The "Social Justice" Left and the Collapse of Rational Thought

Hugogate is still roiling the science fiction community — and interestingly enough, the controversy has managed to attract the attention of the national media. Granted, Glenn Reynolds is a long-standing sci-fi fan, as his periodic book recommendations attest. And yes — perhaps it was a slow news week. But what’s going on in the fandom shouldn’t be written off as irrelevant to the general populace. On the contrary, what’s going on in the fandom mirrors what’s going on in society as a whole — at least wherever the hard-left social justice warriors have gained substantial power and influence. Planning on sending your child to a traditional university? Then you need to know how said radicals operate. You need to know that they are the outright enemies of rational thought.

Consider: As a firearms instructor, Larry Correia (one of the authors at the center of the aforementioned controversy) has taught thousands of people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and creeds how to defend themselves. As he writes, “I think people who would try to drag anyone to death behind a pickup truck will have a difficult time doing so after they have a pair of hollow points placed into their chest cavity at high speed.” He has also expressed his libertarian indifference regarding the bedroom habits of his fellow citizens. But because he’s tangled with social justice warriors on whether or not science fiction writers should abandon the “gender binary” – and because he once defended Phil Robertson’s right to think gay sex is weird and sinful – he’s been defamed up and down the blogosphere as a violent homophobe. You see, it’s not enough that Larry is amenable to changing the law to give gay rights activists what they claim they want — i.e., the ability to enter into marriage contracts like anyone else. No — as far as the social justice warriors are concerned, you are a homophobe until you wholly and unambiguously approve of the gay lifestyle in all its particulars. Fail to march in lock-step with this celebratory agenda and you will be declared, essentially, a nonperson.
This is irrational — and tyrannical to boot. Yes — some gay and transgendered individuals have been bullied for who they are, and that is an injustice that requires recompense. But the right answer is not to become bullies yourselves and lash out indiscriminately at everyone who has doubts or questions about the way you choose to live. There are thousands of people out there who oppose gay marriage not because they seek to hurt you, but because of their sincere religious beliefs. There are also thousands of people who are willing to consider a compromise that allows gays to enter into civil marriage contracts while also protecting the rights of the religious to preach and act as they see fit. None of these people deserve to be browbeaten into submission; indeed, many in the second group are potential allies whom you are turning off by your continuing failure to distinguish between those who are legitimately threatening and hateful and those who merely dissent. 
And lest you think the hard-left is only poisoning the well on the matter of homosexuality, this full-bore irrationality also appears whenever these social justice warriors take up the issue of race. First of all, they erroneously flatten the history of oppression into a “whites vs. people of color” narrative that ignores, to name just a few examples, the mistreatment of the Irish in both the US and the UK, the continuing prejudice against the Romani people and other white nomadic groups, the atrocities committed by the Japanese against the Chinese during World War II (which, oh by the way, rival the crimes of the Nazis during the European Holocaust), and the Rwandan genocide (in which black Africans massacred other black Africans). Look through the history of any culture and you will find instances in which the Other was attacked, enslaved, or otherwise deprived of their natural rights. Tribalism is a universal feature of the human mind that can only be overcome by conscious, arduous effort; no nation or race of men can be declared 100% innocent.
Secondly, social justice warriors refuse to recognize that “white” does not describe a monolithic group and that “privilege,” if it does exist, has more to do with class than with skin color. There is no way on Earth that an unemployed white man in eastern Kentucky is more privileged than a black professor of women’s studies at an elite coastal university — but according to your average social justice warrior, if you’re a white male heterosexual, you automatically live life on an easier setting, a notion that is laughably counter to facts. Similarly, these petty Marxists hold all whites responsible for the crimes of slavery and Jim Crow — forgetting, of course, the white abolitionists and civil rights activists who played a key role in defeating both of these manifestations of institutional discrimination. Group-based charges of guilt are neither historically accurate nor constructive; they are more likely to foster resentment than racial harmony.  
Lastly, the social justice left utterly fails to attribute to any minority group either humanity or agency. If you criticize hip-hop culture, you’re a racist. If you express concern about the collapse of the black family, you’re a racist. If you hold members of a favored minority group responsible for the consequences of their own behavior, you’re a racist. In the mind of a social justice warrior, if you are a “person of color,” you are an unimpeachable victim. Nothing is your fault — and on the flip side of the coin, there is nothing you can personally do to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. You are powerless and in urgent need of the social justice warrior’s helping hand. As many black conservatives have observed, this is a profoundly condescending viewpoint — and virulently racist, too. “People of color” are just as capable of looking after themselves; what they need is the liberty to pursue their own interests, not a fleet of self-appointed saviors who swoop in and treat them like helpless children.
Honestly, I could go on forever about the myriad ways in which social justice radicals have assaulted logic, history, and human decency. The science fiction fandom? That’s an instructive microcosm, not an anomaly. 

The Debate Is Over – PART I (Climate Science)

I was going to make a general commentary on the disturbing tendency for academics, far leftists, and the media/political alliance to declare subjects out of bounds and the deleterious impacts that such a tendency have on a free society…but I decided, instead to do this in a few parts…and let other speak for me, since I am not likely to be any more articulate than others more fully in the chattering class.

We’ll start…with a science hero of mine.  Dr. Judith Curry.  She has a personal journey that rivals few others in science…from idealistic young atmospheric scientist with a dream to help others and make the world better…to hard-line global warming agitator, to cautiously skeptical AGW supporter to full blown skeptic.

Now (and I didn’t plan this when I declared my political topic of the week) – she takes aim at the tendency of climate scientists to declare “facts” which are shaky theories and claim the debate is over.

Judith Curry – Role Model

Well worth a read, including the linked white paper she has recently published on her blog (found in the article I cross-linked).

Feelings. Nothing More than Feelings.

This woman is paid to be a spokesperson for what MSNBC views as modern, intelligent, considered progressivism.

These are the folks who are happy to beat Republicans to death with scientific “consensus” on climate change or with charges of being anti-science for believing in intelligent design.  Whatever I personally believe regarding either topic (I’m a climate change moderate who would be viewed as a rabid anti-science zealot by the folks running the IPCC…and I think the intelligent design theory is overly simplistic – I prefer to ground my understanding of God in the science of our universe, which leads me inexorably to the conclusion that God MUST exist for a system that produced the breathtaking order, beauty, and physical possibilities of our universe to be possible)…I try not to go around asserting that someone who disagrees is anti-science.

But to Melissa Harris-Perry, the definition of life is…whenever the parents feel like it’s alive.

That is, by DEFINITION (and by her admission) anti-science.  But this brand of anti-science emotionally-driven rationalization is accepted – no, APPLAUDED! – on the left.

I’m sorry…this is not computing for me.  Can someone please explain to me why leftists get to be anti-science on issues like WHAT IS ALIVE! (no…caps and one exclamation mark aren’t gonna cut it this time…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), but conservatives have no business going with THEIR feelings on other issues?

BTW, I’m not sure why Melissa Harris-Perry doesn’t realize how dangerous her position is, but let’s do this for her – maybe it’ll illuminate the problem – let’s consider a would-be mother who is a sociopath.  Sociopaths are, by psychological definition, incapable of empathizing with the feelings of others and thus do not form real emotional bonds with anyone.


Should a sociopath, never having FELT that powerful pull of parenthood, have the legal right to murder her children after birth?  What distinguishes that scenario from abortion brought on by the lack of an emotional tie to the offspring in the making?

I don’t think that knot in my stomach while I watched the above video clip was caused by some altered consciousness (a popular idea on the left that suggests that conservatives are living in a reality different than actual reality)…I think that’s entirely instinctual and driven by God.  Some would call me anti-science for holding that belief.  But at least I don’t go around saying that science is irrelevant in determining what is alive.



The Swooning Victorian Maidens of Feminism & the Abuse of PTSD

Of all the books I was assigned to read for school growing up, perhaps my favorite was To Kill a Mockingbird. My ninth grade honors English class was scheduled to read and analyze this novel a few chapters at a time over the course of several weeks — but I plowed through it in a matter of days. At the time, I strongly identified with Scout; even now, I think she is one of American literature’s finest portrayals of an Odd making her way through childhood. I also appreciated – and continue to appreciate – the classically liberal, Christian values that animate the story. Most people remember Atticus’ honorable choice to defend a black man in a criminal case even though, in the 1930’s segregated South, he was sure to lose because that’s what the Hollywood adaptation focuses on — but beyond that, the novel is about the dignity of the individual and the importance of recognizing the intrinsic humanity of all of our neighbors even if they are different, behave in unpleasant ways or hold to false views. Tom Robinson’s plight is only one part of the story.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a seminal work that, I feel, all American students should read. But if certain radical feminists have their way, teachers who intend to discuss this novel in their classes will have to slap the following warning on their syllabi:
Trigger Warning: Racism, Rape, and Violence Against Children.
Further, said teachers may also be forced to permit students to skip the assignment and the accompanying class discussions if they claim emotional distress.
You may think I’m kidding, but this is already happening on certain college campuses. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, students recently passed a resolution urging campus officials to make trigger warnings mandatory for all classes. Supporters of policies like this claim that such alerts will protect students suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from content that might activate disabling symptoms. But as experts have noted, PTSD doesn’t always work so logically. Sufferers can be triggered by stimuli that have no intrinsic connection to their trauma whatsoever — like, for example, a certain song on the radio, the smell of a certain cologne, or the sound of the shower running. Even the word “rape” poses no predictable danger; one survivor of sexual assault may react very negatively to a particular discussion of rape while another may have no reaction at all. Because each individual reacts to trauma differently, therefore, there can be no rational basis for issuing warnings. So what is likely to happen? Certain works – and certain topics – will gradually become verboten as professors scramble to accommodate every complaint, no matter how trivial and dishonest said complaints might be. After all, there will be no way to prove that a warning is or is not needed. We will only have the word of the people making the demands.
And yes — many claims of trauma are invalid. I seriously doubt there were that many ladies at Wellesley College who suffered debilitating flashbacks upon viewing a certain controversial sculpture of a nearly naked man. I think what really happened is that a number of women at the college were offended by the sculpture and found it convenient to abuse the concept of PTSD to demand its removal. Likewise, I don’t believe there are many students at Oberlin College who are so mentally fragile that reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart will send them into a hyperventilating panic. I do think many students might be angered or upset – Achebe’s novel does deal with racism, colonialism, and other difficult subjects – but these are healthy emotions, not a cause for informal censorship.
And even if you do have a legitimate disorder, demanding that sweeping regulations be passed to accommodate you is an ultimately Sisyphean endeavor. Because I was evidently born with a bizarrely wired brain, I have trouble filtering out certain sensations — and in some cases, this inability to filter causes psychological symptoms that do interfere with my daily functioning. But how crazy would it be if I demanded that Congress pass laws outlawing clothing tags, gum or noisy keyboards? No — it is my responsibility to remove myself from stimuli that trigger me, whether than means ripping out offending tags, going to a different room, or using headphones and a white noise app to block things out. And trust me, I know first hand that this is a difficult principle to live up to in real life. It is, however, more practical to control your own behavior than to attempt to control everyone and everything else
Overall, I think this trigger warning fad is another attempt at a feminist power grab. As I suggested above, the mental illness ploy is a delightfully effective way to manipulate people into accepting politically correct standards they wouldn’t accept otherwise because no one wants to be responsible for another’s mental breakdown. But we should challenge the PTSD facade and call the whole trigger warning concept out for what it is: another illiberal way to police speech and artistic expression.         

New Blog!

To prevent this political blog from getting completely swallowed up by my Teacher Moments, I have created a new blog on which I will share such ruminations. Please see the sidebar!

Within the week, I will cross-post some of my recent reflections to the new site. As with this blog and the sci-fi blog, my posting frequency there should be once per week.

Leftist Intolerance, Part Eleventy-Billion

As of this week, I no longer use Mozilla Firefox as my default browser.

And just so we’re clear, this is not because I necessarily agree with Brandon Eich’s decision to support the Proposition 8 campaign. On the issue of gay marriage, I am a true moderate. On the one hand, as an observant Catholic, I do believe that marriage is an indissoluble, sacramental union between a man and a woman whose purposes – procreation and unity – are categorically inseparable. In the realm of politics, however, I lean towards the libertarian position. I question the wisdom of imposing by force of law the true definition of marriage without first doing the cultural groundwork. After all, let’s face it: Marriage – genuine marriage, that is – is something we no longer value as a society — and it was the heterosexual majority, by and large, who brought about this change. Well before gay marriage became a flashpoint for controversy, straight men and women were having children out of wedlock, getting divorced and remarried, having contracepted sex, and basically treating marriage not as the serious commitment outlined above but as a vehicle for adult self-expression — and until we address this severe erosion of the marriage ideal at the level of civil society, all arguments in favor of officially codifying a proper understanding of the institution will fail to be persuasive.

Additionally, as a person of good will who has gay friends, I sympathize with the homosexual community’s yearning to be accepted and included — and, quite frankly, I feel that some people who oppose homosexual acts on moral and/or religious grounds have failed to acquit themselves well when it comes to treating their gay brothers and sisters with compassion and respect. I hear horror stories – and I have no reason to believe they’re not true – of gay young people being thrown out of their homes by parents who apparently have forgotten the principle of loving the sinner while hating the sin. I also had friends in high school who were relentlessly bullied because they were merely perceived as gay. And social conservative rhetoric? I may agree with the baseline principles, but — well, let’s just say I think some serious revision and re-framing is in order. Gays and lesbians are human beings with human longings, and while we should, for the sake of truth, continue to promote the proper definition of marriage, that does not mean we can’t – or that we shouldn’t – think of ways to answer those longings that hold fast to our convictions while simultaneously acknowledging the dignity of those who must bear the homosexual cross.

That being said, I can’t abide leftist bullies — or the quislings who cravenly yield to their demands. And make no mistake: What happened to Brandon Eich was bullying, and bullying of the most illiberal kind.

It would be one thing if leftist gays and their allies had simply decided not to use Firefox upon learning that its organization’s new CEO supported Proposition 8. Hell — if I were to learn that the CEO of a particular business were, say, an enthusiastic supporter of Planned Parenthood, I would seriously entertain the idea of going somewhere else. Boycotts are an adult, responsible way of showing your displeasure; no one should feel forced to support, monetarily or otherwise, a viewpoint one personally finds abhorrent. Driving a man out of his job for holding an “unpalatable” opinion without presenting any evidence that said opinion would lead to legitimate acts of discrimination against his employees or the customers his organization serves, however, crosses the line into blacklisting — and if it wasn’t okay to blacklist communists in Hollywood in the 1950’s, why is it suddenly okay to blacklist opponents of gay marriage now?

The left, it appears, has abandoned critical thought and civility in favor of pure, unadulterated revenge — which they then seek to justify by blurring the line between social disapproval and outright oppression. I have – no joke – seen leftists argue on Tumblr that if we “rightwing Teabaggers” approve of the Founding Fathers’ taking up arms to secure their liberty, we should also approve of gay radicals using aggressive means to achieve their goals. But, of course, the two situations aren’t even remotely comparable. There are elements of our legal code that probably should be altered to, as I counseled above, acknowledge the very real concerns of gay citizens, and homosexuals sometimes aren’t treated with the charity they deserve — but these are problems that, right now, can be solved through the democratic process, through conversation, and – for the worst cases – through existing criminal law. ‘Tis a situation very different from that which the Founding Fathers faced, in which their assertion of their rights brought an army of musket-armed Redcoats to their doors. ‘Tis also a situation very different from that which homosexuals currently face in countries governed by radical Sharia law, where the murder of gays for the sake of religious purity is officially sanctioned. And it’s a situation very different from that faced by civil rights activists after World War II, whose attempts to challenge a comprehensive, organized legal structure that imposed second-class status on blacks in every particular were met with government-perpetrated violence.

These leftists also refuse to distinguish between honest, well-meaning opposition and actual hate. If you express any doubts about the crusade to redefine marriage, you are, as far as the left is concerned, on par with the Westboro Baptist Church. But that is not how it works in reality. The Catholic Church is the largest and most prominent institution that opposes gay marriage — but the Church also offers relief to AIDS patients regardless of their sexual orientation. How does that square with the whole idea that people who promote traditional, biblical marriage can only have malign motives? Yes — some gays have been hurt by family members, neighbors, and schoolmates just because they’re gay. I definitely don’t want to minimize that — and as I suggested above, I think we as Christians have a special obligation to reach out to the walking wounded in the gay community and work to rebuild trust. But — projecting the image of the father who disowned you onto everyone who does not approve of your lifestyle is no more valid an approach to life than assuming all homosexual men are pederasts.

And by the way, gay activists: You haven’t actually helped your own cause. Once again, there is absolutely no evidence that Eich’s personal views on the subject of marriage would’ve impacted how he ran Mozilla in any way; in fact, Eich publicly indicated that the contrary was the case. Thus, in scalping the now-former CEO, you’ve essentially confirmed the Christian Right’s worst fears about your true motives: that you’re interested not in “equal rights” but in compelling societal approval by force. Continue on that path, and the tide may turn against you; such is the consequence of vengeance.      

Making Sure Your Kids Can Read

I teach a lot of kids who, by Jerry Pournelle’s definition, can’t read. Oh, they can usually make out most of the common words, which allows them to muddle through their “grade level” reading assignments without much trouble. But if you hit them with a longer word – like, say, “discrimination” – they’re instantly stumped and need to ask me for its pronunciation. I also teach a lot of kids who are basically competent readers on the decoding and fluency level but have trouble processing and understanding meaning. These are the kids who will read that a scientist “uses the data she collects to analyze the greenhouse effect” and erroneously conclude that said scientist has somehow fixed the greenhouse effect.

The kids in the first group have a problem that is relatively easy to solve. They are, evidently, victims of incomplete, incompetent, or absent phonics curricula and are consequently unable to break an unfamiliar word down into its component pieces. The cure, quite simply, is to explicitly teach them the word analysis skills they are missing. Beyond “b says buh,” students also need to know that “-tion” says “shun,” “ph-” says “f-,” and “-ough” says “-oh” in some cases and “-uf” in others. They should also learn where these words come from; if a child knows, for example, that a word has a Greek origin, that’s a big hint as to how it should be pronounced (and spelled). And they should learn common prefixes, suffixes, and roots, which will allow them to decipher the pronunciations and  meanings of a whole host of more obscure terms.

The kids in the second group, on the other hand, have a more difficult – and, it seems, more common – deficiency. They are prone to making wild, illogical leaps while reading a passage about the greenhouse effect because, quite frankly, they don’t know anything about the greenhouse effect — beyond, perhaps, some vague suspicion that it has something to do with climate change (which, they’ve dutifully absorbed, is a bad, bad thing). They don’t know that, for the most part, it’s good that our nice, thick, substantial atmosphere can trap thermal radiation from the sun — that without the greenhouse effect, the ambient temperatures on Earth’s surface would not be so conducive to the development and maintenance of life.

We comprehend best when we can use prior knowledge as a scaffold; this is the solid finding of cognitive science and also a conclusion backed by common sense. I am an expert reader, by and large — but if I took a test that included, say, my co-author’s masters thesis on atmospheric wave packets, my typically high scores would no doubt plunge, as my background in earth science is surely inadequate for such a task.

Now, of course, most of our students aren’t going to go into climate research and therefore don’t need a masters-level understanding of atmospheric mechanics. But in order to read and apprehend materials published for the general public (as opposed to technical experts), kids do need quite a bit of basic scientific and cultural knowledge. Why? Because most writers assume that basic knowledge. They have to, or their prose would be turgid and, quite frankly, unreadable. Can you imagine what would happen if, instead of simply saying “Tom had the patience of Job” and being immediately understood, a writer had to add “who, by the way, was a person in the Old Testament who lost his livelihood and his good health and yet still maintained his faith in God”? Good Lord! All of our books would be thousands of pages long and would weigh fifty pounds a piece!

Unfortunately, a lot of my students have been inadequately exposed to our cultural patrimony, so the above-mentioned shorthand leaves them completely lost — even if they can decode every single word in the sentence “Tom had the patience of Job.” The reasons for this are legion, but I think one major contributing trend is our education establishment’s anxious desire to teach things that are “relevant” to our students. “Kids won’t be interested,” so the thinking goes, “if the material doesn’t somehow apply to their own lives.” But this is 180 degrees opposed to reality. In reality, kids are naturally curious about things that go far beyond their everyday experiences. Remember the sixth grader I mentioned a few articles back who went ape over the word “Brobdingnagian”?  He’s also recently developed an obsession with Greek mythology, a topic thousands of years removed from his 21st century existence. No — youth fantasy writers would not be making out like gangbusters if kids weren’t looking for ways to expand their horizons. Teach a bunch of seven-year-olds about ancient Egypt and they’ll jump all over it — provided you present it as a story and not as a list of discreet, tedious facts. It also helps to take advantage of innate peaks in student interest. First grade is a good time to introduce biology because children at that age – especially the boys – are endlessly fascinated by critters and beasts — and the tween years are a good time to do some basic chemistry and physics because kids then become interested in building things (and, in many cases, blowing them up).

But once again, I digress. Here’s the bottom line: If you are a parent (or a future parent) who wants to raise a proficient reader, there are two principal things you must do. First, you must teach your child phonics! Phonics is an indispensable first step for beginning readers; without it, they will always depend on others to sound out unfamiliar words and will never become self-sufficient. Secondly – and even more importantly – you must provide your child with a knowledge-rich and word-rich environment. Leave plenty of time open during the day for free reading — and reading aloud. Go on nature hikes. Go to the library. Go to museums (most of which are free or pay-what-you-can). Watch high quality educational programs. Don’t hothouse your children and drill them with flashcards (unless you’re going over the arithmetic tables); do take advantage of their built-in tendency to ask questions about the world and how it works.

Literacy, in my experience, requires cultural capital. Provide that capital, and your children will do well.