Category: Ben Cohen

Joe Patrice Defends Fascist Thugs


Last year, Joe Patrice took to his blog at “Above The Law” to call for the firing of a pair of tenured professors who wrote an op-ed that offended him.  This week, Patrice used his blog to defend a group of thuggish students who disrupted a speech by Christina Hoff Sommers.

A self-described equity feminist, Sommers is best known for her harsh criticism of the modern feminist movement.  Sommers has pushed back against claims of widespread wage discrimination against women, along with feminist claims of a pervasive rape culture on college campuses.

Sommers was invited to speak at Lewis and Clark Law School by the local chapter of the Federalist Society.  Prior to her arrival, a coalition of far-left student groups campaigned to prevent her from speaking on campus, calling Sommers “a known fascist” and describing her appearance as an “act of aggression and violence.”

After failing to get her appearance canceled, these students showed up at her speech waving signs and chanting.  A large blonde woman wearing a windbreaker that read, “Stay woke,” marched a group of students to the front of the room, and led them in a call and response chant:

“We choose,” “we choose.” “To protest,” “to protest.” “Male Supremacy,” “male supremacy.” “Not give it,” “not give it.” “A platform,” “a platform.” “Christina Sommers,” “Christina Sommers.” “Has repeatedly,” “has repeatedly.” “Deligitimized,” “deligitimized.” “The suffering of women,” “the suffering of women.” “Worldwide,” “worldwide.” “We believe,” “we believe.” “Our siblings,” “our siblings.” “And our comrades,” “and our comrades.” “Woman are not,” “woman are not.” “Liars with victim mentalities,” “liars with victim mentalities.” “Rape culture is not a myth,” “rape culture is not a myth.” “Microaggressions are real,” “microaggressions are real.” “The gender wage gap is real,” “the gender wage gap is real.”

After the chanting was finished the singing began:

What side are you on friends?

What side are you on?


No platform for fascists

no platform at all


We will fight for justice

till’ Christina’s gone

The disruptive students were so obnoxious that Sommers couldn’t deliver her remarks or hold a Q&A session.

Following the incident, I searched in vain for someone who would defend the disruptive students’ thuggish behavior.  Their behavior was so bad that nobody seemed willing to defend them – but then one man rose to the challenge.  Like a 19th-century mountaineer attempting to scale Everest without oxygen, Joe Patrice took to his blog to defend the indefensible.

According to Patrice, Sommers was herself part of a nefarious right-wing conspiracy to suppress free speech.  Conservative student groups invite provocative speakers, and then conservatives off campus use the disruptive protests to justify a crackdown on campus speech.

From the outset, the goal was to hack the very concept of free speech.  They’d tried their hands at seeking more restrictions on free speech in the 1960s, but too many Americans balked at the idea of fiddling with constitutional freedoms just to “solve” the problem of civil rights protesting and anti-war students.  But what if they could turn the very ideal on its head?  What if the protestors played the role of the tyrannical government enforcers (somehow?) and it was instead the mild-mannered conservatives who were the true free speech heroes?

Patrice argues that the students who prevented Sommers from speaking were merely exercising their First Amendment rights, “If everyone just ignores people like Sommers, she can’t complain that students exercising their free speech rights are violating the real free speech.  Frankly, it’s my personal worldview.”

Frankly, Joe, your personal worldview is moronic.  The First Amendment does not grant an unlimited right to make noise.  Playing the Sean Hannity show so loud that it wakes up one’s neighbors may be an expression of one’s deeply held political beliefs, but it isn’t constitutionally protected speech.  Contrary to what Joe believes, you can be prosecuted for disrupting a public meeting or shouting down a speaker.

In 2011, ten college students were convicted of disrupting a speech by Israeli then-ambassador Michael Oren.  The students had conspired beforehand to disrupt Oren’s speech.  When Oren tried to speak, a conspirator would stand up and start screaming slogans.  Once that conspirator had been removed, another conspirator would stand up and start screaming.  The students were convicted of conspiring to disrupt a public meeting.  The students appealed their convictions on First Amendment grounds and lost.

At heart, Joe Patrice is an authoritarian.  Like every authoritarian, Patrice doesn’t believe that the public should be allowed to hear opinions he disagrees with.  The First Amendment makes it impossible for the government to censor Sommers, but that doesn’t stop Patrice from embracing extra-legal means of censoring his opponents.

Last year, Joe Patrice took to his blog at “Above The Law” to call for the firing of a pair of tenured professors who wrote an op-ed that offended him.  This week, Patrice used his blog to defend a group of thuggish students who disrupted a speech by Christina Hoff Sommers.

A self-described equity feminist, Sommers is best known for her harsh criticism of the modern feminist movement.  Sommers has pushed back against claims of widespread wage discrimination against women, along with feminist claims of a pervasive rape culture on college campuses.

Sommers was invited to speak at Lewis and Clark Law School by the local chapter of the Federalist Society.  Prior to her arrival, a coalition of far-left student groups campaigned to prevent her from speaking on campus, calling Sommers “a known fascist” and describing her appearance as an “act of aggression and violence.”

After failing to get her appearance canceled, these students showed up at her speech waving signs and chanting.  A large blonde woman wearing a windbreaker that read, “Stay woke,” marched a group of students to the front of the room, and led them in a call and response chant:

“We choose,” “we choose.” “To protest,” “to protest.” “Male Supremacy,” “male supremacy.” “Not give it,” “not give it.” “A platform,” “a platform.” “Christina Sommers,” “Christina Sommers.” “Has repeatedly,” “has repeatedly.” “Deligitimized,” “deligitimized.” “The suffering of women,” “the suffering of women.” “Worldwide,” “worldwide.” “We believe,” “we believe.” “Our siblings,” “our siblings.” “And our comrades,” “and our comrades.” “Woman are not,” “woman are not.” “Liars with victim mentalities,” “liars with victim mentalities.” “Rape culture is not a myth,” “rape culture is not a myth.” “Microaggressions are real,” “microaggressions are real.” “The gender wage gap is real,” “the gender wage gap is real.”

After the chanting was finished the singing began:

What side are you on friends?

What side are you on?


No platform for fascists

no platform at all


We will fight for justice

till’ Christina’s gone

The disruptive students were so obnoxious that Sommers couldn’t deliver her remarks or hold a Q&A session.

Following the incident, I searched in vain for someone who would defend the disruptive students’ thuggish behavior.  Their behavior was so bad that nobody seemed willing to defend them – but then one man rose to the challenge.  Like a 19th-century mountaineer attempting to scale Everest without oxygen, Joe Patrice took to his blog to defend the indefensible.

According to Patrice, Sommers was herself part of a nefarious right-wing conspiracy to suppress free speech.  Conservative student groups invite provocative speakers, and then conservatives off campus use the disruptive protests to justify a crackdown on campus speech.

From the outset, the goal was to hack the very concept of free speech.  They’d tried their hands at seeking more restrictions on free speech in the 1960s, but too many Americans balked at the idea of fiddling with constitutional freedoms just to “solve” the problem of civil rights protesting and anti-war students.  But what if they could turn the very ideal on its head?  What if the protestors played the role of the tyrannical government enforcers (somehow?) and it was instead the mild-mannered conservatives who were the true free speech heroes?

Patrice argues that the students who prevented Sommers from speaking were merely exercising their First Amendment rights, “If everyone just ignores people like Sommers, she can’t complain that students exercising their free speech rights are violating the real free speech.  Frankly, it’s my personal worldview.”

Frankly, Joe, your personal worldview is moronic.  The First Amendment does not grant an unlimited right to make noise.  Playing the Sean Hannity show so loud that it wakes up one’s neighbors may be an expression of one’s deeply held political beliefs, but it isn’t constitutionally protected speech.  Contrary to what Joe believes, you can be prosecuted for disrupting a public meeting or shouting down a speaker.

In 2011, ten college students were convicted of disrupting a speech by Israeli then-ambassador Michael Oren.  The students had conspired beforehand to disrupt Oren’s speech.  When Oren tried to speak, a conspirator would stand up and start screaming slogans.  Once that conspirator had been removed, another conspirator would stand up and start screaming.  The students were convicted of conspiring to disrupt a public meeting.  The students appealed their convictions on First Amendment grounds and lost.

At heart, Joe Patrice is an authoritarian.  Like every authoritarian, Patrice doesn’t believe that the public should be allowed to hear opinions he disagrees with.  The First Amendment makes it impossible for the government to censor Sommers, but that doesn’t stop Patrice from embracing extra-legal means of censoring his opponents.



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Why Democrats should embrace Trump’s DACA framework


Last Thursday, Trump released his proposed framework for a compromise on DACA. The framework offers DACA-eligible illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, in exchange for border security and a number of changes to U.S immigration law.

Democrats, along with the left more broadly, responded with hysterical denunciations of Trump. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi described the proposal as, “part of the Trump administration’s unmistakable campaign to make America white again.”

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez called the bill, “compromise between the far right and the alt-right.”

Senate Minority leader Charles Schumer dismissed the proposal in more diplomatic terms, tweeting, “While @realDonaldTrump finally acknowledged that the Dreamers should be allowed to stay here and become citizens, he uses them as a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish list that anti-immigration hardliners have advocated for for years.”

Trump’s framework contains four “pillars.” The first pillar increases spending on border security and immigration enforcement. The second pillar grants illegal immigrants who arrived as minors a limited amnesty and a pathway to citizenship. The third pillar eliminates the visa lottery, which awards 50,000 green cards at random to a pool of applicants from around the world. Finally, the fourth pillar phases out “family preference” visas.

It was Trump’s last two pillars that provoked the most outrage, particularly his last pillar. The bulk of legal immigrants to the United States arrive as relatives of U.S. citizens. U.S. law divides these immigrants into two groups, immediate relatives and family preferences. Immediate relatives includes the spouses and under-21 children of U.S. citizens, along with the parents of under-21 U.S. citizens. Family preferences includes siblings of U.S. citizens, over-21 children of U.S. citizens, and parents of over-21 U.S. citizens.

While U.S. law allows for an unlimited number of immediate relative visas each year, it sets strict numeric caps on the various “family preference” visas. Because of these limits, those applying for family preference visas often spend decades waiting on line, arriving as middle-aged adults.

Trump proposed that the U.S. phase out family preference visas, processing the existing applications but not accepting new ones. Because of this, the effect on legal immigration would not be felt for years. Currently, the expected wait time for the sibling of a Filipino immigrant is nineteen years.

Trump’s third pillar, elimination of the visa lottery, also sparked controversy. The Congressional Black Caucus wants to keep the lottery because 44% of lottery visas go to immigrants from African countries.

The core truth of American Immigration policy is that far more people want to come here than politicians in either party want to allow in. Numbers matter, and the American people have a definite limit on how many immigrants they will accept.

Given that upward limit, immigration really is a zero-sum game. The more family preference visas we issue, the fewer employment visas we issue (for example). Trump’s policy zeroes in on the immigrants who have the strongest claim to be here and devotes our resources to helping them. Specifically, those who came here illegally as children, and those who have waited patiently for family preference visas.

Opposition to Trump’s plan arises because his critics fail to realize that the American public has a limited appetite for immigration. Given this reality, aiding the DACA kids means cutting immigration elsewhere. Trump’s compromise accomplishes this in the most painless and fair way possible, avoiding draconian cuts later on.

Far from being a hardline restrictionist plan, Trump’s framework represents the best hope for a compromise on this issue. A hardline plan would be Ann Coulter’s total immigration moratorium. To impose a total ban on immigration we would have to eliminate the largest category of immigrants; spouses and children of U.S. citizens. Further, it would mean mass deportations of illegal immigrants.

Immigration is the most explosive political issue of the twenty-first century; opposition to immigration brought Trump to power and took the UK out of the EU. If Democrats and pro-immigration Republicans miss this opportunity for compromise, they may find themselves pining for the days of Donald Trump, Stephen Miller, and Tom Cotton.

Last Thursday, Trump released his proposed framework for a compromise on DACA. The framework offers DACA-eligible illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, in exchange for border security and a number of changes to U.S immigration law.

Democrats, along with the left more broadly, responded with hysterical denunciations of Trump. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi described the proposal as, “part of the Trump administration’s unmistakable campaign to make America white again.”

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez called the bill, “compromise between the far right and the alt-right.”

Senate Minority leader Charles Schumer dismissed the proposal in more diplomatic terms, tweeting, “While @realDonaldTrump finally acknowledged that the Dreamers should be allowed to stay here and become citizens, he uses them as a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish list that anti-immigration hardliners have advocated for for years.”

Trump’s framework contains four “pillars.” The first pillar increases spending on border security and immigration enforcement. The second pillar grants illegal immigrants who arrived as minors a limited amnesty and a pathway to citizenship. The third pillar eliminates the visa lottery, which awards 50,000 green cards at random to a pool of applicants from around the world. Finally, the fourth pillar phases out “family preference” visas.

It was Trump’s last two pillars that provoked the most outrage, particularly his last pillar. The bulk of legal immigrants to the United States arrive as relatives of U.S. citizens. U.S. law divides these immigrants into two groups, immediate relatives and family preferences. Immediate relatives includes the spouses and under-21 children of U.S. citizens, along with the parents of under-21 U.S. citizens. Family preferences includes siblings of U.S. citizens, over-21 children of U.S. citizens, and parents of over-21 U.S. citizens.

While U.S. law allows for an unlimited number of immediate relative visas each year, it sets strict numeric caps on the various “family preference” visas. Because of these limits, those applying for family preference visas often spend decades waiting on line, arriving as middle-aged adults.

Trump proposed that the U.S. phase out family preference visas, processing the existing applications but not accepting new ones. Because of this, the effect on legal immigration would not be felt for years. Currently, the expected wait time for the sibling of a Filipino immigrant is nineteen years.

Trump’s third pillar, elimination of the visa lottery, also sparked controversy. The Congressional Black Caucus wants to keep the lottery because 44% of lottery visas go to immigrants from African countries.

The core truth of American Immigration policy is that far more people want to come here than politicians in either party want to allow in. Numbers matter, and the American people have a definite limit on how many immigrants they will accept.

Given that upward limit, immigration really is a zero-sum game. The more family preference visas we issue, the fewer employment visas we issue (for example). Trump’s policy zeroes in on the immigrants who have the strongest claim to be here and devotes our resources to helping them. Specifically, those who came here illegally as children, and those who have waited patiently for family preference visas.

Opposition to Trump’s plan arises because his critics fail to realize that the American public has a limited appetite for immigration. Given this reality, aiding the DACA kids means cutting immigration elsewhere. Trump’s compromise accomplishes this in the most painless and fair way possible, avoiding draconian cuts later on.

Far from being a hardline restrictionist plan, Trump’s framework represents the best hope for a compromise on this issue. A hardline plan would be Ann Coulter’s total immigration moratorium. To impose a total ban on immigration we would have to eliminate the largest category of immigrants; spouses and children of U.S. citizens. Further, it would mean mass deportations of illegal immigrants.

Immigration is the most explosive political issue of the twenty-first century; opposition to immigration brought Trump to power and took the UK out of the EU. If Democrats and pro-immigration Republicans miss this opportunity for compromise, they may find themselves pining for the days of Donald Trump, Stephen Miller, and Tom Cotton.



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Laurier University and the Transsexual Pronoun War


Wilfrid Laurier teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, never anticipated she would be at the center of a media firestorm. Earlier this year, Shepherd showed her class an excerpt of a panel discussion on gender neutral pronouns and Canadian anti-discrimination law. The panel featured five guests, including Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson.

After one or more students complained, the university reprimanded Shepherd for creating a toxic environment. When Shepherd leaked secretly recorded audio of two professors and an administrator reprimanding her, the university faced widespread condemnation and apologized to Shepherd.

Those unfamiliar with Canadian politics will likely be scratching their heads at this point. In 2016, a bill was introduced adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected categories under Canadian anti-discrimination law. On June 19th, 2017, that bill became law.

When the bill was first proposed, Jordan B. Peterson emerged as one of its most vocal opponents. Peterson, and others, argued that the bill would penalize people for not using newly created gender-neutral pronouns such as Zir to refer to “non-binary” people.

Pronouns here refers to third person pronouns; he, she, they. To this list the transgender community has added a number of new pronouns such as ze, sie, and hir (not to be confused with her).

These new pronouns correspond to new gender identities created for those who feel that the “gender binary” doesn’t capture who they are. Peterson’s copanelist Mary Rogan, who transitioned from female to male, defended the use of such pronouns by pointing to themself.

Mary was raised female, but they decided to transition to male. While they no longer felt comfortable seeing themselves referenced as she, they didn’t yet feel comfortable being referred to as “he.”

The panel discussion Lindsay Shepherd excerpted dealt with the question of whether C-16 would penalize people for misgendering nonbinary folk, and if it did, whether that would be a good thing. Jordan Peterson argued it would, and that that would be a bad thing.

Shepherd’s supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana hold s that Peterson’s views on C-16 exist beyond the scope of normal political discourse. Showing a discussion with Jordan Peterson was, in his words, like “neutrally playing a clip of Hitler.”

According to Rambukkana, Peterson’s position was tantamount to arguing that transgender people shouldn’t have rights. For the record, Peterson did not object to protecting transgender people from employment and housing discrimination; Peterson was worried that C-16 would be used to penalize people for not using the newly invented pronouns.

Adria Joel, Acting Manager of the “Gendered Violence Prevention and Support Program,” informed Lindsay Shepherd that she had violated university policy and provincial law by spreading transphobia.

M.A. program coordinator Herbert Pimlock objected to showing the clip on the grounds that Peterson lacked credibility, claiming that his work had not been subject to peer review and was therefore not credible. In fact, Peterson has published extensively in peer-reviewed psychology journals. However, because Peterson’s concerns about C-16 were not expressed in a peer-reviewed legal journal, Pimlock finds them, “not academically credible.”

Rambukkana added that college freshman are “very young students,” lacking the critical faculties to evaluate Jordan Peterson’s claims, “Something of that nature is not appropriate to that age of student.”

Following widespread criticism from the Canadian press, Wilfrid Laurier president Deborah Maclatchy extended an apology to Lindsay Shepherd. While Maclatchy apologized, she didn’t specify whether Shepherd had acted properly. Instead, Maclatchy wrote about the need to balance free expression with anti-discrimination.

“Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Giving life to these principles while respecting fundamentally important human rights and our institutional values of diversity and inclusion, is not a simple matter. The intense media interest points to a highly polarizing and very complicated set of issues that is affecting universities across the democratic world. The polarizing nature of the current debate does not do justice to the complexity of issues.”


— Deborah Maclatchy, President and Vice Chancellor, Wilfrid Laurier University

Deborah Maclatchy’s vague statement left observers wondering: just how narrow are the boundaries of acceptable discourse at Canadian Universities? If playing an excerpt from a mainstream current affairs show is grounds for sanctioning, then the boundaries look very narrow indeed. 

Wilfrid Laurier teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, never anticipated she would be at the center of a media firestorm. Earlier this year, Shepherd showed her class an excerpt of a panel discussion on gender neutral pronouns and Canadian anti-discrimination law. The panel featured five guests, including Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson.

After one or more students complained, the university reprimanded Shepherd for creating a toxic environment. When Shepherd leaked secretly recorded audio of two professors and an administrator reprimanding her, the university faced widespread condemnation and apologized to Shepherd.

Those unfamiliar with Canadian politics will likely be scratching their heads at this point. In 2016, a bill was introduced adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected categories under Canadian anti-discrimination law. On June 19th, 2017, that bill became law.

When the bill was first proposed, Jordan B. Peterson emerged as one of its most vocal opponents. Peterson, and others, argued that the bill would penalize people for not using newly created gender-neutral pronouns such as Zir to refer to “non-binary” people.

Pronouns here refers to third person pronouns; he, she, they. To this list the transgender community has added a number of new pronouns such as ze, sie, and hir (not to be confused with her).

These new pronouns correspond to new gender identities created for those who feel that the “gender binary” doesn’t capture who they are. Peterson’s copanelist Mary Rogan, who transitioned from female to male, defended the use of such pronouns by pointing to themself.

Mary was raised female, but they decided to transition to male. While they no longer felt comfortable seeing themselves referenced as she, they didn’t yet feel comfortable being referred to as “he.”

The panel discussion Lindsay Shepherd excerpted dealt with the question of whether C-16 would penalize people for misgendering nonbinary folk, and if it did, whether that would be a good thing. Jordan Peterson argued it would, and that that would be a bad thing.

Shepherd’s supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana hold s that Peterson’s views on C-16 exist beyond the scope of normal political discourse. Showing a discussion with Jordan Peterson was, in his words, like “neutrally playing a clip of Hitler.”

According to Rambukkana, Peterson’s position was tantamount to arguing that transgender people shouldn’t have rights. For the record, Peterson did not object to protecting transgender people from employment and housing discrimination; Peterson was worried that C-16 would be used to penalize people for not using the newly invented pronouns.

Adria Joel, Acting Manager of the “Gendered Violence Prevention and Support Program,” informed Lindsay Shepherd that she had violated university policy and provincial law by spreading transphobia.

M.A. program coordinator Herbert Pimlock objected to showing the clip on the grounds that Peterson lacked credibility, claiming that his work had not been subject to peer review and was therefore not credible. In fact, Peterson has published extensively in peer-reviewed psychology journals. However, because Peterson’s concerns about C-16 were not expressed in a peer-reviewed legal journal, Pimlock finds them, “not academically credible.”

Rambukkana added that college freshman are “very young students,” lacking the critical faculties to evaluate Jordan Peterson’s claims, “Something of that nature is not appropriate to that age of student.”

Following widespread criticism from the Canadian press, Wilfrid Laurier president Deborah Maclatchy extended an apology to Lindsay Shepherd. While Maclatchy apologized, she didn’t specify whether Shepherd had acted properly. Instead, Maclatchy wrote about the need to balance free expression with anti-discrimination.

“Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Giving life to these principles while respecting fundamentally important human rights and our institutional values of diversity and inclusion, is not a simple matter. The intense media interest points to a highly polarizing and very complicated set of issues that is affecting universities across the democratic world. The polarizing nature of the current debate does not do justice to the complexity of issues.”


— Deborah Maclatchy, President and Vice Chancellor, Wilfrid Laurier University

Deborah Maclatchy’s vague statement left observers wondering: just how narrow are the boundaries of acceptable discourse at Canadian Universities? If playing an excerpt from a mainstream current affairs show is grounds for sanctioning, then the boundaries look very narrow indeed. 



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Peter Beinart's Virtue Signal



“I didn’t try because the magazine afforded me extraordinary opportunity. Soon, I was not only working alongside people I revered, I was being given the chance to ascend to their level. Asking how much of their success was due to race, gender, and class — as opposed to merit — would have meant asking the same of myself.”

Evaluating writing and writers is inherently subjective, as E.B White wrote, “Who can confidently say what ignites a certain combination of words, causing them to explode in the mind?” While it’s possible Beinart benefited from being white and male, it’s clear that the New Republic was a much more widely read and better regarded publication when he worked there. Further, a large number of the writers hired by Peretz achieved tremendous professional success after leaving TNR, including Beinart himself.

While the evaluation of writing is inherently subjective, the evaluation of college applicants and civil servants is much less so. Yet “diversity” advocates strenuously oppose the most objective measure we have, standardized tests. Diversity advocates want to make applying to college more like applying to work at the New Republic, replacing grades and SATs with college essays and “holistic” admissions.

Beinart also confuses editorial slant with discrimination, writing “The absence of women and people of color in senior editorial jobs was intertwined with the magazine’s long-standing, jaundiced view of the African American and feminist left. Had I challenged that culture more emphatically, I would probably not have become editor in the first place.”

Under Marty Peretz, the New Republic tended to hire centrist Democrats instead of people on the hard left. They also didn’t hire many gun-rights supporters, abortion opponents, or religious conservatives. This reflected TNR’s editorial stance; conflating a publication’s editorial stance with discrimination is asinine.

During the Peretz era, the New Republic co-existed with a large number of publications further to their left, such as the Nation. Progressive democrats who opposed welfare reform, supported affirmative action, or hated Clintonian centrism, had a multitude of outlets to publish in.

In the post Peretz-era, it has become impossible for anyone on the left to take a nuanced position on any issue touching on race or gender. Progressive Democrat James Webb was pilloried for questioning the scope of contemporary affirmative action, and Jeralyn Merritt was savaged for her fact-based defense of the Zimmerman verdict.

Left-wing publications supportive of feminism and progressive approaches to race have always existed. However, in the post Peretz-era heterodox views on race and gender have been completely silenced in liberal circles, leaving the most doctrinaire and politically correct in charge of the discussion.

Beinart’s virtue signaling would have been incomplete without reference to the “misconduct” scandal engulfing former TNR employee Leon Wieseltier. Following allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior at TNR, Wieseltier has been fired from his most recent job as editor of a forthcoming online magazine.

Several women came forward to allege that Wieseltier made them uncomfortable with his sexual banter, and flirtation. They also accused Wieseltier of occasionally going in for an unwanted kiss, while socializing after work. More cynical readers will wonder whether, like a stripper carrying thirty extra pounds of lard, Wieseltier’s real sin was being unsexy.

Still, Beinart can’t resist kicking the old boy while he’s down, relating a story of how he staged an intervention after Leon tried to smooch one of his co-workers after a night of drinking. Beinart writes, “The magazine had no sexual-harassment procedures. So I called Marty — who spent most of his time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York — and asked him to come to Washington to tell Leon that his behavior was unacceptable.”

“Marty, Leon, and I met at the Willard Hotel. When I confronted him, Leon — who had a gift for intimidation — reacted ferociously. ‘Is this some kind of intervention?’ he roared. Marty didn’t push back. That was it. Leon never admitted to having done anything wrong, and he received no punishment. Sarah, having incurred Leon’s wrath, felt isolated at the magazine and left.”

Beinart describes a conversation many of us have had to have, or perhaps someone had to have with us. Occasionally, one has to tell a friend, “she’s just not that into you.” How the recipient handles the unwelcome news ought to define our judgment of them. Do they accept the bad news like a big boy or big girl, or do they keep pestering the object of their desire?

According to Sarah Wildman, Leon did not pursue her further, or retaliate against her for reporting the incident. He accepted her rejection and moved on. Beinart uses this incident as an example of how women were denied opportunity at the New Republic, writing, “What I do know is that the affirmative action I enjoyed, and the sexual harassment Sarah suffered, were connected. I was given extraordinary opportunity at TNR, in large measure, because talented women like Sarah Wildman were not.”

That’s a stretch.

Beinart concludes that he, as the former editor of the New Republic and contributing editor to the Atlantic, has much in common with angry white male Trump supporters.

“In this regard, I suspect, I have something in common with the supporters of Donald Trump. It’s not pleasant to realize that the bygone age you romanticize — the age when America was still great — was great for you, or people like you, because others were denied a fair shot. In the America of the 1950s, or even the 1980s, white, straight, native-born American men didn’t worry as much about competing with Salvadoran immigrants and Chinese factory workers and professional women and Joshua-generation African Americans.”

Here, Beinart takes a divergent collection of issues and reduces them to a single factor: white male resentment. Trade, immigration, affirmative action, sexual harassment, all reduced to white male whining. Never mind that, for example, African Americans may be one of the groups most hurt by mass immigration.

It’s probably true that white working-class Trump voters are motivated by the type of economic and cultural fears Beinart cites. However, that doesn’t make their views on trade, immigration, sexual harassment, or affirmative action wrong. Beinart commits a basic ad-hominem fallacy, holding that Trumpers are wrong by virtue of being white and male.

Gay intellectuals coined the term the “performative masculinity” to describe the pressured conformance to norms of masculinity. Beinart’s writing inspired this author to coin his own term, the “performativity of woke-ness.” Beinart’s column is a fifteen-hundred word virtue signal, letting the reader know that he Peter Beinart is down with the cause despite being stale, pale, and male.

Recently, Peter Beinart took to the pages of the Atlantic to make a confession. Beinart confessed that he — yes he — had benefited from affirmative action. The New Republic, he claimed, had a policy of favoring well-educated white men from ivy league schools.

“I considered myself qualified. Because I’d spent years mimicking TNR’s writing style, I had the right sort of clips. But as a white man graduating from an Ivy League school, I also had the right sort of identity. It was difficult to disentangle the two. And I didn’t really try.”


“I didn’t try because the magazine afforded me extraordinary opportunity. Soon, I was not only working alongside people I revered, I was being given the chance to ascend to their level. Asking how much of their success was due to race, gender, and class — as opposed to merit — would have meant asking the same of myself.”

Evaluating writing and writers is inherently subjective, as E.B White wrote, “Who can confidently say what ignites a certain combination of words, causing them to explode in the mind?” While it’s possible Beinart benefited from being white and male, it’s clear that the New Republic was a much more widely read and better regarded publication when he worked there. Further, a large number of the writers hired by Peretz achieved tremendous professional success after leaving TNR, including Beinart himself.

While the evaluation of writing is inherently subjective, the evaluation of college applicants and civil servants is much less so. Yet “diversity” advocates strenuously oppose the most objective measure we have, standardized tests. Diversity advocates want to make applying to college more like applying to work at the New Republic, replacing grades and SATs with college essays and “holistic” admissions.

Beinart also confuses editorial slant with discrimination, writing “The absence of women and people of color in senior editorial jobs was intertwined with the magazine’s long-standing, jaundiced view of the African American and feminist left. Had I challenged that culture more emphatically, I would probably not have become editor in the first place.”

Under Marty Peretz, the New Republic tended to hire centrist Democrats instead of people on the hard left. They also didn’t hire many gun-rights supporters, abortion opponents, or religious conservatives. This reflected TNR’s editorial stance; conflating a publication’s editorial stance with discrimination is asinine.

During the Peretz era, the New Republic co-existed with a large number of publications further to their left, such as the Nation. Progressive democrats who opposed welfare reform, supported affirmative action, or hated Clintonian centrism, had a multitude of outlets to publish in.

In the post Peretz-era, it has become impossible for anyone on the left to take a nuanced position on any issue touching on race or gender. Progressive Democrat James Webb was pilloried for questioning the scope of contemporary affirmative action, and Jeralyn Merritt was savaged for her fact-based defense of the Zimmerman verdict.

Left-wing publications supportive of feminism and progressive approaches to race have always existed. However, in the post Peretz-era heterodox views on race and gender have been completely silenced in liberal circles, leaving the most doctrinaire and politically correct in charge of the discussion.

Beinart’s virtue signaling would have been incomplete without reference to the “misconduct” scandal engulfing former TNR employee Leon Wieseltier. Following allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior at TNR, Wieseltier has been fired from his most recent job as editor of a forthcoming online magazine.

Several women came forward to allege that Wieseltier made them uncomfortable with his sexual banter, and flirtation. They also accused Wieseltier of occasionally going in for an unwanted kiss, while socializing after work. More cynical readers will wonder whether, like a stripper carrying thirty extra pounds of lard, Wieseltier’s real sin was being unsexy.

Still, Beinart can’t resist kicking the old boy while he’s down, relating a story of how he staged an intervention after Leon tried to smooch one of his co-workers after a night of drinking. Beinart writes, “The magazine had no sexual-harassment procedures. So I called Marty — who spent most of his time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York — and asked him to come to Washington to tell Leon that his behavior was unacceptable.”

“Marty, Leon, and I met at the Willard Hotel. When I confronted him, Leon — who had a gift for intimidation — reacted ferociously. ‘Is this some kind of intervention?’ he roared. Marty didn’t push back. That was it. Leon never admitted to having done anything wrong, and he received no punishment. Sarah, having incurred Leon’s wrath, felt isolated at the magazine and left.”

Beinart describes a conversation many of us have had to have, or perhaps someone had to have with us. Occasionally, one has to tell a friend, “she’s just not that into you.” How the recipient handles the unwelcome news ought to define our judgment of them. Do they accept the bad news like a big boy or big girl, or do they keep pestering the object of their desire?

According to Sarah Wildman, Leon did not pursue her further, or retaliate against her for reporting the incident. He accepted her rejection and moved on. Beinart uses this incident as an example of how women were denied opportunity at the New Republic, writing, “What I do know is that the affirmative action I enjoyed, and the sexual harassment Sarah suffered, were connected. I was given extraordinary opportunity at TNR, in large measure, because talented women like Sarah Wildman were not.”

That’s a stretch.

Beinart concludes that he, as the former editor of the New Republic and contributing editor to the Atlantic, has much in common with angry white male Trump supporters.

“In this regard, I suspect, I have something in common with the supporters of Donald Trump. It’s not pleasant to realize that the bygone age you romanticize — the age when America was still great — was great for you, or people like you, because others were denied a fair shot. In the America of the 1950s, or even the 1980s, white, straight, native-born American men didn’t worry as much about competing with Salvadoran immigrants and Chinese factory workers and professional women and Joshua-generation African Americans.”

Here, Beinart takes a divergent collection of issues and reduces them to a single factor: white male resentment. Trade, immigration, affirmative action, sexual harassment, all reduced to white male whining. Never mind that, for example, African Americans may be one of the groups most hurt by mass immigration.

It’s probably true that white working-class Trump voters are motivated by the type of economic and cultural fears Beinart cites. However, that doesn’t make their views on trade, immigration, sexual harassment, or affirmative action wrong. Beinart commits a basic ad-hominem fallacy, holding that Trumpers are wrong by virtue of being white and male.

Gay intellectuals coined the term the “performative masculinity” to describe the pressured conformance to norms of masculinity. Beinart’s writing inspired this author to coin his own term, the “performativity of woke-ness.” Beinart’s column is a fifteen-hundred word virtue signal, letting the reader know that he Peter Beinart is down with the cause despite being stale, pale, and male.



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Kevin D. Williamson and the Lumpen-proletariat


Last week, National Review contributor Kevin D. Williamson penned a lengthy attack on what he called the “white minstrel show.” Topped by a photo of a grinning Trump, the column began by discussing the phenomenon of “acting white.”

Allegedly, some African Americans deride other African Americans who work hard and try to achieve academically for “acting white.” I say “allegedly” because some researchers dispute the prevalence and impact of this phenomenon.

While researchers disagree about the magnitude of the phenomenon, the meaning of “acting white” is clear. Less studious and less responsible blacks mock harder working blacks for trying to be white: the herd resenting those who try and do better.

Kevin D. Williamson draws a parallel between blacks who complain about other blacks acting white, and populist conservatives who mock supposed elites. These conservatives, Williamson alleges, have adopted the thought patterns of the underclass, who he distinguishes from the working class.

“White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment.”

According to Williamson, the working class consists of responsible, taxpaying, hardworking, contributors to society. The underclass, by contrast, consists of lazy, promiscuous, substance abusers, who work as little as they can and pursue momentary pleasures at the expense of long-term goals.

The underclass resents those more successful. Rather than emulating the successful, they hate them.

In Williamson’s retelling, populists and Trumpish conservatives have adopted the attitudes of the white underclass. Instead of preaching personal responsibility, populist conservatives tell their audience that their problems are due to external forces such as trade and globalization. Instead of praising success, populist conservatives mock “coastal elites.”

Much of Williamson’s piece rings true. Most of us would prefer to blame other people for things which are probably our fault; personal responsibility is a bitter pill. Anti-elitism often comes with the baggage of anti-intellectualism, and a contempt for achievement.

But Williamson’s article also has some obvious problems. In practice, it is hard to draw a sharp distinction between the hard-working, salt-of-the-earth, working class, and the shiftless underclass. Williamson’s mother, whom he describes as underclass, earned a good income, but died in poverty because of her irresponsible behavior.

It would also be a stretch to claim that populist conservatives such as Sean Hannity have adopted the norms of the oxy-abusing, work-avoiding, out-of-wedlock, children-having underclass. Populist conservatism has problems, but an inability to pass judgment on other people’s poor life choices isn’t among them.

Despite these problems, too many anti-Trump conservatives have heaped praise on the article, perhaps because the article mercilessly skewers conservative figures they don’t like (Hannity, Ingraham, Trump, etc.). This is unfortunate because the article has another glaring problem.

Williamson ignores one of the major drivers of anti-elite resentment; namely, how badly elites behave.

The Sun, a British tabloid, interviewed Harvey Weinstein’s former limo driver. The former limo driver quit after Weinstein attacked him and broke his sun-glasses. Weinstein had arranged to pick up two prostitutes and take them to his hotel. Only, there was a problem. The girls had mistakenly gone to Weinstein’s hotel to meet him. Enraged, Weinstein demanded that his driver find the girls, and when he couldn’t, Weinstein attacked him.

The driver, Mickael Chemloul, described for the Sun what it was like to work for Harvey Weinstein.

“He recalled how the mogul once picked up a woman at a billionaire’s yacht party — while pregnant wife Georgina Chapman stayed behind at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.


He said: “She was a good-looking girl, around 25 to 30, who had clearly had a few drinks. This was a fairly familiar sight for me, but even I was shocked when I heard her say, ‘Don’t hurt me’ in the car.


“I turned and saw her with her head in his lap and him pulling her hair.  I knew Georgina decided to stay in her room and miss the party because she was feeling tired.”


“I said to Harvey, ‘Are you sure?’ He replied, ‘Just drive to the f****** Cap’.


“When we arrived, Harvey got out with the girl and headed for another room. He was with her until 5am and left her there to go back to Georgina.


“The worst of it was that Georgina phoned me at 4.30 while I was trying to catch some sleep in the car and asked me where Harvey was.


“I was in an awkward spot. All I could think of was he had gone for a meeting with some business friends. I felt forced to lie.”

Chemloul also describes how Weinstein almost choked to death from overeating. Weinstein had undergone gastric bypass surgery, a process which limited the amount of food he could safely consume.

“Mickael recalled how Weinstein was minutes from death at Naomi Campbell’s birthday party at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. He said: “People ran out to say Harvey was flat out on the floor and could hardly breathe.”


“Luckily for Harvey someone found a surgeon who lived nearby on the Cap D’Antibes. It appeared he had eaten so much from the buffet that it was too much for the sort of gastric band he had fitted.”


“The surgeon did a manipulation that allowed Harvey’s food to go down, so he could breathe more easily. He told me Harvey would have died within 30 minutes if he had not intervened.”


“The amazing thing was that when he opened his eyes and saw me, he said, ‘F*** you, go home.’ Then he went back to the buffet and started eating again.’’

Does this sound like a self-regulating individual whose success can be attributed to the virtues of prudence and personal restraint?

The Harvey Weinstein story contains an uncomfortable truth for libertarians and conservatives, it’s a lot easier to recover from mistakes when you have money. For the rich, the margin of error is much larger than for the poor.

In college, a lot of my friends came from lower income backgrounds. They had to work and take out student loans. It’s a lot harder to get through college when you have to work at the same time; it doesn’t leave you much free time, and if you have to drop out you might not get another chance at college.

You don’t have to be a Bernie-bro to sympathize with the less fortunate. It is true that many poor people suffer from the habits of poverty, behaving in ways that perpetuate their poverty. We can acknowledge this, while still recognizing how hard it can be to make it out of poverty. 

Last week, National Review contributor Kevin D. Williamson penned a lengthy attack on what he called the “white minstrel show.” Topped by a photo of a grinning Trump, the column began by discussing the phenomenon of “acting white.”

Allegedly, some African Americans deride other African Americans who work hard and try to achieve academically for “acting white.” I say “allegedly” because some researchers dispute the prevalence and impact of this phenomenon.

While researchers disagree about the magnitude of the phenomenon, the meaning of “acting white” is clear. Less studious and less responsible blacks mock harder working blacks for trying to be white: the herd resenting those who try and do better.

Kevin D. Williamson draws a parallel between blacks who complain about other blacks acting white, and populist conservatives who mock supposed elites. These conservatives, Williamson alleges, have adopted the thought patterns of the underclass, who he distinguishes from the working class.

“White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment.”

According to Williamson, the working class consists of responsible, taxpaying, hardworking, contributors to society. The underclass, by contrast, consists of lazy, promiscuous, substance abusers, who work as little as they can and pursue momentary pleasures at the expense of long-term goals.

The underclass resents those more successful. Rather than emulating the successful, they hate them.

In Williamson’s retelling, populists and Trumpish conservatives have adopted the attitudes of the white underclass. Instead of preaching personal responsibility, populist conservatives tell their audience that their problems are due to external forces such as trade and globalization. Instead of praising success, populist conservatives mock “coastal elites.”

Much of Williamson’s piece rings true. Most of us would prefer to blame other people for things which are probably our fault; personal responsibility is a bitter pill. Anti-elitism often comes with the baggage of anti-intellectualism, and a contempt for achievement.

But Williamson’s article also has some obvious problems. In practice, it is hard to draw a sharp distinction between the hard-working, salt-of-the-earth, working class, and the shiftless underclass. Williamson’s mother, whom he describes as underclass, earned a good income, but died in poverty because of her irresponsible behavior.

It would also be a stretch to claim that populist conservatives such as Sean Hannity have adopted the norms of the oxy-abusing, work-avoiding, out-of-wedlock, children-having underclass. Populist conservatism has problems, but an inability to pass judgment on other people’s poor life choices isn’t among them.

Despite these problems, too many anti-Trump conservatives have heaped praise on the article, perhaps because the article mercilessly skewers conservative figures they don’t like (Hannity, Ingraham, Trump, etc.). This is unfortunate because the article has another glaring problem.

Williamson ignores one of the major drivers of anti-elite resentment; namely, how badly elites behave.

The Sun, a British tabloid, interviewed Harvey Weinstein’s former limo driver. The former limo driver quit after Weinstein attacked him and broke his sun-glasses. Weinstein had arranged to pick up two prostitutes and take them to his hotel. Only, there was a problem. The girls had mistakenly gone to Weinstein’s hotel to meet him. Enraged, Weinstein demanded that his driver find the girls, and when he couldn’t, Weinstein attacked him.

The driver, Mickael Chemloul, described for the Sun what it was like to work for Harvey Weinstein.

“He recalled how the mogul once picked up a woman at a billionaire’s yacht party — while pregnant wife Georgina Chapman stayed behind at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.


He said: “She was a good-looking girl, around 25 to 30, who had clearly had a few drinks. This was a fairly familiar sight for me, but even I was shocked when I heard her say, ‘Don’t hurt me’ in the car.


“I turned and saw her with her head in his lap and him pulling her hair.  I knew Georgina decided to stay in her room and miss the party because she was feeling tired.”


“I said to Harvey, ‘Are you sure?’ He replied, ‘Just drive to the f****** Cap’.


“When we arrived, Harvey got out with the girl and headed for another room. He was with her until 5am and left her there to go back to Georgina.


“The worst of it was that Georgina phoned me at 4.30 while I was trying to catch some sleep in the car and asked me where Harvey was.


“I was in an awkward spot. All I could think of was he had gone for a meeting with some business friends. I felt forced to lie.”

Chemloul also describes how Weinstein almost choked to death from overeating. Weinstein had undergone gastric bypass surgery, a process which limited the amount of food he could safely consume.

“Mickael recalled how Weinstein was minutes from death at Naomi Campbell’s birthday party at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. He said: “People ran out to say Harvey was flat out on the floor and could hardly breathe.”


“Luckily for Harvey someone found a surgeon who lived nearby on the Cap D’Antibes. It appeared he had eaten so much from the buffet that it was too much for the sort of gastric band he had fitted.”


“The surgeon did a manipulation that allowed Harvey’s food to go down, so he could breathe more easily. He told me Harvey would have died within 30 minutes if he had not intervened.”


“The amazing thing was that when he opened his eyes and saw me, he said, ‘F*** you, go home.’ Then he went back to the buffet and started eating again.’’

Does this sound like a self-regulating individual whose success can be attributed to the virtues of prudence and personal restraint?

The Harvey Weinstein story contains an uncomfortable truth for libertarians and conservatives, it’s a lot easier to recover from mistakes when you have money. For the rich, the margin of error is much larger than for the poor.

In college, a lot of my friends came from lower income backgrounds. They had to work and take out student loans. It’s a lot harder to get through college when you have to work at the same time; it doesn’t leave you much free time, and if you have to drop out you might not get another chance at college.

You don’t have to be a Bernie-bro to sympathize with the less fortunate. It is true that many poor people suffer from the habits of poverty, behaving in ways that perpetuate their poverty. We can acknowledge this, while still recognizing how hard it can be to make it out of poverty. 



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The Evolutionary Origins of Human Morality


In February 2008, Jonathan Haidt gave a TED Talk on the psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. The talk made Haidt America’s most well-known moral psychologist. Haidt would go on to found Heterodox Academy, an organization dedicated to promoting view point diversity at universities.

While Haidt is better known for his work promoting intellectual diversity and his remarkably blunt critique of the campus left, his 2012 book, The Righteous Mind, provides much-needed background on the science informing his positions. The Righteous Mind explores human morality from an evolutionary-psychology perspective; the book is less “Conservatives are from Mars, liberals are from Venus,” and more “Sociobology: the new synthesis.”

When Haidt began graduate school, moral psychology was dominated by what Haidt refers to as “the moral rationalists.” These were scholars such as Lawrence Kohlberg, Jean Piaget, and Elliot Turiel.

The rationalists believed that one’s morality develops in much the same way that one’s understanding of the physical world develops. Most of us had some idea that gravity existed prior to taking a physics class. Through our experience with the physical world we deduced underlying principles of the physical world, even if we couldn’t define them in the precise terms of a scientist.

In the rationalist account, children discover morality in much the same manner. By interacting with other children we learn that our relations with others are governed by abstract rules. At a certain stage, we learn to distinguish between immutable moral principles and mere social conventions: recess is at 1 P.M., because the principal says so; hurting other children is wrong, regardless of what the principal or the teacher says.

While Haidt was indoctrinated into the rationalist paradigm, intuition told him something didn’t make sense. His childhood experiences were rather different from Kohlberg’s. In Haidt’s recollection, he and his sisters reasoned opportunistically, attempting to gain the upper hand on each other, rather than trying to discover the truth.

When psychologists examined other cultures, moral rationalism began to crumble. The moral rationalists put a great deal of emphasis on harm and fairness as the basis of morality, but people in non-Western countries seemed to have a broader set of moral concerns. What Kohlberg saw as the final stages of an individual’s moral development seemed to be the norms of a particular culture and not the inevitable endpoint of reason.

In a series of brilliant experiments, Haidt and others demonstrated that judgment precedes reasoning. In other words, we make judgments and then employ our reasoning to justify these judgments, or as Haidt puts it, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

In The Righteous Mind, Haidt attempts to describe our moral intuitions, to catalogue the things we intuitively care about with regard to moral judgment. Haidt defines five “moral foundations:” harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Haidt tentatively proposes a sixth moral foundation, liberty/oppression, which he describes as a sort of innate sensitivity toward tyranny.

In Haidt’s retelling, our minds are preloaded to care about certain things. When we see another person suffering, we respond viscerally and automatically. However, we are not just sensitive toward the suffering of others, we also care about fairness, authority, sanctity, and liberty. If you cringe when you witness children disrespecting their parents, your authority foundation has been activated.

According to Haidt, most of us share the same five or six moral foundations, but we care about them to varying degrees. Conservatives utilize all of the foundations equally when making judgments. However, liberals tend to emphasize the first two much more strongly. For Haidt, this partially explains why our politics are so polarized.

In the final section of his book, Haidt attempts to solve a core dilemma of evolutionary psychology: why are humans altruistic?

From the simplest Darwinian perspective, the most successful strategy would be pure selfishness. On an individual level, it seems that the selfish would outcompete the altruistic, and altruistic genes would be washed out of the gene pool.

However, if we move up from the level of the individual to the level of the group, altruism is very beneficial. Cooperative groups outcompete selfish individuals for resources. Once people began living in groups, cooperation became more important, and more cooperative groups out-competed less cooperative groups. This was, according to Haidt, the origin of human morality.

Jonathan Haidt does a thorough job of debunking the naive moral rationalism of psychologists such as Lawrence Kohlberg. Haidt offers a plausible explanation for the emergence of human morality; group level selection favored more cohesive groups of people, and this selected for altruistic genes. Haidt’s moral foundation theory, along with his description of the differences between liberals and conservatives, is promising, but it needs to be tested by other researchers.

While I found The Righteous Mind persuasive, I worry that Haidt has given short shrift to moral rationalism. His book details how easily human intuitions can be manipulated by researchers; given this, shouldn’t we be cautious about trusting our intuitions? Also, the people we admire most really do appear to be acting from a sort of Kantian motive of duty, defying group pressure in order to do what’s right.

Haidt’s book suggests two very different readings. One could conclude that everyone else is irrational, driven by gut feelings and immune to reason. One could also conclude that everyone, including oneself, employs reason to justify their beliefs; therefore, one should be humble about one’s beliefs. If readers adopt the second interpretation, Haidt’s book will be a success.

In February 2008, Jonathan Haidt gave a TED Talk on the psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. The talk made Haidt America’s most well-known moral psychologist. Haidt would go on to found Heterodox Academy, an organization dedicated to promoting view point diversity at universities.

While Haidt is better known for his work promoting intellectual diversity and his remarkably blunt critique of the campus left, his 2012 book, The Righteous Mind, provides much-needed background on the science informing his positions. The Righteous Mind explores human morality from an evolutionary-psychology perspective; the book is less “Conservatives are from Mars, liberals are from Venus,” and more “Sociobology: the new synthesis.”

When Haidt began graduate school, moral psychology was dominated by what Haidt refers to as “the moral rationalists.” These were scholars such as Lawrence Kohlberg, Jean Piaget, and Elliot Turiel.

The rationalists believed that one’s morality develops in much the same way that one’s understanding of the physical world develops. Most of us had some idea that gravity existed prior to taking a physics class. Through our experience with the physical world we deduced underlying principles of the physical world, even if we couldn’t define them in the precise terms of a scientist.

In the rationalist account, children discover morality in much the same manner. By interacting with other children we learn that our relations with others are governed by abstract rules. At a certain stage, we learn to distinguish between immutable moral principles and mere social conventions: recess is at 1 P.M., because the principal says so; hurting other children is wrong, regardless of what the principal or the teacher says.

While Haidt was indoctrinated into the rationalist paradigm, intuition told him something didn’t make sense. His childhood experiences were rather different from Kohlberg’s. In Haidt’s recollection, he and his sisters reasoned opportunistically, attempting to gain the upper hand on each other, rather than trying to discover the truth.

When psychologists examined other cultures, moral rationalism began to crumble. The moral rationalists put a great deal of emphasis on harm and fairness as the basis of morality, but people in non-Western countries seemed to have a broader set of moral concerns. What Kohlberg saw as the final stages of an individual’s moral development seemed to be the norms of a particular culture and not the inevitable endpoint of reason.

In a series of brilliant experiments, Haidt and others demonstrated that judgment precedes reasoning. In other words, we make judgments and then employ our reasoning to justify these judgments, or as Haidt puts it, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

In The Righteous Mind, Haidt attempts to describe our moral intuitions, to catalogue the things we intuitively care about with regard to moral judgment. Haidt defines five “moral foundations:” harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Haidt tentatively proposes a sixth moral foundation, liberty/oppression, which he describes as a sort of innate sensitivity toward tyranny.

In Haidt’s retelling, our minds are preloaded to care about certain things. When we see another person suffering, we respond viscerally and automatically. However, we are not just sensitive toward the suffering of others, we also care about fairness, authority, sanctity, and liberty. If you cringe when you witness children disrespecting their parents, your authority foundation has been activated.

According to Haidt, most of us share the same five or six moral foundations, but we care about them to varying degrees. Conservatives utilize all of the foundations equally when making judgments. However, liberals tend to emphasize the first two much more strongly. For Haidt, this partially explains why our politics are so polarized.

In the final section of his book, Haidt attempts to solve a core dilemma of evolutionary psychology: why are humans altruistic?

From the simplest Darwinian perspective, the most successful strategy would be pure selfishness. On an individual level, it seems that the selfish would outcompete the altruistic, and altruistic genes would be washed out of the gene pool.

However, if we move up from the level of the individual to the level of the group, altruism is very beneficial. Cooperative groups outcompete selfish individuals for resources. Once people began living in groups, cooperation became more important, and more cooperative groups out-competed less cooperative groups. This was, according to Haidt, the origin of human morality.

Jonathan Haidt does a thorough job of debunking the naive moral rationalism of psychologists such as Lawrence Kohlberg. Haidt offers a plausible explanation for the emergence of human morality; group level selection favored more cohesive groups of people, and this selected for altruistic genes. Haidt’s moral foundation theory, along with his description of the differences between liberals and conservatives, is promising, but it needs to be tested by other researchers.

While I found The Righteous Mind persuasive, I worry that Haidt has given short shrift to moral rationalism. His book details how easily human intuitions can be manipulated by researchers; given this, shouldn’t we be cautious about trusting our intuitions? Also, the people we admire most really do appear to be acting from a sort of Kantian motive of duty, defying group pressure in order to do what’s right.

Haidt’s book suggests two very different readings. One could conclude that everyone else is irrational, driven by gut feelings and immune to reason. One could also conclude that everyone, including oneself, employs reason to justify their beliefs; therefore, one should be humble about one’s beliefs. If readers adopt the second interpretation, Haidt’s book will be a success.



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