I’m Sick of Protest Culture

The walkout today has me thinking about protest and its pros and cons. Obviously, protest can be a good way to effect social change. But it can also be a way for young, narcissistic idealists to peacock before their peers. Encouraging this sort of peacocking is bad, because encouragement is the last thing narcissists need. At the same time, we don’t want to just be complacent. There are things about the world that suck, and we might be able to do something about it.

The ideological war of the past couple years has made it hard for me to regard protest positively. My knee-jerk reaction when I hear about protests is to cynically dismiss them as virtue-signaling. Sometimes this reaction may be correct, but it often is not. In any case, even when people protest on behalf of causes that I agree with, I find myself trying to distance myself from them psychologically. I’m hypercritical of everything they do and say. I hate that I’m like this now.

I want to stop gun violence. But when I hear about students protesting against it, my first thought isn’t “Wow! That’s great!” but “They are being used as pawns.” Which makes me sad, because I would much rather see these protests as a sign that young people are participating in the life of the polis, and that they actually care about politics.

In short, I’m torn. There are things we need to change. This is beyond doubt. It’s a good thing that people care about criminal justice reform, police accountability, racism, and mass shootings. But too often, I feel that these protests end up being a form of political theatre, serving to boost the self-esteem of the participants instead of to persuade or challenge their fellow citizens. It’s not enough to “send a message” or to “let your voice be heard,” you actually need to say something that might convince others to join you. And in order to do that, you need to know what you’re talking about.

In other words, effective protest is more than just venting. It’s not enough just to have a protest. Protests need to persuade. Effective persuasion on the part of protesters requires learning, which, in turn, requires time and humility. Or it will require relinquishing physical safety, as it did the civil rights protesters who endured beatings at the hands of the police in southern cities. When protesters learn about the issues they’re protesting and are prepared to sacrifice something on behalf of their communities, they show themselves to be good, engaged citizens. But you don’t need to be a good citizen to vent, even if you’re venting alongside hundreds or thousands of your peers.

I’ll keep thinking about this. Even as I’ve written, my thoughts have evolved. Maybe I’ll figure out what I think and write something in a few days.


2 Capitalisms

I generally don’t like the word “capitalism.” This is because, in my mind, capitalism isn’t an “ism.” That is, it’s not an ideology or even really a system, but the absence thereof. People who criticize capitalism generally aren’t criticizing freedom or markets, but an ideology which holds that humans are individual self-interested actors who seek to maximize benefits to themselves, and that we should not stop them from doing so in almost any circumstance.

This criticism is spot-on. Insofar as capitalism is an ideology that exalts self-interest and profit-seeking, it should be rejected. Freedom of choice and markets should not be thought of as means of maximizing the ability of individuals to pursue their self-interest, but as advancing some other sort of more substantive good. And insofar as these things hinder, rather than promote, that good, they should be modified or replaced with something else, albeit cautiously.

So there’s ideological capitalism and there’s instrumental capitalism. You can believe that free markets and profit-maximization are desirable in themselves, in which case you’re an ideological capitalist. Or you can believe that free markets, as a general rule, are the best way to promote the common good, in which case you’re an instrumental capitalist. The first position is indefensible and incompatible with even considering the merits of a non-capitalist economic system. The second is reasonable in some circumstances, although it might not be in others. We can have more capitalism or less capitalism if we’re instrumental capitalists. If we’re ideological capitalists, we either have it or we don’t.

It seems to me that markets are a highly effective way to advance the common good, provided that people acting within them are not profit-maximizing robots. The problem is that as ideological capitalism has become ascendant, people have more and more closely resembled such robots. Fewer people are asking whether creating a new technology or financial instrument would be desirable for society at large. Instead, they just ask if it will make them money in the short run. Often, it will. Hence the 2008 financial crisis. Hence the creation of addictive technologies that take all of our data so that Google can sell it to the highest bidder. Hence political commentators who spew lies and sensationalism at every opportunity.

Markets in themselves do not cause these problems. People, acting freely within markets, do. The question, therefore, isn’t whether markets are good or not, but whether we can change people’s behavior within markets. I think we can, but it’s unclear exactly how. And the task of reforming the human heart is far more daunting than that of reforming the structures in which we live our daily lives.

Why You Should Learn to Read Court Opinions

Supreme Court Rules Immigrants Can Be Detained Indefinitely

Wow! How concerning! I’m going to post on social media about how outrageous it is that the highest court in the land is so hostile to immigrant rights! I haven’t read the opinion or anything like that, but I did read this article. The whole article. Not just the headline. Surely this means I’m prepared to comment intelligently on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Unfortunately, it does not. The headline above is a blatant mischaracterization of what the Court actually ruled. Assuming the person who wrote the story is somewhat competent at reading legal opinions, the headline probably qualifies as a lie. But I’m more prepared to assume incompetence than malice. Reading legal documents is hard, and even very smart people tend to be bad at it. Especially when they have ideological axes to grind, which tend to make it harder to read a legal document dispassionately.

The lesson here is that you should take everything you read and hear about legal developments with a grain of salt. Law is complicated, and most people don’t understand it. Incompetent journalists are shielded from criticism because there are relatively few people willing and able to criticize them for botching stories on legal subjects. The best way to be informed is to actually read the legal opinions so that you know what’s in them. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of journalists who may have no clue what they’re talking about.

To demonstrate that the headline above is wrong, I will show you some key parts of the relevant legal opinion.

Here is a summary, which comes at the beginning of the opinion:

JUSTICE ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part II, concluding that §§1225(b), 1226(a), and 1226(c) do not give detained aliens the right to periodic bond hearings during the course of their detention. The Ninth Circuit misapplied the canon of constitutional avoidance in holding otherwise. Pp. 12–31.

Note that this does not say that detained aliens do not have the right to periodic bond hearings. It merely says that Sections 1225(b), 1226(a), and 1226(c) do not give them such a right. There’s an important difference. Some rights are conferred by the Constitution, some by statute. This right, while clearly not conferred by the statute (as Justice Alito demonstrates), may very well be conferred by the Constitution. That question was not decided.

Because the Court of Appeals erroneously concluded that periodic bond hearings are required under the immigration provisions at issue here, it had no occasion to
consider respondents’ constitutional arguments on their merits. Consistent with our role as “a court of review, not of first view,” Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U. S. 709, 718, n. 7 (2005), we do not reach those arguments. Instead, we remand the case to the Court of Appeals to consider them in the first instance.

Here Alito explicitly says that the court has not ruled on whether periodic bond hearings are required under our law. While the statutes do not require such hearings, the Constitution may, and Alito instructs the Ninth Circuit to consider the constitutional question. It’s unclear what will happen in subsequent litigation, but the Court has made no substantive changes to our law that will adversely affect immigrant detainees. All they have done is reiterated that courts can’t rewrite statutes in order to avoid answering constitutional questions.

There’s a lot more to the opinion, but you only really need to read the previous paragraph to see that the headline at the beginning of this post is indefensible. This holds as a general rule: you don’t need to read much of an opinion to figure out what the holding is. So make sure when you read about an outrageous court ruling that the ruling is actually outrageous. Often, you will find that it has been blown out of proportion. When cases implicate hot-button issues, it’s understandable that many focus only on who “won” or “lost” while ignoring what the Court actually decided. Understandable, but not excusable. Don’t do it. Read the opinions.

Is it Offensive to Imitate Stephen Hawking?


A student at Oxford has gotten in trouble for dressing up as Stephen Hawking for a “dress as your degree” themed party. His degree was presumably in Physics, meaning that this student dressed up as Hawking because Hawking is the embodiment of Physics. If anything, this should be flattering, right?

Why is it offensive to dress up as Stephen Hawking? Because he is disabled. As far as I can tell, there’s no other reason. But this is a dumb reason. If one of your heroes is disabled and you want to dress up as him, then why should that offend people?

Everyone needs to chill.

Abortion and the Death Penalty

The March for Life takes place today. Every year since the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, thousands from across the country have gathered to voice their opposition to abortion and pro-abortion policies. The March for Life is the occasion for the above tweet, which implies that opposition to abortion and opposition to the death penalty should go hand in hand.

This view is wrong. It’s easy to be anti-abortion but pro-death penalty (at least in some cases), because the choice of an individual to kill an unborn child is obviously morally different from the choice of the state to kill someone who has been duly convicted of a heinous crime.

To be sure, this doesn’t mean that the death penalty is good policy. But reasonable people who affirm the sacredness of human life can still support it in some cases. Personally, I think the death penalty should almost never be imposed. The danger of executing an innocent person is great enough to warrant extreme restraint in imposing the death penalty.

Nevertheless, there are some crimes for which imposing the death penalty may be just. For example, what if someone kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed several children? In such a case, I think it may even be an injustice to refrain from imposing the death penalty, provided that we are sure that the person being executed is guilty.

What Roxane Gay Misses on #MeToo

At this point, being surprised at the number of women who have experienced sexual harassment is ridiculous. People are depraved, as they have always been, which is why there were so many “#MeToo”s on social media this week. This is not new information, as Roxane Gay pointed out in her op-ed for the Times, yesterday:

We already know victims’ stories. Women testify about their hurt, publicly and privately, all the time. When this happens, men, in particular, act shocked and surprised that sexual violence is so pervasive because they are afforded the luxury of oblivion.

Every once in a while, there’s a chorus of public testimony to the awfulness of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, usually triggered by a related major news story (e.g. Brock Turner, Harvey Weinstein). But does all this public testimony do anything? I’m skeptical, as is Gay. Sexual harassment doesn’t stop being a problem when we acknowledge that it’s a problem. It takes more than “awareness” of sin to stop sin. So what do we do?

Gay says that men need to confess:

Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small. They can testify about how they have cornered women in narrow office hallways or made lewd comments to co-workers or refused to take no for an answer or worn a woman down by guilting her into sex and on and on and on. It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it. It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.

The problem with Gay’s solution is that it will not change anything. Men who habitually harass women probably don’t care all that much about ending sexual harassment. And other men probably don’t have a lot to confess to in this regard. (How many men have actually cornered a woman in a hallway or made lewd comments to a co-worker? Or am I just being naive?) As far as I can tell, this would be only a “balm,” as Gay puts it, making some people feel better because it looks like progress is being made. But what we really want is an antidote, a way to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment.

And this is, in large part, the responsibility of men, too, albeit in a different way. Fathers have to raise their boys to be good men instead of contemptible creeps. Feminists complain about “toxic masculinity” and “rape culture,” but that’s the default setting for depraved human souls. Counteracting the tendency towards sin requires that we replace it with something else. Merely giving everyone a list of things not to do will not work. We need a positive vision of what it is to be good. And boys in particular need to be taught what it is to be a good man, and how a good man treats the women around him.

But even this will not completely eliminate sexual harassment. The depravity of the human soul can be mitigated, but it cannot be overcome (not by us, at least). We owe it to one another to do our best to solve our many problems, but some problems are intractable. We shouldn’t be surprised when we cannot save ourselves from ourselves. Only Jesus can do that.

Ulrich Baer is Destroying America

Who is Ulrich Baer, you ask? He’s a university professor and administrator at NYU. According to his faculty web page, part of his job is to “strengthen NYU’s ongoing effort to create the most diverse and inclusive community of outstanding faculty, students, and staff.” Put another way, he’s one of the high priests of the diversity cult.

This may seem like an extreme characterization, but it’s accurate. If you follow this blog, you may remember that I unsubscribed from the New York Times after they published a whole host of op-eds that were not fit for publication. The one that pushed me over the edge was Baer’s argument in favor of censorship.

This morning I watched the recording of a discussion held at Kenyon College between Baer, Charles Cooke, editor of National Review Online, and Stephanie Fryberg, a psychology professor. The topic was free speech. Baer and Fryberg both argued that there need to be more limitations on free speech, while Cooke argued that the robust speech protections in our law ought to be maintained.

Fryberg’s line of argument was the stuff you’d expect from a left-wing academic who is committed to creating social justice at all costs. Native Americans such as Fryberg need to “develop a voice” in isolation from oppressive speech from more privileged groups. If they aren’t given space to develop in this way, then they’re effectively being deprived of their free speech rights. This is a stupid argument. None of the greatest minority advocates in U.S. history relied on censorship of the oppressive majority to “find their voice.” Figures such as Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thurgood Marshall rose to the challenge of an overwhelmingly hostile majority and worked to enact justice. But today’s minorities need to be shielded from bigoted words? Absurd.

But as bad as Fryberg’s arguments were, Baer’s were even worse. At least she was making claims, albeit dumb ones. Baer, on the other hand, refused to say anything substantive, which demonstrates the weakness of his position. Cooke would repeatedly point out that no one person is competent to decide what kind of speech constitutes hate speech. But then Baer would respond that someone is, although it may not be him or anyone else on the panel. It’s not particularly reassuring for the person making the pro-censorship argument to say, “I’m not sure who is competent to censor, but there’s gotta be someone out there to do it, right?”

Later, Baer was pressed by an audience member to be more specific about what kind of speakers he thinks should not be allowed to speak on university campuses. This was in response to claims from Baer that universities ought to be more discerning when it comes to giving platforms to speakers. He basically responded that he could name names, but he wouldn’t do so in order to avoid dignifying the people by acknowledging their existence. Of course, the consequence of his refusal to say just who he thinks should be censored is that we actually have no idea what his position is—maybe he just wants to keep David Duke off of campuses, but maybe he also thinks that Charles Murray and Ben Shapiro are hateful bigots who should be kept as far away from impressionable young minds as possible.

And that’s the problem with these anti-free speech arguments. When taken to their logical conclusions, they quickly lead to absurdity. I can imagine Baer as a character in a Socratic dialogue. Socrates pushes him into a corner, but Baer just keeps doubling down on his claims without clarifying them or supporting them until he angrily storms away, saying something like, “I don’t know how to answer you, but you’re wrong, and I’m right.” Eventually, of course, he will conspire with his fellow citizens to have Socrates killed, because that’s what you do when people are “corrupting the youth.”

The utter spinelessness of people like Baer is what has allowed destructive illiberal tendencies to flourish in our universities.  By refusing to talk specifics, they obscure the debate, making it harder to see what’s really going on. And what’s really going on is that people are becoming increasingly pro-censorship, albeit for different reasons than in the past.

Apology to Jess Mathews and the EST

After talking to people and taking another look at all the things I said on Twitter and on this blog, I’ve realized that I was really cruel to the EST staff and especially to Jess. I deleted the post. I’ve deactivated my Twitter account. I’m taking a break from social media to think more about what possesses me to say such awful, unkind things to people. Sorry to everyone that I put down.

Jess has been very gracious to me, and I’m thankful for that. I would certainly not have been so gracious if someone else had done the same to me.

To whoever reads this: please pray that I stop being such a shitty person.

Why Sexual Selection Matters and Why Cordelia Fine is Wrong

Yeyo's Corner

Last week The Royal Society awarded the polemic writer Cordelia Fine with their Science Book of the Year award for “Testosterone Rex”. The central thesis in the book is that the behavioral differences between men and women are better explained by culture than by testosterone and that the theoretical framework that evolutionary scientists regard as the root cause of several of the robust cross-cultural sex differences we see, namely Bateman’s principle and sexual selection, have been largely debunked, at least when it comes to humans. Since this runs pretty much contrary to the broadly held consensus in evolutionary biology the choice has naturally elicited criticism from both biologists and evolutionary psychologists.

Ad Hoc Hypotheses and Occam’s Razor

In her quest to deny that biology is responsible for sex differences in behavior Cordelia Fine has a huge advantage, she benefits from that fact (which the award has made clear) that…

View original post 3,503 more words

Don’t Defend Trump

I’ve seen people try to, and it doesn’t work.

Just in case there’s any confusion, this was after Trump walked back the statement he gave on Monday by saying that many of the participants in the Unite the Right rally were “fine people.” Bold, yes. Truthful, no. Any fine person with an ounce of sense would have bolted the moment the anti-Semitic chants started.

For those who do not know, “Alt-right” is a term coined by Richard Spencer. You know, the guy who throws up Nazi salutes, won’t condemn Adolf Hitler, and wants to get rid of the Jews. The alt-right is Spencer’s movement. Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist, bragged about making Breitbart a platform for the alt-right. Trump knows who these people are. He just doesn’t want to condemn them because he’s a vile human being.

Sean means here that Trump rightly placed some of the blame for the violence on Antifa (the “alt-left,” as Trump called them). He loves it whenever the left gets unhinged. Unfortunately, he’s also a hack who doesn’t care about the truth unless it serves his agenda.

A common trend you’ll notice with these people is that they sold their souls to the Trump cause long ago, so it’s not too surprising that they’re fighting to the death to defend his utterly indefensible conduct. Unfortunately, these people still have some credibility, and I’m sure that there are many decent Americans who point to Jerry Falwell and think, “look, a good Christian man who thinks Trump said nothing wrong!” Not good. Not good at all.