From the monthly archives:

January 2021

The Stock OBE

by Chris Bertram on January 4, 2021

A brief note stating my view of the decision of the British government to award leading “gender-critical feminist” and philosopher Kathleen Stock the Order of the British Empire for “services to higher education”. Nobody thinks that Stock has been awarded this honour for her work in aesthetics, nor that she has made contributions to higher education in the UK that exceed those of thousands of other university employees. Rather, Stock’s award has to be seen as just another example of Boris Johnson’s government using its powers of patronage to prosecute an “anti-woke” culture war. Other examples of this were the appointments of David Goodhart and Jess Butcher to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the granting of a peerage to a leading member of the Spiked! (ex-Revolutionary Communist Party) network, Claire Fox. Many of these decisions appear to have been taken at the behest of Trade (but also Equalities) minister Liz Truss, who recently made a bizarre speech name-checking Foucault and suggesting that local councils, somehow influenced by Foucault, had put race and gender equality ahead of teaching children to read and write. Truss has also made a point of referencing the conflicts around trans rights in articles for the Daily Mail. Goodhart, the new EHRC commissioner, has been a vocal supporter of the “hostile environment” policy that led to the UK’s Windrush scandal; Butcher is on record as saying that women who are subject to workplace discrimination should find ways round the problem rather than bringing formal complaints. Nobody reflecting on the values and agenda that led to Butcher’s appointment can believe that the government which gave Stock an OBE has a serious commitment to the interests of women. In a parallel case in which the Trump administration had used its powers of patronage to honour “gender-critical feminists”, I have no doubt that American philosophers who have applauded Stock’s award would see it for what it is: the instrumentalization of discretionary power to fight the culture war. I’ve deliberately avoided going into Stock’s views in this post, although I am not a fan. Rather, I’ve confined myself to things that everyone on this side of the Atlantic who is reasonably well-informed about the facts, including, I suspect, Stock herself, knows to be true. (Comments turned off on this post.)

That’s the headline for a piece that ran in the Canberra Times on New Years’ Eve, looking at the way borders separate families for serious reasons (like controlling the pandemic) and for frivolous ones (for example, because of spurious claims about the effect of migration on wages, or because people are uncomfortable about a changing population).

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Positive note #10: book reading (non-fiction edition)

by Eszter Hargittai on January 1, 2021

I’m going to end this little series of positive notes I started ten days ago with sharing several excellent nonfiction books I read in 2020. Last year, my goal was to read 52 books. A year ago I had set as my goal for 2020 60 books, not because I knew we’d all be experiencing a lockdown, but because I was supposed to be on sabbatical in the fall and figured I’d be able to make more time for it. (I was indeed on sabbatical this past fall, but I did not “go” on sabbatical in that I just stayed in Zurich rather than my original plan of spending it at my alma mater Smith College in a special visiting position. Fortunately, we were able to reschedule that for fall ’23.) It turns out, during lockdown March-May I didn’t read any books at all. I can’t explain it, but it’s not how I coped. Fortunately, during the rest of the year I caught up. I already posted separately my resulting fiction recommendations, now for the rest.

I started 2020 with a tough, but very important and well-written book: Know My Name by Chanel Miller. This is the story of the woman who had been sexually assaulted by Brock Turner on Stanford’s campus. She goes through so much of what happened in the aftermath including lots of discussion of the crazy legal system that lets people like Turner move on with their lives while the lives they assault are forever changed. I believe this should be required reading on university campuses. It would be very hard for 18-year-olds to process (it’s hard to process at any age), but valuable.


While we are on the topic of sexual assault, [click to continue…]