All posts filed under: Top Stories

The Battle for Moral Authority

When Amazon rejected my documentary What Killed Michael Brown? from its platform last October, I was stunned by the rejection letter’s finality. The film had failed to meet Amazon’s “content quality expectations,” was “not eligible for publishing,” and there could be no “resubmission of this title and this decision may not be appealed.” After rereading the letter several times, I was left with the eerie feeling that I had done something immoral for which I deserved to be ashamed. Fortunately the film was written, presented, and narrated by my father Shelby Steele whose years as an acclaimed author and op-ed writer for the Wall Street Journal had made him a public intellectual. When I told the writers at the Journal what had happened, they responded with several critical articles, and Amazon promptly reversed its decision and agreed to host my film on their platform, where it remains to this day. But the initial rejection still bothered me. Was this a form of political persecution? The title of the film is certainly provocative and it offers …

Why ‘Just Follow the Science’ Won’t Solve All Our Problems

Science can be truly wondrous—as we’ve all come to appreciate now that scientists have developed a COVID-19 vaccine (several, in fact) less than a year into the pandemic. And even when it isn’t saving our lives, science moves our understanding of the world forward in a way that everyone can get behind. With rare exceptions, for instance, people of all political orientations, races, and nationalities can agree that water freezes at 0°C, gravity draws objects toward the ground, and the Earth rotates around the Sun and not vice versa. The wonders of science are so great that many philosophers and religious leaders predicted—with a sense of either hope or fear—that science would replace religion as the central organizing principle of our intellectual lives. Yet that hasn’t happened, despite the saturation of daily life with the fruits of science, from our tiny smartphones to the massive machines that power our globalized mass-market economy. When it comes to some of the most important ideological, political, and moral questions we face, the principles of scientific inquiry—including even basic …

The Value of Knowledge

To no one’s surprise, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the mind behind the New York Times‘s 1619 Project, has spread a new falsehood. On Twitter, she confidently declared that school choice—a policy that allows families, not zoning laws, to choose their schools—“came about to stymie integration.” This claim is wrong in at least three ways. First, both John Stuart Mill and Thomas Paine recommended some scheme of school choice long before Jim Crow laws were introduced in the United States. Second, Milton Friedman, the popularizer of the policy, considered it a means to integrate American schools without top-down mandates. Finally, many segregationists came to reject choice, preferring school zoning laws as a means to achieve their racist agenda. Why would a journalist as renowned and supposedly well-read as Nikole Hannah-Jones make such a statement? What is critical thinking? While it is a bit simplistic to put it like this, the goal of education is to produce experts in various fields—be they historians, carpenters, or neurosurgeons. So, teachers and educators ought to be concerned with the question of what …

Politics vs. Mental Health: How the Culture War Blocked My Healing Process

Donald Trump may be one of the most intensely psychoanalyzed figures in American history, with many critics casually labelling him “narcissistic,” “egomaniacal,” and “sociopathic.” Even if you disagree with these characterizations, it’s difficult to ignore how common they’ve become. Looking beyond politics, Trump’s legacy may serve to reinforce a specious connection between political preferences and mental health. As I’ve observed firsthand, even before Trump’s rise, some therapists took for granted a link between progressive ideas and good mental health. Trump’s ascendance, along with increasing overall levels of political polarization, and the well-known liberal bias that marks the fields of psychology and mental health, has helped popularize this linkage. I was raised in a socially conservative family, in which we were taught traditional values, including respect for one’s elders, loyalty to family, and the sanctity of the soul. For the most part, we also learned a creed of self-reliance, and were discouraged from attributing personal failings to societal influences. The idea of mental health wasn’t entirely unknown to us—but it tended to be discussed in a …

Beating Up Boomer

Reviews of A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America by Bruce Cannon Gibney, Hachette, 465 pages (March 2018) OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind by Jill Filipovic, Atria/One Signal, 336 pages (August 2020) Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster by Helen Andrews, Sentinel, 256 pages (January 2021). Beating up on Baby Boomers is rapidly becoming the favorite sport of Gen-Xers and Millennials eager to deflect attention from their own privilege. Whether they are leftwing BLM sympathizers, card-carrying libertarians, or rightwing NRA members, there is one thing about which every American under 56 seems to agree: the Boomers are horrible. This month brings us the latest anti-Boomer manifesto, Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster by Helen Andrews, a senior editor at the American Conservative. Her book is among the smartest and most intelligent of the lot, but before we delve into its contents let’s take a look at some of the previous highlights of the genre. In 2017 Bruce …

BirthStrike: The Movement to End All Movements

“I love my nine-year-old son very much but knowing what I know about the future of this planet and the environment he is going to inherit… I have to be honest… if I was making that decision again I’m not sure I would make the same one. I fear for my son’s future.” These were the words spoken during a debate about the BirthStrike movement at the Battle of Ideas Festival in October 2019. Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns and Communications for Population Matters and seemingly an otherwise kind and caring father, effectively informed a packed lecture theatre that he wished his son had never been born, and did so while never questioning his role as a virtuous protagonist in this fatalistic narrative. Disturbingly, this kind of sentiment has now filtered out into a wider cultural malaise of anti-natalism that is increasingly seen as progressive and in humanity’s best interest. Such anti-humanist ideas have become prevalent in modern environmentalism, seized by radical movements such as BirthStrike. The BirthStrike movement “We feel too afraid to have …

Big Tech and Regulation—A Response to the Quillette Editors

Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter. And Facebook, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, Snap, Stripe, Discord, and—most crushingly of all—Pinterest. This was swiftly followed by a swathe of account purges across various platforms, ostensibly on the grounds that terms of service had been violated. Bizarrely, conservatives reacted to this development by lamenting the lack of arbitrary government intervention in private enterprise, while their liberal opponents celebrated corporate squashing of individual expression. If you don’t like it, build your own app. Arguably more important, if less sensational, has been the coordinated nuking of the efforts of those Trump fans who did, in fact, build their own app. Google and Apple banned conservative social media aspirant Parler from their app stores, effectively throttling its only viable distribution channels. Amazon then went a step further and revoked Parler’s right to host its site on its web service, AWS. For good measure, authentication service Okta and internet-to-telecoms interface platform Twilio withdrew their infrastructure too. If you don’t like it, build your own internet. The fallout has been intense and …

Why We Should Read Martin Amis

Written after his father’s passing, Martin Amis’s memoir Experience highlighted my project in the first chapter in the second footnote: When you review a film, or appraise a film-director, you do not make a ten-minute short about it or him (or her). When you write about a painter, you do not produce a sketch. When you write about a composer, you do not reach for your violin. And even when a poet is under consideration, the reviewer or profilist does not (unless deeply committed to presumption and tedium) produce a poem. But when you write about a novelist, an exponent of prose narrative, then you write a prose narrative. So, when a reviewer drafts a poor review, he or she is subject to the following question, “And was that the extent of your hopes for your prose—bookchat, interviews, gossip?” Answering his own question, Amis writes, “Valued reader, it is not for me to say this is envy. It is for you to say that this is envy.” Amis is a British novelist and essayist, who, …

COVID Has Forced Teachers to Confront Longstanding Problems—And Education Will Never Be the Same

The halls are eerily silent. No slamming lockers, talkative teens, or stairwell make-out sessions. Right about now, I’d gladly take a student yelling an obscenity in the hallway—even one directed at me. Or maybe even a fight to break up. Teaching this year is a lonely, ghost-town experience. In my physical in-person classrooms, I see fewer students in a whole day than I would normally teach in a single class. Visually, these spaces look like crime scenes, with caution tape delineating social-distancing sectors, and masks worn at all times. I’m told that Plexiglas dividers will soon be installed as well. I’m not here to critique the effectiveness of these measures. Rather, I’m focused on some of the lessons we’re all receiving as educators. Yes, COVID-19 is creating new problems for public schools. But it’s also exposing old ones, much as low tide shows us what debris lies under the waves. * * * Last spring, when the first round of COVID-19 lockdown orders went out, we went old-school—distributing hard-copy, distance-education “student learning packets.” As was …

Three Plane Rides and the Quest for a Just Society

In the paper that started the concept of “microaggressions” on its path to prominence, lead-author Derald Wing Sue recounts an incident that happened to him (an Asian American) and an African American colleague on a short plane ride from New York to Boston. Being a small plane with few passengers, Sue and his colleague were asked by a flight attendant (who happened to be a white female) to help balance the weight by moving to the back of the plane. They complied, but wondered why they had been asked to move instead of the three white men who were last to board, and who seated themselves directly in front of Sue and his colleague. “Were we being singled out because of our race,” Sue wondered, or “was this just a random event with no racial overtones?” Sue and his colleague—who was having the same thoughts—discussed the matter: Were we being oversensitive and petty? Although we complied by moving to the back of the plane, both of us felt resentment, irritation, and anger. In light of …