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Want to Spice Up Thanksgiving Dinner? Talk Politics Some families have a rule: no politics at Thanksgiving. But why not? With a few guidelines, it might just be the excitement your dinner needs By Jason Gay

Thanksgiving is coming—and with it, two big, annual, wildly contentious questions:

1. Is canned cranberry sauce actually a food product that should be consumed by human beings?

2. Can we talk politics at Thanksgiving dinner?

I want to go on the record: I like canned cranberry sauce, and I am at least 31% sure it is food.

At the same time, I believe if you shake cranberry sauce out of a can—with a big, disgusting THWUUUPPPPP —and leave it on a chair in the backyard until the year 3012, it will look exactly the same. By then the canned cranberry sauce may even be sentient and raising a family of its own.

Also: I think it’s OK to talk politics at Thanksgiving.

I realize the latter position is controversial. Many reasonable American families try at all costs to avoid politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Some families actually have a rule: no politics at Thanksgiving, and it’s strictly enforced, like the way Mom made you and your spouse sleep in separate rooms until you were married. If you even say the word “politics,” the host will begin wildly waving his or her arms, as if a grizzly bear has rumbled into the kitchen.

Other families simply flee the table when Uncle Billy’s had a few cocktails and gets going about something he heard on talk radio.

It’s definitely safer to leave the conversation to more easygoing topics, like:


Netflix shows we’re all watching.

Possible salmonella poisoning.

Serial killers loose in the neighborhood.

In-laws we don’t like.

Watching football has traditionally been an easy way to escape Thanksgiving political chitchat. The Detroit Lions were basically invented to help Americans avoid speaking to their families at Thanksgiving.

Thanks, Lions!

But even football is political this season. You’ve seen the headlines. You’ve read the tweets.

Moderation in the Realm of Politics Sydney Williams

When considering moderation in politics, we must differentiate between outcomes and process – ideologies versus behavior. The French political philosopher Montesquieu claimed humans naturally migrate toward the center – that policies are best that accommodate the greatest number. On the other hand, Adam Smith, in his The Theory of Moral Sentiments, suggested it is moderation in social interactions, regardless of political opinions, which allow people to relate to and understand one another.

Most Americans believe in a mixture of government and personal independence – an equilibrium allowing the country to prosper, while preserving the obligations society demands. Politics is the search for that balance, but it is a Sisyphean struggle that never satisfies everyone. Polarization is today’s political nemesis. Mainstream media argues that extremism, especially from the right, has made people yearn for moderation. As well, blame is laid on social media that gives expression to myriad views and inspires populist politicians to take advantage of the resulting (seemingly) broken system. Blame is also attributed to media outlets like C-SPAN, venues for posturing politicians playing to their ideological bases.

Those desirous for moderation in politics often hark back to the 1950s, a period seen as relatively quiet – a time of normalcy, to borrow a word from the 1920s. But that era of uniformity, in the long history of our country, was atypical. The number of newspapers had declined, and was still falling. Talk radio did not exist. Television was in its infancy, with only three network television stations, each with fifteen-minute or half-hour news segments. There was little difference between John Chancellor of NBC, Walter Cronkite of CBS and John Daly of ABC. There were no forums for alternative views. We were trapped in a monolith, with little option but to conform. But that is not as it always was. Pamphleteers and writers of broadsheets, in the early years of our republic, provided thousands of people the opportunity to vent individual opinions, much like bloggers today.

Jim Campbell At the End of Our Rope see note please

This column is from and about Australia but applicable to all the nations of the Anglosphere -America, Canada and England…….rsk

Even the most cursory inspection reveals the integrity of institutions and mores is coming apart. From a failing yet ever more costly education system to defence policies crafted to achieve electoral advantage, rather than national security, the strands of what once held us together are rupturing.

A wire rope is made to support a load under tension and composed of many woven steel strands. But wire ropes sometimes break, the best policy being to conduct regular examinations and, just in case, never to place any part of your body near the rope in case it fails. When the first strand goes the load and strain on the remaining wires intensifies until, most likely sooner than later, the next-weakest wire fails, and so on. There is nothing that can be done to stop the deterioration or, eventually, the catastrophic failure that sees the severed rope become a whip-lashing peril to all unlucky enough to be nearby at the time. Many a tilt-truck driver has been grievously injured when his winch rope’s unnoticed deterioration became suddenly and catastrophically apparent.

You’ve probably guessed that I’m invoking a metaphor about society. In Australia right now even the most cursory inspection reveals strands whose integrity is either partially or wholly gone. Let me identify some of these strands; I am sure readers can add their own.

Discipline: Today, discipline appears to be absent or marginal in many areas: the schoolroom, the home, public behaviour, even our parliament. Don’t like a former prime minister? Well head-butt him because, well, why not! Arguing your case requires thought and effort and logic. It’s so much easier (and far more satisfying) to make your case with a forehead to the nose. Yes, you might end up in court, but it will be to the cheers of your Twitter admirers and urgers.

Respect: This seems to be regarded as one of yesterday’s virtues, as we see in almost all areas of public and private life: customer service, attitude to the elderly, simple gestures such as opening a door, road rage. Or think of it this way: you are Australia’s greatest tennis player but hold unfashionable views about re-defining the word “marriage”. Expect your center court achievements to count for nothing as activists push to remove your name from the stadium built to honour your sporting achievements. Why extend respect when a public burning is so much more fun?

Education: Where does one start? In no particular order: lack of emphasis on the three Rs; the inclusion in the syllabus — indeed, elevation – of lifestyle advocacy. Even as Australia slips ever further down the international rankings, the amount poured into “education” grows, yet teacher unions and bureaucrats insist it is still not enough. And it gets worse at the tertiary level. Universities now focus on generating revenue rather than promoting academic excellence. To be fair, this is all they can do, as the schools system delivers every year a fresh crop of minds either half-formed or so polluted by approved doctrine that the critical thought once seen as the essence of university life is beyond them. Ever wonder about the popularity of gay studies, womens studies and all the other make-it-up-as-you-go-along “studies”? The explanation is simple: useless courses are the perfect vehicles to keep the fees flowing and bums on lecture room seats. That a degree in, say, feminist film studies is unlikely to enhance job prospects is never mentioned.

Law and order: In Victoria almost one billion dollars every year is shaken out of motorists who travel just a whisker over the speed limit — respectable citizens for the most part whose only crime is to have money in the bank the government thinks should be better used underwriting its education system (see above) and other follies. Meanwhile teen gangs rampage through the late-night suburbs and police warn that any homeowner who defends home, life and property against push-in invaders risks being charged with vigilantism. Nevertheless, sporting goods stores sell out of baseball bats.

Trump, ISIS and the Crisis of Meaning When politics limits itself to the material, people seek spiritual purpose elsewhere.

Three years and many beheadings after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate, Americans are rejoicing in its demise. “With the liberation of ISIS’s capital and the vast majority of its territory,” President Trump said in a statement, “the end of the ISIS caliphate is in sight.”

But does the fall of Raqqa really mean the fall of Islamic State? One needs merely a sharp object—or as we saw last week, a rented truck—and a nearby group of “infidels” to be an ISIS soldier.

After the Oct. 31 New York attack, Mr. Trump tweeted: “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” But ISIS’ most important battlefield is not in the Levant; it is online, in hearts and minds. ISIS’ power comes from ideas, not territory.

The threat is from within as well as without. Sayfullo Saipov, the Uber driver who allegedly murdered eight in ISIS’ name, had been living an unremarkable life in the U.S. for seven years. Thousands of young Muslims have left Europe and the U.S. for Syria and Iraq to answer Mr. Baghdadi’s call. Seduced via social media, young men and women, some of them converts, are also taking up arms in the West, or leaving their homes in Chicago, London and Paris, to live, and perhaps die, for a cause.

The Obama administration argued that young people join ISIS because of poor economic prospects. “We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in 2015. “We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people.” That’s myopic. Physicians, computer scientists and star high-school students have been radicalized, too. People are motivated by meaning more than money.

While Western states do (or used to) provide good social services, economic opportunity and consumer goods, they are increasingly indifferent to questions of meaning—to principles worth living, and perhaps dying, for. In the U.S. we are proud of our freedom—but freedom to do and care for what? For a small but not negligible number of young people, answering a call to build a caliphate, allegedly based on the dictums of a holy book, will seem a more genuine choice than ambition or consumerism.

Mr. Trump should know this. His campaign was a kind of call for meaning. Whatever the merits of Mr. Trump’s positions, he framed his views on trade, immigration and foreign policy in terms of America’s national identity: “Make America Great Again.” Hillary Clinton emphasized technical solutions. Can anyone remember her slogans, her rallying cries? There was “breaking down barriers” and “fighting for us” and “I’m with her.” None stuck. She ended on “stronger together.” Together with what or whom?

‘The Exterminating Angel’ at the Met The British composer Thomas Adès, the son of Syrian-Jewish immigrants to the United Kingdom, leads an operatic adaption of Luis Buñuel’s surrealist film into a biblical trap By David P. Goldman

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a “play in which nothing happens, twice,” in Vivian Mercier’s bon mot. Less known to English-speaking audiences is another work in which nothing happens twice, namely Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film, The Exterminating Angel. The great Spanish auteur attacked the subject as surrealist social farce rather than as Existentialist absurdity, as with Beckett. Buñuel’s nihilism makes no pretense at portraying the human condition in general. It is as distinctively Spanish as Gilbert and Sullivan are distinctively British, which explains why Spanish theater troupes do not perform HMS Pinafore and American audiences largely ignored The Exterminating Angel. As a narrative of cultural suicide, though, it has no peer in postwar art.

Buñuel was a lifelong Communist and concluded his film with a revolutionary statement. But he brought to the screen a profoundly biblical sensibility, most of all in the matter of retribution. The film’s title may be a reference to the 19th-century Spanish Society of the Exterminating Angel, a death squad that hunted Spanish liberals. But it is more immediately a citation of I Chronicles 21:15, “And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it” after King David ordered a census in contravention of biblical law. The subject of the film is divine vengeance against a corrupt elite that is incapable of extricating itself from its torpor.

The British composer Thomas Adès, the son of Syrian-Jewish immigrants to the United Kingdom, debuted an operatic adaption of Buñuel’s Angel at the Salzburg Festival last year. The Metropolitan Opera features it prominently in its fall season. With a few telling exceptions, Adès and his librettist, Tom Cairns, stick close to Buñuel’s screenplay. Their endeavor raises a question: How do you write music about nothing? The question is not as silly as it sounds. Adès solves it by injecting extraneous material into the comedy, which supports the music but disturbs the joke.

Adès has no limitations as a composer, by which I mean that he has a sure grip on the whole battery of compositional styles and musical devices. He can do with a score whatever he thinks best, and his use of tonal devices, as well as atonal gestures and sound effects, is canny and deliberate. The question is whether he has provided Buñuel’s comedy with the music it requires. The film has no score at all; the only music is performed by one of the characters in the course of the action.

In the film, guests arrive for dinner at a Mexico City mansion (on “Providence Street”), and find that they cannot leave the living room. The servants have had a strange compulsion to flee. There is no explanation for their paralysis of will. They do not understand it themselves. Days go by, and the aristocratic company begins to stink and starve. They obtain water by breaking open a pipe in the wall and food by butchering a pet lamb. A crowd gathers outside but cannot enter, either. The entrapped guests descend by turns into madness and violence, until one of them observes that they have returned by random motion to the precise positions they occupied just before the spell descended on them. They repeat verbatim the party banter that preceded their imprisonment, and the survivors stumble out of their hell.

The host promises to sponsor a solemn mass if the group escapes, but the partygoers’ Christianity cracks and peels under stress. One lady in the party, who carries chicken feet in her purse, applies practical Kabbalah without success; it is not clear whether she is meant to be a covert Jew or just dotty. Chicken feet pertain to voodoo, not Kabbalah. A Freemason in the group shouts “Adonai!” a masonic call for help, but no one appears.

Repetition, it turns out, is not the counter-spell, but a nasty divine joke. Buñuel warns us that something is awry by repeating the entrance of the guests into the mansion. The master of the house offers a toast to the prima donna of the opera they have just heard. He starts to repeat the scene, but this time the partygoers ignore him, as Buñuel winks to the audience.

After stumbling out of the house, the partygoers appear shortly afterward for a Mass of thanks-giving, but this time no one is able to leave the church. The priests halt at the exit and the parishioners mill about unable to pass the threshold. In case we were unclear about what Buñuel had in mind, the last scene shows machine guns firing at an uprising outside the church, and a herd of sheep entering the church. The relevant repetition was not the reenactment of the banal events that preceded the guests’ entrapment, but rather the repetition of the entrapment itself, this time in the church. Nothing has happened twice. These are people who are doomed to repeat themselves. That is why they are trapped.

Peter Smith Kneeling Before an Altar of Lies

Repetition of lies produces factoids, a technique in which the Left is well practised and relentless in its application. This business of kneeling in protest at US football games is the latest example. How refreshing to see a president uncowed by myth and political correctness.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired! He’s fired!’ ”

Down camme the Trump haters from great heights of sanctimony. Trump is a racist and white supremacist, charged the Democrats and their cheerleaders; to wit, the hopelessly-corrupted fake-news media. No other conclusion could be drawn, they intoned over and over again.

Repetition of lies makes factoids. Leftists know that and are well practised in mythmaking. ‘The stolen generations’ is an exemplar in Australia. Talk to almost anyone you like and that myth has become a ‘truth’.

As most of the highly paid NFL players are black – they must have some physiological edge, but we are probably not allowed to say that — Trump must be a racist. And he is dog-whistling to white supremacists. His use of the word ‘bitch’ proves that to those who are prepared to go through any tendentious contortions to arrive at the answer they want.

The never-Trump Republicans get on board; if in a less colourful way. Karl Rove disproves of Trump’s language and his impugning of the parenthood of the NFL players. I was reminded of NSW Premier Robert Askin vocalising his thought “run over the bastards” to Lydon Johnson when anti-Vietnam War protesters were attempting to block his motorcade. Askin was criticised for this in some quarters, but I don’t seem to recall part of that criticism being related to the archaic literal meaning of ‘bastards’.

Memo to leftists and Karl Rove and company: Trump was using a common or garden expression, as was Askin. Moreover, in using the expression “he’s fired” he was parodying himself. The humour of the children’s literature character Amelia Bedelia, who took everything literally, would be entirely lost on today’s adult wallies. We are clearly living through a dumb age in which common sense has become a much rarer commodity.

Mark Steyn says that common sense presupposes a common understanding of the world, which is now absent. He’s right, which is why Q&A panels and audiences, for example, appear to me to be mostly populated by aliens; and particularly dumb and nasty ones. Witness, as another example, an elementary school librarian, Ms Liz Phipps Soeiro, who scolded Melania Trump for gifting her library “racist” Dr Seuss books. This lady can spot racist undertones in The Cat in the Hat. Imagine how young children will turn out under this dumb leftist tutelage. It is a growing curse on our children and on mankind.

Back to taking a knee for the flag and anthem. Though it has taken on an anti-Trump complexion, the initial protest by Colin Kaepernick was against (imagined) police brutality towards black men. Disconcertingly, even those who oppose the form of the protest; nevertheless, implicitly accept its premise, if only by their silence about it. The premise being that black men are disproportionately targeted and shot by cops. Quite simply, this is not supported by the evidence.

I wrote about this using publicly available data (The Truth in Black and White,) but Heather MacDonald (The War on Cops) is the person to go to. She has completely exposed the myth. For example, when set against black crime rates, blacks are by a long way less likely to be killed by cops than are whites. Don’t worry, the myth will live on. Black rabblerousers and the fake-news media will see to that.

Facts aside about police brutality, there is a lot of injustice in the world. I am pretty sure many young black people in America suffer injustices. Others do too but that doesn’t mean black sportsmen can’t highlight the injustices that they feel most acutely. How they do it is the issue.

A national anthem and flag transcend politics. Me, standing for Advance Australia Fair does not mean that I support Malcolm Turnbull. Nor does it mean that I am happy about the inevitable enactment of SSM or about impoverishing renewable-energy targets. Equally, kneeling when the anthem is played would not be a constructive or remotely comprehensible way of voicing my political objections.

There has to be one point where those making up a nation come together. That point is patriotism; wanting the best for the nation as a whole. Standing for the anthem and flag is simply an expression of that point of common cause, even among those who may be bitterly divided on particular political and social issues.

Apologists for the NFL players claim that they are not intending to disrespect the flag. This is pure sophistry. If you don’t mean to be disrespectful, it is odd indeed to take a knee precisely when the American flag is flying and the Star-Spangled Banner playing. To someone with common sense (there’s the problem I suppose) it is plainly disrespectful. And it is unmistakeably directed at the unifying symbols of the nation.

Birdman and the Reality Revolution – part 1 by Linda Goudsmit 10.28.17

Objective reality exists.

The ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy is an essential survival skill. If a man believes he can fly and jumps off a twenty story ledge he falls to his death because gravity is an objective fact and force of nature. Birdman’s fantasy (subjective reality) cannot compete with the fact of gravity (objective reality).

Let’s break down the process of thinking and doing. Thinking is a private matter and human beings are free to think their thoughts at any time in any place. Birdman is free to think he can fly without consequence to himself or others. It is the moment he steps off the ledge that his subjective reality collides with objective reality.

Civil society and the laws that govern it are based on the acceptance of objective reality by its citizens. Adults and children are evaluated differently in society. The fantasies of children are an accepted part of the growth process but adults who are out of touch with reality are deemed insane. In our example Birdman would be considered insane.

The safety lessons we teach our children are rooted in the acceptance of objective reality. Do not touch a hot stove. Do not run in the street. Do not jump out of a window or off a ledge. We teach our children the difference between fantasy and reality to keep them safe.

What would happen if there was a movement that deliberately rejected the teaching of objective reality and taught subjective reality instead? What is the purpose of driving a society insane?

Remember that the ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy is a survival skill. Thought precedes behavior. Birdman thought he could fly and jumped to his death. Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment and is the foundation of rational thought. Critical thinking is necessarily judgy because one must evaluate the facts (objective reality) to form a judgment.

Feelings are not facts. Feelings are the foundation of beliefs. Birdman’s feelings that he was a bird that could fly could not compete with the fact that he was a human and could not fly. Critical thinking is encouraged in an adult society. An insistence upon objective reality is what made America great, powerful, and undefeatable in WWII.

At the end of the war America’s enemies did not go quietly into the night. They reconstituted themselves to fight another day another way. How?

They simply put down their guns, picked up their books, and took aim at the children. They studied the human mind and decided to exploit the existence of the unconscious to bring America down psychologically. The goal was to move Americans out of the adult world of critical thinking (objective reality) and into the child’s world of feelings (subjective reality). They targeted education and decided to drive society insane. Regression was the goal.

Thought precedes behavior. A chronological adult who thinks like a child behaves like a child. Birdman thought like a child believing he could fly. Feelings are the metric of children, facts are the metric of adults.

Vladimir Lenin infamously said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

The progressives (regressives) have taken a page out of Lenin’s communist playbook and have indoctrinated two generations of Americans toward collectivism through public/private education and the media including television programming and movies. There are many ways to fight a war. The Leftist war against America is a sinister effort to shatter objective reality and destroy critical thinking skills. When critical thinking is destroyed and a society is reduced to childish emotional thinking it is easily exploited.

Revolutions are fought to effect seismic social change and to restructure society from one form of government to another. Historically revolution involves the forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system. The Leftist war against America is psychological in nature and a Reality Revolution is necessary to stop them.

The Leftist offensive to drive society into subjective reality is a sinister attempt to infantilize society in preparation for socialism. What the young people of America need to understand is that the promise of socialism is not the reality of socialism. Cradle-to-grave government care exacts an exorbitant price. The government happily extracts your freedom and liberty when you accept the powerless position of childhood for the rest of your life. In socialism/communism you become permanent wards of the state.

Some Republicans Look for Love in All the Wrong Places Being praised by leftists is a bad sign. Bruce Thornton

Antisthenes the Cynic, when informed that he had been applauded by bad men, said, “I’m horribly afraid I have done something wrong.” Too many Republicans need to learn that being praised by progressives is a bad sign.

The two latest examples of this failure of discernment are Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. They have both announced that they will not run for reelection, at the same time recycling all the stale talking points about “presidential decorum” and “character” and “boorish behavior.” And like the NeverTrump Republicans, both pols have been praised by the progressive establishment. Here’s a tweet from long-time Senate operator Chuck Schumer: “Jeff Flake is one of the finest human beings I’ve met in politics. He is moral, upright, strong & will be missed in the Senate.”

These pats on the head are the reward for Flake’s being a reliable “good Republican” (i.e. Trump-hater). In a sympathetic story in The Washington Post, Flake’s “more-sorrow-than-anger” decision included pious pronouncements such as “I couldn’t sleep at night having to embrace the president or condoning his behavior or being okay with some of his positions,” he said. “I just couldn’t do it — it was never in the cards.” Hillary running-mate Tim Kaine tweeted that Flake is a “friend,” “a good man,” and “an honest broker.” And then they wonder why the average voter complains about the “deep state” and RINOs. They know that such praise is code for “a chump we can roll.”

Meanwhile, Republican voters can smell the moral preening and virtue-signaling from Flake a mile away. His haughty disdain for rank-and-file Republicans is obvious in the Post story when he calls support for Trump a “fever” he is “confident” will eventually “break.” In other words, only someone with a moral and cognitive disease could support such a political monster. But read the Post article carefully and Flake’s real careerist calculation becomes apparent. Here’s the key sentence: “The fight he picked with Trump followed years of cooperation with Democrats on immigration policy, global trade deals and reestablishing diplomatic ties to Cuba.”

That is, as a consequence of plumping for progressive policies anathema to average Republicans and common sense, Flake finds himself down by double-digits in the polls months before the primary. Maybe he’s acting on principle, or maybe he’s just showing some Falstaffian “valor,” which is defined by shamelessly seeing to one’s own best self-interests. Thus he validates the perception that establishment Republicans are more interested in their own status and self-regard than in undoing the decades of progressive misrule.

Similarly, Bob Corker, who acted as Obama’s political flak in supporting the atrocious Iran nuclear deal, claims he’s not running again because Trump is “debasing” the nation with his “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior.” And he too has earned praise from establishment Democrats. Tim Kaine likened him to Flake in that they both are amenable to bipartisan cooperation “no matter what their leadership says, no matter what the polls say.” An ex Obama spokesman added, “we should embrace rational Republicans that are willing to stand up to Trump and to combat the erosion of democratic ideals and institutions.”

As usual, “bipartisan” in Prog Speak means giving the Dems what they want even when the policies–– like amnesty for illegal aliens, or letting a fanatical apocalyptic cult acquire nuclear weapons––are dangerously wrong-headed and contrary to the wishes of the voters. And speaking of “democratic institutions,” as much as the progressives have dismantled the Constitutional order, we still have one of the critical foundations of political freedom: regularly scheduled elections in which politicians are held accountable to the people. In the reckoning of the people of Tennessee, according to one poll, two-thirds of those who have paid “some” or “a lot” of attention to Corker’s spat with Trump disapprove of the Senator. The vox populi may not be the voice of God, but it will be the voice of doom when you ignore it.

Weakening the Feminist Cause By Marilyn Penn


Here are some complaints we’ve seen in the press from women who have endured workplace harassment. One woman who worked as a fact checker at The New Republic asserted that editor Leon Wieseltier had “forced her to look at a photograph of a nude sculpture in an art book, asking if she had ever seen a more erotic picture. She wrote that she was shaken and afraid during the incident.” (NYT 10/25) The words “forced” and “afraid” make us wonder how old this person was and whether she had ever been on a subway during rush hour or at a campus fraternity party at any college in the United States. Gretchen Carlson, a Stanford graduate and former Miss America who successfully collected 20 million dollars in a settlement with Fox News over her harassment, recounted the time she got into a car with a public relations man with whom she had just had a meeting. He pushed her head into his crotch after which she immediately fled the car but confesses now that she suffers PTSD because of this incident. Obviously Gretchen didn’t spend much time with veterans during her reign as beauty queen or with battered women who were victims of torture and abuse.

Concomitant with such hyperbole is the magnification of the term “courage” to include women who pour their recovered memories of past harassment into hashtag/metoo. It takes little courage to join a group that offers unqualified approval for anything they say. At the beginning of the feminist movement in the sixties, young women were encouraged to speak out and not be intimidated by boys at school. Single-sex schools bragged that girls did better at science and math when boys were not around but the goal was for women to strengthen their own voices, assert themselves and enter the same careers that men traditionally owned. Although this goal has been enormously successful with more women becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, executives and politicians, the hesitance to defend oneself against improper behavior until years later still lingers. But the tendency to conflate someone’s boorish personality trait with a threatening sexual assault weakens the cause of strong and independent women. Having your boss show you a picture of something you’d rather not see is not a women’s issue – it’s a reality of the hierarchal structure of most workplaces and affects men as well as women. There is always a question of whether the benefits you get from a desirable job outweigh the negative aspects of working with certain people, many of whom have risen to their status by virtue of being aggressive, self-promoting personalities. This doesn’t argue for compliance with unwanted sexual demands; it suggests that there’s a world of difference between looking at a picture in an art book and being threatened physically or economically – for which we have existing prohibitive workplace regulations.

Actresses who endured Harvey Weinstein’s lewd behavior for years were unwilling to jeopardize their opportunities for advancement and success by challenging him in accordance with these regulations. In a profession which has many gay men, this is not solely a women’s issue either nor will regulations ever be able to counteract all aberrant behavior. We live in a society that has been inundated with readily available pornography and extremely heightened sexuality throughout advertising, the media and music and entertainment industries. Ironically, Harvey Weinstein was not one of the shlock-meisters who populate these fields but more accusations will keep coming now that confessionals are both in style and sufficient to ruin reputations. Let’s distinguish between the necessary ability to tolerate compromises in the workplace which often include moral and ethical issues as well as sexual remarks, with unrelenting harassment that cannot be handled without regulatory interference. The current climate of regurgitating grievances from years past re-inforces the image of women too weak to stand up for themselves at the appropriate time – hardly a role model for feminists.

John O’Sullivan: Mistaken Identities

It is held to be morally wrong to assert that someone who is a man biologically but a woman by choice and surgery is not genuinely female. Likewise with national identity, but here the problems of transforming, say, Germans into ‘Europeans’ gets somewhat stickier.

Identity politics is the order of the day, it seems, whether you approve of it or not. But what is identity politics? Do we mean the politics of personal identity or sexual identity that we see playing out in America’s universities? Or the politics of national identity versus European identity that we see in the Brexit debate? Or the politics of racial identity throughout the advanced world, including the US and Australia?

About twenty years ago I got very interested in that question, then just beginning to be a political one. It seemed to me that all these different identity disputes offered roughly the same choice: do we think that identity is something that we get handed down to us by our parents, society, sex, class, nation, race, and then take for granted as we grow up? Or is it something we think about and choose voluntarily? It was clear then that a “postmodern” (though it has been in the air for two hundred years) concept of identity was advancing in psychology, the neuro-sciences, the media, the theatre, film, the world of culture generally, and above all in the universities, the intelligentsia, and the young. This was the theory that the self is almost infinitely malleable and that we may choose our identity (or identities) rather than simply receiving them from either our genes or society or wider environment. Its spiritual godfather was David Hume, who wrote:

The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different; whatever natural propension we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity.

Consequences flow: if there’s no hard, given core central to our personality, then our identity is malleable, maybe infinitely so, and we can choose several identities on different occasions (as both Pirandello and Woody Allen have suggested, in plays and films like Zelig). Indeed, the principle on which we choose an identity has been laid down by the greatest living American psychologist, Tom Wolfe, in his essay “The Me Decade”. It began life as an advertising slogan: “If I have only one life to live, let me live it as a blonde.” The charm of this principle for constructing a new identity is that it is almost infinitely accommodating. It enables us to say to ourselves: If I have only one life to live, let me live it as … (fill in the blank).

All that sounded highly theoretical when I wrote about it first twenty years ago. I doubt that Hume or Pirandello would have imagined young intellectuals taking their theories to the extent of believing that their sexual identity, indeed their biological identity, was entirely a matter of their own arbitrary choice. (Tom Wolfe is a different matter—he might well have imagined just that.) Yet that is the situation we see today in some of the best universities in America or the world. Moreover, the choice of the identity-bearer, however seemingly arbitrary, is then enforced on his fellows by college administrations that insist we all address him or her by whatever neologism he or she has invented to express their new identities. (This also plays hell with traditional rules of grammar.)

As Richard Neuhaus observed in a different context, “Once orthodoxy is optional, it sooner or later becomes prohibited.” Professors who resist this new fashion in elective identities and continue to refer students as “him” or “her” (and related atrocities) are threatened with serious penalties, including the loss of their positions. This must be an especially tricky judgment for anyone of precise judgment because the rules governing the protection of new identities keep changing and are anyway beset with contradictions.

For instance, it is held to be morally wrong to assert that someone who is a man biologically but a woman by choice and surgery is not genuinely female. At the same time as sexual identity was becoming a voluntary matter, however, sexual orientation was being decreed to be a hard-and-fast certainty that brooks no alteration. Again, it is a secular sin to argue that someone who is gay might be able to change his sexual orientation to a heterosexual one by either religious commitment or psychiatric treatment. Indeed, so-called “reparative therapy” that promises to do just that is now outlawed in some jurisdictions—generally the same jurisdictions that encourage and even finance sex-change operations. Desire is fixed, it seems, but not the object of desire. And Harvey Fierstein’s defiant hymn to a gay identity, “I Am What I Am”, must be replaced by “I’m Not What I Was”.

If personal identities as seemingly fixed as one’s sex are malleable, however, then surely collective identities of nation and religion must be more so. After all, there may be disagreement about the degree to which a personal identity is socially constructed, but there can be no real doubt that a national identity is a social and collective one. That belief was the foundation of several ideologies in the last century that sought to replace the taken-for-granted national identities of Britain, Australia and the US with new post-national identities that looked beyond the nation to new collectivities rooted in ideology—whether ideologies of class or race.

Today we see the same impulse to replace nationhood with something else in the “Europeanism” of the European Union, in multiculturalism, in globalisation and global governance, and even in jihadism (which, viewed from a certain standpoint, is Islam’s umma transformed into a new post-national global identity). These new post-national identities were even seen as “inevitable” since according to German professors, nations and nationalisms were withering away and would need replacement institutions.

Recent elections have shown, however, that ethnic, national and religious identities have revived in Europe and the United States even though the intellectual consensus was that such identities were at best nostalgia and at worse fascism of one kind or another. Brexit, the support for Trump’s “America First” in “the white working class” in America, the rise of what is called “populism” in much of Europe, most significantly the upsurge of anti-immigration sentiment in countries like Germany and Sweden (which had been strongholds of the new intellectual post-nationalism) illustrate the stubborn persistence of traditional identities.