If you're living anywhere in the English-speaking world, you've probably heard a lot about 'toxic masculinity' in the past few years. Men, we're often reminded, are more aggressive than women, and commit more violent crimes. They also account for the vast majority of cases of sexual assault and rape.
All that is true. But it's also true that women engage in significantly more gossip and behind-the-scenes slander, or what's known in the scientific literature as 'indirect aggression.' It's not hard to see why they might have evolved a preference for the indirect strategy - since men are so much bigger and stronger, it's their only realistic chance of getting an advantage.
For most of human history, though, men had the advantage. Physical violence is quicker, more direct, and more effective than gossip, so men found it pretty easy to dominate women.
More recently, all that's changed. Pretty much uniquely, modern developed societies have decided that it's not acceptable for men to use their physical advantage against women. And that's obviously a good thing.
But there's a problem that it's brought with it. The problem is what happens when men are no longer in a position to use their physical violence, but women are still permitted to use their relative advantage in indirect aggression. It's a problem that's compounded by the spread of social media, which amplifies the effect and widens the reach of malicious hearsay.
The results are plain to see. Men being forced to make tearful recantations for wearing sex-positive clothing; being formally sanctioned for making jokes; or even fired for offering intelligent criticisms of the dominant feminist position. And that's without even getting into the #metoo movement, which has damaged the careers of a number of innocent men, even driving some to the brink of suicide or beyond.
What this shows is that toxic femininity can do just as much damage through slander and passive-aggressiveness as toxic masculinity can effect through direct aggression and violence. So what can we do about it?
Thankfully, we're starting to talk about toxic femininity, but we could talk about it more. Men and women (who are often its target) need to be able to recognize it and be aware of the best way of dealing with it.
The more moderate feminists will admit that 'toxic masculinity' isn't something that all men display. It's something that a minority engage in (for example, only 1% of men account for more than half of all recorded sexual assaults). It's likely that the more toxic expressions of the female tendency to gossip are also produced by a small minority of women.
This raises hopes that toxic femininity might well be reined in eventually. What we need is for both men and women to begin defending a clear set of norms. The small set of extremists who try to dominate public perceptions should be held to a few well-defined ground-rules. Ground-rules like not making public accusations without evidence to back them up, or not routinely misrepresenting political opponents as misogynists.
Of course, part of toxic femininity is that it will immediately seek to vilify anyone who seeks to contain or de-claw it, even women. But for the moderate majority of both men and women who want to be able to live, work, and speak their minds free of spurious attacks and accusations, there's no other choice but to start taking action against toxic femininity.
Sam Butler is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and anti-intellectual. He tweets @ErewhonNam.
We hear a lot these days about male privilege. Men earn more, feminists keep reminding us. They get better teaching evaluations. They're seen as more competent. And so on.
But there's another side to the argument, one that we would probably hear more of if men's rights activists weren't routinely written off as sexist losers. Women are privileged too. They're hugely under-represented in dangerous and physically demanding jobs. They control 80% of spending decisions. They take more in benefits from the state, despite paying in considerably less tax. People like them more (both men and women).
Today I want to introduce another type of female privilege that I haven't seen talked about: the privilege that comes with being an attractive female. (I'm calling it hot girl privilege, because one of the most powerful predictors of a women's attractiveness is her age, and so younger women benefit more.)
Anyone who's been around a hot girl will know how this works. Men will drop everything to help a pretty girl out; even a lot of straight women will treat her with extra respect, either out of admiration, or because they recognise the power she wields. She's by far the most likely demographic to be given free drinks, dinners, and movie tickets. Weak-willed and corrupt men may even give her priority when they allocate resources, give scholarships, or make hiring decisions.
Of course, the more comely ladies will also get a certain amount of unwanted attention, and that might be annoying. (Younger and more attractive women are also more likely to be sexually assaulted, and that can be a real cost). But every bit of sexual interest is also an opportunity, one that most people don't get, and one that can be employed to further various sorts of goals.
Is this just my impression? No, that physically attractive people are seen in an especially positive light - the so-called 'halo effect' - is one of the most well-established phenomena in psychology. People regularly ascribe greater intelligence, trustworthiness, and integrity to attractive strangers, even in the absence of specific evidence for those things.
But surely that applies to hot men as well as hot women? It does, but the effect's probably not as great. That's because of differences in what men and women look for in a partner. While physical sexiness tends to be at or close to the top of the list of what men look for in a woman, it's much lower down in the list of what women look for in men. That means that a hot girl has much more power than a hot guy. (In terms of power, the only real rival to a hot girl is a high-status man, because women value status about as highly as men value looks.)
But surely there's a lot of disagreement about who's attractive? Actually, while there's some variance (as there always is when it comes to individuals), people everywhere agree pretty strongly on what makes for an attractive member of the opposite sex. That means that if one guy thinks a girl's hot, a lot of other guys will probably agree with him. And that means that hot women will have a lot of doors opened for them wherever they go.
One of the reasons that I'm writing this just at the moment is that it strikes me that hot girl privilege may be becoming dramatically more influential just at the moment. The success of online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, combined with norms about having photos next to articles and bios, means that people's attractiveness is more and more on show.
That wasn't the case 40 years ago, when pieces printed in magazines tended to simply carry the author's name, meaning they'd be judged on the content alone. Even 30 years ago, it was harder to find images of journalists and intellectuals. Now, you can just find someone's Instagram feed and you can see them in a range of different lighting, and in a variety of different outfits.
That's why it shouldn't be a surprise to see the rise of a whole cohort of young, female political commentators who are more than usually easy on the eyes. They're on the far right (Brittany Pettibone, Lauren Southern); they're anti-feminists (Daisy Cousens); they run influential websites dedicated to ideas (Claire Lehmann); they're even centrist skeptics (Julia Galef). (For some reason I find it harder to think of hot left-wingers, but no doubt that's partly because my own political leanings expose me to fewer leftist internet stars; I'd be grateful for suggestions in the comments!)
Of course, some of these women are highly intelligent, eloquent advocates for the views they hold, and they may well have made it without the specific kind of privilege they enjoy. And if they're conscious of it, I don't really blame them for that; we all use what God has given us to advance our aims and to get by. It's hard to deny, though, that they've probably got an advantage in this image-obsessed age for the simple fact that if you give men a choice between clicking on a picture of Tomi Lahren and of Jamie Whyte - well, I don't think I need to finish that sentence, since most of the men reading this have probably gone off to google 'Tomi Lahren.'
None of this is an argument that men don't enjoy various sorts of privilege. They may do. And it's definitely not an argument that all women enjoy this sort of privilege - unluckily for them, unattractive and older women enjoy about as much privilege as low-status males (that is, virtually none). All I've done is suggested one more way in which some women may occasionally enjoy considerable advantages in life, advantages of the kind we're constantly being told accrue only to men.
Sam Butler is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and an anti-intellectual. You can follow him @ErewhonNam if you like his picture.
With the recent summit in London, columnists from Delhi to Wellington have been asking whether there's still a role for the Commonwealth on the world stage. In Britain, the question is a particularly pressing one, since the UK is now effectively at a crossroads. Soon to exit Europe, renewing its ties to its traditional allies would seem an obvious thing to do.
But that's not the way it seems to a lot of left-wingers, for whom a pivot away from Europe and towards the Commonwealth seems like a turn away from a utopian future into an atavistic past. For them, the EU is a beacon of democracy and cosmopolitanism; the Commonwealth, by contrast, is nothing more than an imperialist holdover, a nightmarish projection of the Little Englander mentality onto the globe.
Let's get one thing straight. The Commonwealth charter doesn't contain 'rebuilding the British Empire' as one of its key aims. Instead, it's focused on aspirations like 'international peace,' 'tolerance, respect, and understanding,' and 'gender equality.' How could a progressive possibly be against it?
'Sure, but those are just its aspirations. What's the reality?' Well, let's see how the Commonwealth measures up as a force for liberal ideas compared to its much-trumpeted rival, the EU.
We can start with democracy. Of course, the EU talks a good game on democracy. But here's a simple question: how many countries have ever been expelled or suspended from the EU for a poor record on elections, due process, or the rule of law? The answer is zero, even though there have been some very good candidates for suspension lately. By contrast, the Commonwealth has suspended a number of countries for failing to meet basic standards of good governance.
What about cosmopolitanism? Surely the EU wins here. Not so. The Commonwealth includes more nations from more continents. Its peoples practice more religions and speak more languages. Even its whitest, most culturally homogenous countries (the UK, Australia, Canada) are far more ethnically diverse than Denmark or Sweden, and have a better record on racism than Italy or Greece.
If you're concerned about economic egalitarianism as well as other types, the Commonwealth still has more potential than the EU. The EU is meant to have brought rich and poor together in Europe, but 'rich and poor' are relative terms. It's true that the EU integrated Poland and Romania, but those are wealthy countries compared with India or Tanzania.
Now, you might well complain at this point that that's all very well, but the Commonwealth does very little in practice to alleviate poverty, and that its record in promoting democracy could be stronger. But that would be an argument for a stronger Commonwealth, not that it should be abandoned.
It's true, of course, that the origins of the organization lie in the British Empire. But the organization has never espoused imperialism - in fact, the whole point of it was to find a way to encourage collaboration between a set of independent nations in the absence of Empire.
What we find ourselves with, by an accident of history, is an organization with huge potential for good in the world - and not just good of the sort that would appeal to right-wingers, but good of the sort that should appeal to everyone, and especially progressives.
It's a club of democracies - like the EU, supposedly - but unlike the EU it's not defined by ethnicity or geography. It's one of the few international organizations that includes members from the rich world and the 'global south.'
So let me ask again: how could you possibly be against such an organization, especially if you're on the left? I think there's only one possible reason: if, in spite of the organisation's explicit disavowal of colonialism, the liberal aspirations clearly stated in its charter, and its long record as a force for good, you were still so obsessed by imperialism and tribal affiliation that you couldn't bear to support something you see as 'right-wing.'
If that was the case, it would be a pity, and not just for you. It would be a a great pity for a world which could use some more of those fine liberal aspirations actually becoming a reality.
Sam Butler is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and an anti-intellectual. He tweets @ErewhonNam.
Egalitarians were buoyed recently by the news that New Zealand Rugby had agreed to award professional contracts to 30 members of the women's national rugby team, the Black Ferns. Most observers agreed that it was a step in the right direction, even if there's a long way to go until we reach full gender equality.
These observers apparently assume that there's only one reason the men are getting more than the women: patriarchal norms. We're used to valuing what men do over what women do, and that's why we pay them less. That's worsened in the case of sport by a sexist culture which sees physical activity as a male domain.
So, it's worthwhile asking: how is pay set? There are two theories. The first follows classical economics and states that people get paid according to how much other people are willing to pay for what they're doing. This has the advantage of being true (more or less). The other theory is the Marxist one that pay is a reflection of the work that someone puts in. This is rarely actually the case, but it's a nice ideal.
On either of these two theories, the Black Ferns are getting too much. Virtually nobody watches the Black Ferns play. That may be because of sexist norms, or it may be because sports fans have a clear preference for seeing the best athletes in action, and the Black Ferns are nowhere near being the best rugby players in the country. In any case, nobody watches them, and so they don't actually generate much income.
If you look at how much work they're putting in, things aren't much brighter. Under the new contract, Black Ferns will get about $40 000 for about 50 days of training with the squad. It's less money than the men get, but then the men are full-time professionals who work year-round.
At this point, you might well ask, 'Well, if the Black Ferns aren't earning that money through tickets and TV deals, where does it come from?' The answer is: the All Blacks. New Zealand Rugby is shifting money earned from the men's game to subsidise the women's game.
And you might think this is fair enough. Maybe putting money into the Black Ferns will lead to more interest in the women's game, to the point where the old sexist assumptions wither away, and the Black Ferns can support themselves financially.
As we've seen, though, sports fans have a clear preference for watching the best athletes in any given sport in action. And that means that it's very unlikely that the Black Ferns will ever generate the same interest as the All Blacks. In the meantime, New Zealand Rugby is taking money generated by the best players in the country and giving it to...the best women players in the country.
That might seem reasonable - the best players make a lot of money, so maybe we should share some of it around. Great - I agree. But who should we give it to? Luckily, we don't have to organize any sort of competition, because rugby is a pretty good competition in itself. And it gives us a pretty good idea of who the next best players in the country after the All Blacks are.
They're other male rugby players - pretty much all male rugby players, until you get to the schoolboy level, at which point the Black Ferns might better (though even that's not a sure bet). That's probably not because the women aren't trying hard enough, or are too stupid to do proper training. It may be because of the patriarchy, but there's a another explanation that clears the whole thing up without us having to resort to conspiracy theories.
It's that men are much heavier, stronger, and faster than women, and rugby is primarily a game of force and pace. (Of course, men's higher testosterone levels also makes them better coordinated, and hence demonstrably superior at virtually all other sports too, but we'll stick with rugby for now).
One of the advantages of looking at sports like rugby is that there's (literally) a level playing field - the sport makes the same demands on everyone who tries to play it. It's just that some people are better at it than others, often in large part because of the bodies they were born with.
What New Zealand Rugby has chosen to do, in effect, is to give some players more money purely on the basis of their sex. They've chosen to hire out empty stadiums and pay for television time for a competition nobody watches, just because the players are women. They're pretending that the Black Ferns - a team chosen for their sex - are comparable to the All Blacks, who are chosen on merit.
A final objection might be as follows. 'So what? We know women aren't as good at rugby as men.' (It's a rare modern feminist who'd admit this, but we're hypothesizing.) 'But little girls aren't brought up to think they can get involved in sport, and seeing the Black Ferns on TV will inspire them and convince them that girls can play rugby too.'
And of course that's true. Girls can play rugby too. But they tend not to enjoy it as much as boys, likely because boys and girls have natural differences in aggression. (Boys engage in 'rough and tumble' play more often than girls in virtually all human cultures that have been studied.)
Of course, we should let the women who want to play rugby play the game. But the level of exposure they get should be dictated by how many of them take it up, not by ideas about social engineering. Promoting women's rugby for purely ideological reasons will just give girls the idea that rugby is more popular than it really is, which might in turn give them the idea that they should be doing it rather than something they happen to really like. But why spend money to try to convince people to take up hobbies they don't actually want to take up?
Some readers will no doubt be thinking, 'I don't know who Sam Butler is, but what a sexist!' Actually, it would seem that the true sexists are those who want to award professional contracts to players who are nowhere near the level that other players are held to, just because of their sex. If I was a second-tier rugby player, I would be feeling pretty unhappy at seeing all the money diverted towards a team that likely couldn't beat a good schoolboy team from Australia. That's why I agree with the feminist commentators - we've got a long way to go till we reach full equality in sport.
Sam Butler is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and anti-intellectual. Follow him at @ErewhonNam.
According to an Ancient Greek philosopher called Zeno, it's impossible to move from point A to point B. Absurd? Sounds like it, but listen to Zeno's reasoning. Imagine a man trying to walk from from Oxford to Christchurch. Simple enough, you might think. But wait, says Zeno. Before he gets to Christchurch, he'll have to walk halfway to Christchurch. And before he gets halfway to Christchurch, he'll half to walk halfway to halfway to Christchurch. And before he gets there...
When you think about it, it looks like there's actually a lot of separate stages to the Oxford-Christchurch tramp. Infinitely many, actually, since there's no stage that's short enough that you won't have to traverse half of it. But if there's an infinite series of stages, how can you ever hope to get from Oxford to Christchurch? An infinite series of trips is going to take a long time.
But there's more. Which stage do you start with? If it's walking one 12th of the total distance, you'll actually have to walk one 24th first. But before you walk one 24th, you'll have to tackle one 48th...Not only is it going to take you a long time to cover an infinite series of mini-trips through Canterbury. You won't even be able to start!
I often think of Zeno when people talk about ongoing consent. The idea of ongoing consent is that couples should check in with each other regularly to make sure that the other person still wants to have sex, even once sex has started. It's not enough just assume that the other person still wants you inside them because they wanted you inside them five minutes ago; you should ask them again to make sure.
In some ways, something like ongoing consent has always been a tacit feature of our sexual mores. Most people would say that if you get a sense that the person you're having sex with doesn't want it or isn't enjoying it, you should stop and check in with them. And, of course, it's not enough to assume that someone wants you to penetrate them just because they've been making out with you for the past few minutes (even with their clothes off).
If you combine ongoing consent with affirmative consent, though - the idea that people need to explicitly voice their consent - things get absurd pretty quickly. Or, strictly speaking, they get impossible. An exaggeration? No, a demonstrable truth. Too see why, let's go Zeno on this.
Imagine a man and a woman after a date. At some point the man, who's fully up to date with modern ideas about consent, asks the woman, 'Do you want to have sex with me?' The woman answers, 'Yes.' So they start having sex. As our up-to-date chap knows, though, he needs to check back in. So 10 seconds later, he asks the woman, 'Are you still happy for us to be having sex?'
If that's not absurd enough for you already, wait. Because, of course, he shouldn't have assumed that his lady friend was consenting during the ten seconds that passed between his first question and his second. He should really have asked at the five second mark too. But why assume that she was still consenting for the first five seconds? And so on, ad infinitum (literally).
It quickly becomes clear that our woke bloke has all the same problems as our Cantabrian tramper. He actually has to ask for the woman's consent an infinite number of times, which sounds a bit tiring (and might put a bit of a dampener on the mood). But he also can't ask for consent the first time, since before the first question there'll always be some infinitesimal amount of time when he's been monstrously complacent and made assumptions about the woman's consent.
Ongoing affirmative action is, in the final analysis, impossible. Not just in an exaggerated, colloquial sense, but in the strictest logical fashion. 'Hold on though,' I hear you say. 'Nobody's saying that the man should have to check in an infinite number of times. That's clearly absurd. But maybe a reasonable number of times during sex would be nice.'
The problem is, of course, that at the moment it's the woman (or the set of women on social media) who get to decide what a reasonable number of times is. There's an infinite number of points in time at which women can now claim that a man has failed to ask for consent, and is therefore committing sexual assault.
'Sure,' you say, 'but no reasonable person is going to make an accusation of that sort.' Well, maybe no reasonable person...But what about the student who got in trouble for waking his boyfriend with a kiss? What about Sam Kriss, who was denounced for assuming he could kiss a woman he'd slept with on the previous date without asking, and even though she didn't say anything to object?
If the idea of ongoing affirmative consent becomes an established norm, cases like this will continue to spring up whenever someone feels like they should. On other words, the new concept licenses anyone to say they'd withdrawn consent even when they didn't say or do anything to signal that, but just because their partner hadn't explicitly checked in with them in one of the infinite number of moments that they'd been together.
As anyone knows who's ever been on a date, once the kissing starts, both parties usually assume that the other person won't mind more kissing, until they're given a clear stop signal. And that's actually a perfectly reasonable way of proceeding, since it is actually more likely that someone will want you to kiss them if you've just been making out.
And if you're in a relationship, you can usually assume that your partner has consented to you trying to have sex with them in a way that someone you see walking down the street hasn't. That's perfectly rational, since you know they like you in that way.
Of course, that doesn't mean you can have sex with them against their will, but what we usually mean by 'against their will' is 'when they've clearly signalled that they don't want it,' not 'when we haven't asked them if they still want it in the last two seconds.'
It's no wonder that affirmative consent isn't part of the law anywhere outside of California, and that cases based on these ideas get struck down by proper courts. We should stick with our old idea of consent: keep alive to the other person's signals, but if you don't get a clear stop sign, and they're going along with what you're up to and seem to be enjoying it, you can carry on.
The alternative, eagerly advocated by a minority of campus feminists, isn't just absurd: it's impossible. As Zeno would have seen in about half a second.
Sam Butler is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and anti-intellectual.
This graph shows the percentage of US academics that identify with various parts of the political spectrum. The graph for UK academics is pretty similar:
Two things are obvious from these graphs. The first is that there's now a big gap between the left and the rest in academia. The second is that this gap has increased over time.
An obvious question is: why? One possible answer is that left-wing people are just smarter, and so more of them make it as professors. Whether there's a link between certain political views and intelligence is still an open question. But in any case, if left-wingers have always been smarter, how come they've only come to dominate academia in the lat 20 years?
A second answer is, in the words of an academic friend I was talking to recently, 'The truth has a left-wing bias.' But does it? There's good scientific evidence for some typically left-wing ideas, such as climate change. But there's equally solid evidence for ideas that most left-wingers deny, for example that there are some natural sex differences.
If the truth doesn't really have a political bias, that shoots down the idea that right-wingers are less likely to get university posts because (for example) a creationist wouldn't make a good academic biologist. Someone who denies the evidence for sex differences probably wouldn't make a very good biologist either.
In fact, though, it's clear that the graphs above aren't a result of geography departments turning down flat-earthers in their job searches. Some of the most polarised parts of academia are fields in the humanities like English literature; one study suggested that only around 2% of English professors in the US are Republicans. But it's just not credible that you need to be left-wing in order to understand Shakespeare or Dickens.
So the idea that there are more left-wing professors simply because left-wing people are smarter or have a more accurate view of the world doesn't have much to say for itself. That leaves us with a more likely set of explanations involving selection - the process by which people sort themselves into groups.
One part of the selection that goes on in universities may be self-selection. Right-wing people may be more interested in making money and going into business, and left-wing people may be more interested in staying in public service, so that smart right-wing people select themselves out of academia, and smart left-wing people opt to stay in.
Another type of selection, though, may also be at work: discrimination. Right-wing academics perceive that they're being discriminated against, and left-wing academics admit that they would discriminate against conservatives in a hiring process. Conservative academics are also less likely to have academic jobs than their qualifications would predict.
If you're on Twitter or live in a university town, you might hear left-wing academics tell you that complaints about left-wing dominance of academia are just a conspiracy theory. Or that it's true there are more left-wing academics, but that it's just a natural consequence of left-wingers being smarter.
As we've seen, though, while there's very good evidence that left-wingers now dominate university teaching, there's no reason to believe that it's because right-wingers are stupider. What's more likely is that the current pattern is a result of a combination of two factors: right-wingers deciding to leave academia for their own reasons, and left-wingers discriminating against them.
Sam Butler is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and an anti-intellectual. He tweets @ErewhonNam.
If you work at a university or live in a cosmoplitan city, you'll probably have heard the claim that we're all unconsciously racist to some degree. Unlike a lot of the things people say about sexism and racism in such environments, this one's actually based on research. The only problem is that the research now looks flawed.
The research focuses on the so-called Implicit Association Test, or IAT. This test shows you various faces and words and asks you to click the mouse if you see (say) a black face or a positive word, or a white face or a negative word. Then it switches them around, asking you to click if you see a white face or a positive term, or a black face or a positive term. If you're slower at the first of these tasks than the second, then you're said to exhibit a positive bias for white faces.
That's one part of the research, which claims to establish that we all have unconscious bias. But that only raises the question of whether that unconscious bias actually gets translated into prejudiced behaviour. To try and demonstrate a link, researchers have taken a further step, which involves various sorts of experiments involving inter-racial interactions using people who've previously done the IAT. If people display prejudiced behaviours, they can then link the unconscious biases implied by the IAT with actual racist or sexist actions.
Critics of the IAT have pointed out problems with both stages of this research paradigm. The main problem with the IAT itself is that there's very little consistency in people's results if they take the test multiple times. Of course, with most tests you'll get slightly different results each time you take it, but if there's too much variance then it suggests the test isn't really measuring anything. (Imagine a scale that said you weighed 200 pounds one minute and then 3 pounds then next. You'd think it was broken.)
Variance in test results is, unsurprisingly, a common issue in science. Because of this, scientists have developed a scale which measures how much results vary between the different times you take a particular test. On this scale, 1 is perfection (the test always give the same results for a particular person) and 0 is disaster (the variance is huge). 0.8 is seen as an acceptable score for publications in the social sciences. How does the IAT score? Somewhere between 0.3 and 0.6. Not only is it not a very reliable test - it's well below the conventional bar for respectable research.
Let's just imagine that enormous problem didn't exist, though. If we take certain people's IAT scores, do they predict racist behaviours? Again, scientists are used to looking at a spectrum of explanation. Some things predict behaviours perfectly, and others not at all. What percentage of behaviours do IAT scores explain? According to one meta-analysis (a combination of many different studies), it's something like 2 or 3%. (Another meta-analysis, which confirmed the powerlessness of IAT scores to predict prejudiced behaviour, was published just this year.)
The IAT is currently being used by police forces, schools, and other institutions. It's being pushed especially hard on university campuses. Often the test is followed by some sort of 'cultural awareness training,' which aims to correct the unconscious biases the IAT has supposedly identified.
Of course, the weakness of the research doesn't necessarily mean that we're not unconsciously racist and sexist. But given the unreliability of the IAT and the flimsiness of its link with actual racism, it's fair to say that there's no good evidence that unconscious prejudice of this sort exists, and even less evidence that it's doing any harm.
The scientists who've been pushing the claim that we're all unconscious racists are welcome to try to find more evidence that we are. But until they do, we should resist or ignore attempts to introduce compulsory IAT testing and compulsory 'cultural awareness' programs. Such endeavours may often be well-intentioned, but it's pretty clear now that they're based on flawed research.
is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and an anti-intellectual.
Earlier this year the American professor Bruce Gilley was attacked for publishing an article arguing that the British Empire had some benefits. Let's look at one particular case of the British Empire in action, the case of New Zealand.
If you live in New Zealand, you'll hear a lot about the sins of Empire. About how British settlers made things worse for Maori in virtually every way.
But imagine you were an alien scientist, sent from another planet specifically to track how the Maori were doing. Let's say you visit in the early 19th century, before the British started to come in large numbers, and then visited again today. One of the things you'd want to look at would be how many Maori there were. And you'd find that there were a few more:
A lot more, in fact. You'd find that the Maori population had increased from less than 100 000 in the mid-19th century to almost 800 000 today.
Not only that, but you'd find that the pre-modern society you'd encountered in the early 19th century had been transformed. You'd find that Maori were living longer (with life expectancies more than twice what they were). You'd find that Maori were much more prosperous (with per capita GDP skyrocketing from the level of a pre-industrial economy to that of a first-word country).
You'd find that Maori were living in warmer houses, that the burden of disease had plummeted, and that they were better educated, with a more accurate picture of the world beyond their immediate environment. You'd also find that Maori culture was flourishing like never before, with high-quality carving showcased in marae all over New Zealand, and with the haka admired in faraway cities like London and Paris.
You'd even find that there were a few more people able to speak the Maori language - far fewer as a percentage of the Maori population (about 20% on your second visit), but a few more overall than the total Maori population on your first visit (20% of 800 000 is still 160 000).
Of course, as a good alien scientist, you wouldn't want to jump to any conclusions about what caused this transformation. But a working hypothesis would be staring you in the face: that this transformation had something to do with the pale-skinned outsiders who'd arrived from a distant part of planet Earth.
You wouldn't necessarily need to conclude that the outsiders increased Maori living standards on purpose. You might prefer to hypothesize, for example, that they simply acted as a conduit for more advanced technologies and ways of doing things, which in turn powered the positive changes.
But in any case, the facts you found on the ground on your second trip to New Zealand (and to Earth) would rule out one course of action. If you went back to your alien overlords and told them, 'Some new settlers arrived and made everything worse for the Maori,' and then relayed to them the improvements mentioned above, they'd think you'd been inhaling too much of the Earth's atmosphere.
Now, if you were a very sensitive and careful alien scientist, you might well want to add some details to your report. About how you found evidence that some of the outsiders had pressed some pretty dodgy deals in terms of land purchases, and that the they sometimes used force to found their new state, which was for a long time dominated by the outsiders themselves. But you'd also want to add that by the time of your second visit, there was nothing barring Maori from political activity, and that the outsiders were making great efforts to make amends for the transgressions of some of their ancestors.
If your alien overlords looked very carefully at your data, they might notice that Maori still lagged behind the outsiders in various measures of the quality of life, despite the vast improvements in their own population. But they'd doubtless put that down to the different starting positions of the two groups, one of which was already an industrial society when they arrived, while the other was still living in pre-modern conditions. They'd doubtless think about how quickly Maori living standards would have improved had the outsiders not come, and conclude that progress would have been slow and uncertain.
That's probably enough of that thought-experiment. The point of it was, I hope, obvious enough: to step back from the current orthodoxy within New Zealand universities and look at the facts in the way that a dispassionate observer might. (The progress of post-colonial theory in universities has meant that it's more difficult than you might think to find a dispassionate observer on this planet.)
If we do that, the facts speak clearly: Maori are better off in virtually every way than they were before the British settled New Zealand. That doesn't mean that no British settler ever did anything wrong. It doesn't mean that absolutely nothing was lost in the great transformation of Maori life over the past few hundred years. And it definitely doesn't mean that we should go back to the early days of New Zealand history, when Maori were effectively excluded from many areas of life.
But it does mean that the net effect was positive - indeed, spectacularly positive. More cautiously we can say that it suggests that Gilley is right, and that the British Empire did have some positive effects (whether it did so consciously or on purpose is another question). But don't expect our alien sicentist's data to be highlighted in a course in any New Zealand university nowadays.
As pretty much everybody knows, in the wake of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, women have been posting #metoo stories on social media sites - claims that they've been sexually harassed or assaulted in the past. A common reaction to this is to say, 'Gosh, I didn't realise how bad the problem was! Women are being assaulted all over the place!' It's an understandable reaction, but it's based on a basic error of social science methodology.
In polling, the gold standard for junk science is a self-selecting poll, where instead of asking a random sample of people what their experiences of something have been, you get people to volunteer for your study. The reason this kind of poll is so worthless is because the people who are already concerned about something are more likely to call in. So if I invited everyone who's ever had a run-in with a cyclist to tell me about it, and didn't ask anyone else about their experiences, I'd probably end up with a survey in which the vast majority of the people surveyed had had run-ins with cyclists.
Now, that pretty clearly wouldn't necessarily mean that we have a big problem with cyclists in our society. We might have a problem with cyclists; but my poll wouldn't be evidence for that, because I didn't take any care to make sure it was properly representative. All my poll would show is that there's a certain number of people out there who are upset enough about cyclists to volunteer for my survey.
Ditto for sexual assault and harassment. Doubtless there are some men who assault and harass women, but some women posting stories on social media isn't a good way of figuring out how many of them there are.
There's also, of course, the problem that #metoo stories have including everything from actual rape (physically coerced sexual intercourse) to remarks that a woman found 'uncomfortable' (or later decided to interpret as 'inappropriate'). The problem with definitions makes the movement even more useless as a barometer of the real level of sexual assault and harassment. What number of these claims actually reflect things that most people would take seriously? We don't know.
Finally, of course, we don't know what percentage of these stories are true. Again, doubtless some of them are true; but there's no way of knowing, just from social media, what proportion. Some sexual assault and harassment does occur, but we knew that already, and #metoo in itself shouldn't lead people to believe that these things are happening at a much higher rate than we thought.
Sam Butler is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and an anti-intellectual.
Heretics are rarely thanked. This fact, combined with the difficulty of arriving at, and developing, heretical viewpoints, means that inviting people to participate in heresy can be a difficult sell. Still, we'd like to extend an open invitation to all readers - even, or especially, those at the centre of the current orthodoxy - to take the opportunity to read our posts, consider them, and post comments on them (even rude ones - we won't be deleting any).
We're starting this blog because we believe that there is, in effect, a new intellectual establishment, that this intellectual establishment has repressive tendencies, and that many of its core beliefs need to be questioned. They need to be questioned partly because all ideas should be questioned, and partly because many of the core beliefs of the new establishment are wrong.
Of course, the intellectual establishment that we're facing now is hardly the Spanish Inquisition. But it is dominant in certain key centres of ideological power (in the universities, especially, but also in the media and the arts). And it does incorporate certain beliefs (that knowledge is power, for instance, and speech violence) that make it indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to free expression.
That explains why many of us have chosen to write anonymously. This is something we regret. We'd rather be able to use our names, just as we'd rather be able to to put our actual views honestly to our friends and colleagues. But we've found through bitter experience that this is, in the current intellectual climate, impossible (or, at least, that it can have very high costs). We didn't create this situation; we're only reacting to it in the only way we know how to.
So what is this new ideological hegemony that we're trying to combat? Anyone who's set foot in a Western university campus has experienced it; students have probably been taught it as the gospel truth. More lately it's leaped, with alarming rapidity, over the walls of academe into public broadcasters, arts institutions, and public discourse. It has a few key strands, but they are all tangled together in a way that just makes the whole knot harder to unpick.
One key strand is the notion of privilege. The central idea is that the reason people's lives turn out differently can be explained pretty much entirely by unfairness of various sorts. People don't make choices, or strive to do things - they get what the system has designed for them, a system which everyone else is somehow conspiring to perpetuate (excepting, perhaps, those who oppose it).
There are various sorts of privilege (racial, sexual, gender-based, economic), although white men are always the most privileged (even in countries like the US, where Asian men actually earn higher wages). This means that we have a duty to level things out, and if white men (and white women, sometimes) are treated unjustly as a result, that's not racism or sexism, or even injustice (even when the white men in question aren't actually wealthier than some of their non-white peers).
All this, of course, is due to imperialism, or European and US imperialism (we're asked to forget at this point that most of human history is the story of empires, most of them non-European). The model of history that most university students now imbibe (and it's a beautifully simplistic one) is: some countries are poorer than others because at some point, the Europeans beat everyone else up and took their stuff. Nobody mentions that most nations throughout history have been trying to beat up other countries and take their stuff, or asks the complex historical question of why it was that some countries somehow, and quite suddenly, got much better at it than everybody else.
Nor does anybody ask how much stuff the imperial powers really took, and how much stuff they generated themselves. There's a general ignorance of the state that we're living in, of unprecedented wealth, health, longevity, and happiness. There's a refusal to acknowledge the vast strides that have been made in the rights of women, minorities, and pretty much everyone, over the last few hundred years.
Indeed, the idea that countries like Canada and the UK are racist, sexist, and homophobic places with a 'rape culture' is another of the strands of the currently privileged set of beliefs. In fact, of course, these countries are some of the least racist and sexist places in history, and are some of the only societies to have openly embraced homosexuality; they're also countries in which rape is heavily punished and very rare (extremely rare by historical standards). But this idea is necessary to the current orthodoxy, because without it the idea that white men are privileged might seem under threat.
And privilege is, in man ways, the key idea of the whole system. It's so essential, in fact, that it serves a kind of gatekeeper function, explaining why it is that certain people should be able to speak less than others. Based on a certain amount of fairly dubious social science, and a lot of repetition, the belief has taken hold that some people (men) always get more of a hearing than others, and that therefore we should 'balance' their advantage by privileging 'other voices.' An interesting view, considering well-established findings such as that most people respond more positively to women than to men.
A corollary is that some views should be elevated above others. More than that, in fact: some view don't deserve to be heard at all, because they prop up or exacerbate privilege, which, as university students all know (despite never having heard any real discussion of the issue) is an all-important fact. The idea that speech is violence, and that ideas can traumatise, only serves to strengthen this strand in the current thinking.
A final strand I'll mention today is tightly bound up with the last one. Since some ideas are known a priori to be better than others, and some people are more worthy than others (because they've previously been oppressed, or their ancestors were - or they're still being oppressed subconsciously), democracy is rarely a good idea. It's a good idea in certain circumstances, of course - when favoured candidates or causes win a vote. When they lose, though, it's clearly because the media have manipulated people, favouring the bad views rather then the worthy, deserving ones. The current orthodoxy is against the elite, but that doesn't mean that it's for the people - the people, you see, are too easily swayed.
That should do as a brief tour of the reigning orthodoxy. You may disagree with all of it, as most of us do, or you may think some of these ideas have more to say for themselves than others. Different readers will also disagree with the current orthodoxy for very different reasons. Liberals ('classical liberals'), libertarians, religious people, conservatives, even traditional left-wingers - all these sorts of people will find the current orthodoxy distasteful. That's not surprising, because the current orthodoxy has no room for heresy. Remember - doubting the current order means not that you have a different conception of the good or how to arrive at it. It means that you're an oppressor.
Combatting these conceptions is the whole point of this blog; though, since these ideas can be combatted in many different ways, and since freedom of speech is one of our main ideals, we don't aim for any ideological uniformity of our own. The people who contribute to this blog are academics and intellectuals united only by their impatience with the current orthodoxy, and the harm that it is doing. In universities in countries like the US and Australia, it's going to take a generation of sustained effort just to get things back to where views from both sides of the political spectrum are on a level playing field. We think that freedom of speech, democracy, and basic fairness are worth fighting for. We hope that you think so too.
Sam Butler is an English settler in New Zealand, a writer and an anti-intellectual.