Last week, the writer Sam Harris posted an incredible conversation recorded between himself and Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi who now tries to counter extreme political beliefs with what he describes as “listening” and “compassion”. Picciolini has a lot of insight into what drives ideological fanaticism and he knows that much of it fuelled by emotional undercurrents of insecurity, self-loathing and basic ignorance.
He and Harris make the point that rather than shaming or silencing people with extreme opinions that we disapprove of, we should engage with them instead. That is how the battle for hearts and minds are won. This is very similar to what Megan Phelps, a former member of the religious cult the Westboro Baptist Church said in her now famous TED talk, which I have written about before:
“Her decision to leave the WBC was not a Damascene conversion. It was part of a long process of engaging with people who opposed her on social media. Often they did so with anger or bemused disdain, but, occasionally, she would encounter individuals who would argue with her civilly. It was these discussions that began to slowly chip away at her harsh worldview, eventually causing it to collapse.”
Harris also makes the important point that people will never build up “intellectual antibodies” to manipulative and hateful ideas if they are not exposed to them. Sunlight and air is the best disinfectant for odious speech.
Listen to to the full conversation here.
It is common knowledge just how widespread intolerance and anti-intellectual groupthink has become on university campuses. One of the most worrying things about this phenomenon is how it is aided and abetted by academics and university lecturers, whether by their active encouragement or conspicuous silence.
There are, however a few who have risked their careers to speak out against political correctness on campus. I’ve put together a short list of some of the most well known ones: Read More…
I didn’t go to university to have my preconceptions challenged, or to open myself to weird knowledge and dangerous ideas. I wasn’t seeking to push my personal boundaries or take intellectual risks. It’s not that I don’t think those are valuable experiences, it’s just that such things can be done by anyone, anywhere, without the empty validation of a reading list and a final exam.
University life wasn’t that far removed from not-university life anyway—sure, there were a few misanthropic left-radicals who were angry and judgmental, but they were an avoidable fringe. Not many people were trying to force your worldview, show off about correcting social justice or, even worse, blame you for social injustice. If there were people like that, they were easily ignored from the depths of the SU bar.
Which is why the current state of politically correct academic culture is so troubling. Ideological fanatics, with the backing of fully complicit college authorities, are fostering a campus environment that looks far removed from the norms of everyday life. In this sealed-off, Lord of the Flies echo chamber irrational ideas are being allowed to exert control, and it’s all been officially signed off at the top. Read More…
The most disturbing aspect of the recent Ellen Degeneres controversy was not so much that she was falsely accused of being a racist and isn’t one, but the fact that a mere allegation inspires such dismay in our culture that she was forced to acknowledge and deny it. She paid verbal fealty to a spurious narrative that is sustained only through fear.
Of course, Degeneres is a celebrity who is probably hyper-conscious of her public image, so she’s going to do everything she can to prevent any damage to that. It’s not so easy to ignore denunciations of that kind when it affects your bottom line.
But the reason I was opposed to her acknowledging the moronic witch hunters on Twitter is that I think that even the slightest flinch before their finger-pointing only encourages them to do it again. Especially, if they can make a seemingly untouchable megastar like Degeneres react. Read More…
Listen to this really illuminating podcast that’s been widely shared on social media this week.
It features a discussion between John Semley, a high profile Canadian critic of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and his fellow Canadian, the cartoonist “Eiynah”, pseudonymous author of the blog Nice Mangos.
It’s fascinating to observe the dynamic between the moderately progressive Eiynah, an ex-Muslim atheist who writes a blog on Islam and sexuality, and Semley who also self-identifies as a “progressive”.
As a former Muslim, who turns a wry eye on conservative Islamic culture and its attitudes to sex, Eiynah argues for solidarity with publications, such as Charlie Hebdo, who do the same; whilst Semley, the consummate western liberal progressive, believes it to be a racist monstrosity, unworthy of support from his political kin.
Eiynah argues that Islam is not a race; after all, she considers herself to be “ex-Muslim”.
He describes Charlie Hebdo as “pudgy French intellectuals drawing Mohammed’s asshole.”
You would not think that their positions would diverge so wildly on this subject, but they do.