and self-indulgent members of the perpetually aggrieved. Among the other topics at which Cards Against Humanity routinely pokes fun are incest, abortion, genocide, race, homosexuality, death, the disabled, those with crippling diseases, and the religious. A typical combination: “What will always get you laid? Date rape.” Another: “In 1,000 years, when paper money is but a distant memory, black people will be our currency.” Within the pack there are ready made Holocaust jokes, jokes about the massacre of American Indians, jokes about the molestation of altar boys, jokes that make light of black people and of slavery, jokes about fatal drug addiction, and an endless supply of gross, semi-pornographic nonsense. Oh, and more Holocaust jokes. (Oh, and even more Holocaust jokes.) Nick Summers, of Bloomberg Businessweek, described the offering as being built around “punch lines that include Auschwitz, slavery, ‘Stephen Hawking talking dirty,’ white privilege, ethnic cleansing, terrorists, the Trail of Tears, assless chaps, nuclear bombs, ‘a mime having a stroke,’ and more depravity.” You get the picture.
Is this funny? That depends on your taste. I think it is, yes, and I enjoy playing the game. Not only do I have a high tolerance for these things, but, as a rule, I think that humor is by far and away the most effective way of conquering tragedy. Clearly, the guy who took such offense at the one card enjoyed the game too. He bought into the premise. He was happy enough to play. He sat there through the rest of the rounds, which inevitably contained other “offensive jokes,” likely laughing at hideous things. He just didn’t like it when the joke was on him.
June 19, 2014
June 1, 2014
The National Review‘s Kevin Williamson went out of his way to be provocative in his article about transgendered actress Laverne Cox:
The world is abuzz with news that actor Laverne Cox has become the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. If I understand the current state of the ever-shifting ethic and rhetoric of transgenderism, that is not quite true: Bradley Manning, whom we are expected now to call Chelsea, beat Cox to the punch by some time. Manning’s announcement of his intention to begin living his life as a woman and to undergo so-called sex-reassignment surgery came after Time’s story, but, given that we are expected to defer to all subjective experience in the matter of gender identity, it could not possibly be the case that Manning is a transgendered person today but was not at the time of the Time cover simply because Time was unaware of the fact, unless the issuance of a press release is now a critical step in the evolutionary process.
As I wrote at the time of the Manning announcement, Bradley Manning is not a woman. Neither is Laverne Cox.
Cox, a fine actor, has become a spokesman — no doubt he would object to the term — for trans people, whose characteristics may include a wide variety of self-conceptions and physical traits. Katie Couric famously asked him about whether he had undergone surgical alteration, and he rejected the question as invasive, though what counts as invasive when you are being interviewed by Katie Couric about features of your sexual identity is open to interpretation. Couric was roundly denounced for the question and for using “transgenders” as a noun, and God help her if she had misdeployed a pronoun, which is now considered practically a hate crime.
On cue, Tom Chivers responds:
For Williamson, the term “trans woman” is, of course, meaningless. He refers to Cox as “he” throughout his piece (despite a Clarksonesque but-you-can’t-say-that-these-days line about how “misdeploying” pronouns “is now considered practically a hate crime”) and says that our modern sensibilities of referring to trans people as their preferred gender is “sympathetic magic”, “treating delusion as fact”, “policing language on the theory that language mystically shapes reality”, like a “voodoo doll”. “Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman,” he says.
This, Williamson would no doubt claim, is the-emperor-has-no-clothes telling-it-like-it-is. “Sex is a biological reality,” he points out, unarguably. Indeed it is. No amount of surgery or hormone therapy will allow Cox to become pregnant, no terms of address will turn that stubborn Y chromosome into a second X. That is, indeed, a simple fact of human biology.
But who disagrees with that? No one. Williamson’s fearless truthsaying is, in fact, a fatuous statement of the obvious, dressed up as iconoclasm. Nobody in the world believes that calling Cox and other trans women “women”, using the pronouns “she” and “her”, will change anything biological; they know that she will not be able to have children, no matter what words we use. They do it out of respect, and sensitivity – what we used, in fact, to call politeness. If someone wishes to be addressed as X, then it is polite, usually, to do so. There may be times when other considerations apply: if someone insists on being referred to as “Doctor” and using that to give them unearned authority, say. But if someone wants to change their name, then we are happy to let them do so, and to address them by their chosen name, because it’s their business. I see no reason why changing one’s chosen pronouns should be any different.
Update. On the non-confrontational side, Elio Iannacci reports on Laverne Cox for Maclean’s:
The standout figure in all this flurry of activity, of course, is advocate/actress Laverne Cox, who graces the cover of this week’s issue of Time magazine. Cox is the breakout star of Netflix’s popular prison drama, Orange Is The New Black, which begins airing its second season next week.
Cox, an academic, writer and film producer as well as performer, has been fighting for Trans rights well before she had her first major guest spot on Law & Order and appeared in the reality show I Want To Work For Diddy in 2008. She says trans issues weren’t broached so intelligently five years ago. “I’m not naming names because I’m a working actress … but let’s get real,” she says via phone from New York City. “We’ve had such a wave of trans-ploitation films and TV — but that’s changing.” She is aggressively seeking to be a part of that change; she’s producing a documentary on transgender teens as well as one on Ce Ce MacDonald, an African-American trans woman who served a 41-month prison sentence in a men’s prison in Minnesota. “We are in the midst of a revolutionary moment,” she says.
Even a few years ago, the current profusion of trans characters and would have been unimaginable. A trans character was more likely an afterthought in a script, treated as a cliché or a freak. Most had more in common with Jared Leto’s trans character in Dallas Buyers Club, an Oscar-winning role that some critics have protested, saying it mirrors the offensive Mammy caricature in Gone With The Wind. On the fourth season of the popular reality series Project Runway, in 2008, fashion designer Christian Seriano used disparaging phrases such as “hot tranny mess” to describe inelegant or unstylish people. The word seeped into mainstream vernacular.
“We’ve had years of being at the end of the bad jokes and getting our bodies sensationalized,” says Cox, “but we have since learned to speak up. Transgender people in social media began standing up and saying, ‘This is not me and this is not acceptable.’ ”
May 16, 2014
The old Monty Python skit may now need to be amended, replacing “an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope” with “an almost fanatical devotion to political correctness”. Dan Henninger calls it the “Bonfire of the Humanities”:
It’s been a long time coming, but America’s colleges and universities have finally descended into lunacy.
Last month, Brandeis University banned Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as its commencement speaker, purporting that “Ms. Hirsi Ali’s record of anti-Islam statements” violates Brandeis’s “core values.”
This week higher education’s ritualistic burning of college-commencement heretics spread to Smith College and Haverford College.
On Monday, Smith announced the withdrawal of Christine Lagarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund. And what might the problem be with Madame Lagarde, considered one of the world’s most accomplished women? An online petition signed by some 480 offended Smithies said the IMF is associated with “imperialistic and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.” With unmistakable French irony, Ms. Lagarde withdrew “to preserve the celebratory spirit” of Smith’s commencement.
On Tuesday, Haverford College’s graduating intellectuals forced commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau to withdraw. Get this: Mr. Birgeneau is the former chancellor of UC Berkeley, the big bang of political correctness. It gets better.
Berkeley’s Mr. Birgeneau is famous as an ardent defender of minority students, the LGBT community and undocumented illegal immigrants. What could possibly be wrong with this guy speaking at Haverford??? Haverfordians were upset that in 2011 the Berkeley police used “force” against Occupy protesters in Sproul Plaza. They said Mr. Birgeneau could speak at Haverford if he agreed to nine conditions, including his support for reparations for the victims of Berkeley’s violence.
Years ago, when the academic left began to ostracize professors identified as “conservative,” university administrators stood aside or were complicit. The academic left adopted a notion espoused back then by a “New Left” German philosopher — who taught at Brandeis, not coincidentally — that many conservative ideas were immoral and deserved to be suppressed. And so they were.
This shunning and isolation of “conservative” teachers by their left-wing colleagues (with many liberals silent in acquiescence) weakened the foundational ideas of American universities — freedom of inquiry and the speech rights in the First Amendment.
No matter. University presidents, deans, department heads and boards of trustees watched or approved the erosion of their original intellectual framework. The ability of aggrieved professors and their students to concoct behavior, ideas and words that violated political correctness got so loopy that the phrase itself became satirical — though not so funny to profs denied tenure on suspicion of incorrectness. Offensive books were banned and history texts rewritten to conform.
May 8, 2014
May 4, 2014
In the Guardian, Nick Cohen says that the girls have not been “abducted” — they’ve been enslaved:
Terrorists from a religious cult so reactionary you don’t have to stretch the language too far to describe it as fascistic attack a school. The assault on a civilian target, filled with non-combatant children, has a grotesque logic behind it. They call themselves “Boko Haram”, which translates as “western education is forbidden”. The sect regards learning as oppression. They will stop all teaching that conflicts with a holy book from the 7th century and accounts of doubtful provenance on the life and sayings of their prophet written hundreds of years after he died.
A desire for sexual supremacy accompanies their loathing of knowledge. They take 220 schoolgirls as slaves and force them to convert to their version of Islam. They either rape them or sell them on for £10 or so to new masters. The girls are the victims of slavery, child abuse and forced marriage. Their captors are by extension slavers and rapists.
As you can see, English does not lack plain words to describe the foulness of the crimes in Nigeria, and no doubt they would be used in the highly improbable event of western soldiers seizing and selling women.
Yet read parts of the press and you enter a world of euphemism. They have not been enslaved but “abducted” or “kidnapped”, as if they will be released unharmed when the parties have negotiated a mutually acceptable ransom. Writers are typing with one eye over their shoulder: watching their backs to make sure that no one can accuse them of “demonising the other”.
Turn from today’s papers to the theoretical pages of leftwing journals and you find that the grounds for understanding Boko Haram more and condemning it less were prepared last year.
Without fully endorsing Boko Haram, of course, socialists explained that it finds “resonance in the hearts of many poor and dispossessed” people, who are revolted by “the corruption and flamboyant lifestyle of the elites”. Islamism is recast as a rational reaction to local corruption and the global oppression of “neoliberalism”, one of those conveniently vague labels that can mean just about anything.
May 2, 2014
Kristian Niemietz agrees with much of the pro-free speech coverage in sp!ked, but suggests that the real reason for politically correct attitudes are not quite as presented:
Over the past few years, spiked online magazine has consistently and robustly defended the principle of free speech against the censorship demands of the politically correct, whatever quarter they may come from. It is great, of course, that there is at least one magazine in which the phrase ‘I believe in free speech’ is unlikely to be followed by a ‘but…’, and more likely to be followed by an ‘even for…’. But while I fully support the spiked line, I also think the spiked authors sometimes misinterpret the intentions of the ‘PC brigade’, and would like to offer an alternative interpretation rooted in boring, old-fashioned textbook economics.
Spiked authors believe that PC is driven by a loathing for ordinary people. According to spiked, PC brigadiers view ordinary folks as extremely impressionable, easily excitable, and full of latent resentment. Exposure to the wrong opinions, even isolated words, could immediately awaken the lynch mob. PC, then, is about protecting ‘the vulnerable’ from the nasty tendencies of the majority population.
But if PC was not really about protecting anyone, and really all about expressing one’s own moral superiority, PC credentials would be akin to what economists call a ‘positional good’.
A positional good is a good that people acquire to signalise where they stand in a social hierarchy; it is acquired in order to set oneself apart from others. Positional goods therefore have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.
Positionality is not a property of the good itself, it is a matter of the consumer’s motivations. I may buy an exquisite variety of wine because I genuinely enjoy the taste, or acquire a degree from a reputable university because I genuinely appreciate what that university has to offer. But my motivation could also be to set myself apart from others, to present myself as more sophisticated or smarter. From merely observing that I consume the product, you could not tell my motivation. But you could tell it by observing how I respond once other people start drinking the same wine, or attending the same university.
If I value those goods for their intrinsic qualities, their increasing popularity will not trouble me at all. After all, the enjoyment derived from wine or learning is not fixed, so your enjoyment does not subtract from my enjoyment. I may even invite others to join me – we can all have more of it.
But if you see me moaning that the winemakers/the university have ‘sold out’, if you see me whinging about those ignoramuses who do not deserve the product because they (unlike me, of course) do not really appreciate it, you can safely conclude that for me, this good is a positional good. (Or was, before everybody else discovered it.)