Fifteen years ago, North Korea banned John Bolton from the useless nuclear talks. “Such human scum and bloodsucker is not entitled to take part in the talks,” its foreign ministry declared.
North Korea had freaked out because then Undersecretary of State Bolton had called Kim Jong Il, a “tyrannical dictator” and life in the socialist hellhole, a “hellish nightmare”.
Bolton would later describe that as one of his proudest moments.
Back then, North Korea had defended the move by pointing out that Bolton’s views differed "from the recent remarks of the U.S. president". And so it could claim that he didn’t represent the United States.
Fifteen years later the game has changed. Kim Jong Il is dead and the President of the United States has called his successor, “little rocket man”, a “madman” and “short and fat”.
John Bolton very definitely does represent the views of this president.
And to prove it, President Trump has appointed him as his new National Security Adviser.
Bolton knew then that appeasing the North Korean dictatorship would never work. Bill Clinton’s bad North Korean deal paved the way for the even worse Iran deal. It took a decade and a half for an administration to actually listen to him. And his appointment sends a clear signal to North Korea.
The media had been buzzing that McMaster would be replaced by a more conciliatory figure on North Korea. The establishment even had their man all lined up. Trump also sent them a clear message.
President Trump is tired of the failed establishment foreign policy of appeasement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was replaced over the Iran deal. The new lineup of Pompeo heading the State Department and Bolton cleaning house at the NSC shows Trump is ready to get tough on the Mullahs and the Norks.
McMaster spent his tenure at the National Security Council ruthlessly forcing out Trump supporters while protecting Obama holdovers. His obstructionism enabled the leakers undermining the president. He refused to call out Islam, put a Hamas apologist on the Israel desk, and blocked the investigations of the eavesdropping and unmasking efforts aimed at the future president by Obama associates.
Now that’s over and done with. And the worst of the Democrats are already ranting and raving.
Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Gerry Connolly, Rep. Betty McCollum and many other lefties don’t want Bolton. Ellison called him, “dangerous”, Rep. Boyle dubbed him a “dangerous radical”, Rep. Bass accused him of “peddling hatred of Muslims”, and Rep. Don Beyer wailed, "Trump desperately needs tempered and measured voices around him, Bolton is neither of those things."
John Bolton is actually tempered and measured. He’s been tempered by his struggles against a bureaucracy more interested in protecting careerists and their agendas than defending America. And he has been measured by the President of the United States as a voice he wants around him.
Bolton is also a voice that the Freedom Center and its supporters have wanted around them.
The new National Security Adviser was a favorite speaker at Freedom Center events from California to Texas to Florida. From the Restoration Weekend to the Wednesday Morning Club, he was always brimming with confidence in this country’s strength and outrage at the betrayals of her leaders.
At a 2014 Restoration Weekend, Bolton powerfully indicted Obama for sending a "signal of American weakness" and urged the rise of a presidential candidate who would understand that, "a strong America is the best way to protect our interests and preserve the peace". Now that has finally come to pass.
Bolton is not the only familiar face from the Center in this administration. A Washington Posthit piece from last year bitterly complained that, “Since its formation in 1988, the Freedom Center has helped cultivate a generation of political warriors seeking to upend the Washington establishment. These warriors include some of the most powerful and influential figures in the Trump administration: Attorney General Sessions, senior policy adviser (Stephen) Miller.” And more are joining their ranks.
Larry Kudlow, the new White House economic adviser, has known David Horowitz since the founding of the Freedom Center and is a former member of the Center’s board. He joins Sessions, an Annie Taylor award recipient from the Center, Miller and now Bolton.
And they’re not alone.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke spoke at a Wednesday Morning Club.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine was nominated to head NASA. Senator Patty Murray attacked him for his appearances at "conferences at the David Horowitz Freedom Center". Rep. Bridenstine was indeed a popular Restoration Weekend speaker whose 2016 speech was about why Trump won.
“What other candidate would have talked about how Hillary Clinton attempted to silence and shame the victims of Bill Clinton? What other candidate would have brought up the fact that Hillary Clinton said that they were part of a vast right-wing conspiracy?” he asked.
And which other president would have made Bolton his National Security Advisor? Which other president would have picked Sessions, Miller, Kudlow, Zinke, Bridenstine and so many others?
It takes a warrior to pick the political warriors who want to fight to win. And who understand that standing up to bullies, thugs and tyrants is less likely to lead to a fight than surrendering to them.
Bolton and Kudlow are part of a vigorous new wave of picks by President Trump. They’re part of his strategy to remake the administration to better reflect his vision, his strategy and his message.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center has spent decades waiting for a man who would lead the fight. And it’s happy to see many of the political warriors who have rallied the troops at its weekends, who lifted spirits in the years when things were hard and convinced us that victory was on the way, in his army.
The fight is what it has always been: to leave America greater, happier, more prosperous, stronger and more secure than it has been in generations. There was a time when this vision was on the decline. There was a time when malaise and appeasement ruled the day. We were told that we had to cringe before dictators, accept the impoverishment of our economy and the narrowing of our horizons.
President Trump rejected that defeatism. As President Reagan had rejected it before him. And Bolton, Kudlow and Bridenstine represent vital elements of that rejection of despair and embrace of hope.
The common qualities that they share are optimism, determination and a willingness to fight.
Those are also the defining qualities of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, of Front Page Magazine, and of you, our readers, the men and women whose comments enlighten me and whom I have met in person at countless Freedom Center events, including our annual Restoration Weekend.
We believe that America can be great again. And we are willing to fight for it.
There was a time when that was a minority view. Now it’s becoming the majority consensus. There was a time when many took it for granted that we shouldn’t upset dictators or go big on the economy.
Fifteen years ago, North Korea got its way. That time is over.
President Trump’s choice sent that message to North Korea. But it also sent it to the appeasement lobby. The era of American weakness is over. The age of American greatness has begun.
The spectacular rise of Jordan Peterson has caught much of the world flat-footed. Discussions of the psychology professor from the University of Toronto tend to focus on the enormous popular movement his lectures have spawned, rather than the actual ideas presented in the lectures themselves. As a result, no one seems to know who the “real” Jordan Peterson is.
But there is a third Peterson, the Peterson of his debut book, Maps of Meaning, and the annual 40-hour long lecture series that shares this book’s name. This Peterson is the bridge between the other two, the key to understanding both his agitations as a culture warrior and his work as an academic psychologist. This is also the Peterson that inspires a religious sense of devotion among his followers. They are devoted not just to the man, but to his project.
And this project is grand. It is nothing less than the revitalization of Western civilization itself.
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Left or right, European or American, the one thing Westerners seem to agree on is that the Western model is failing. (See Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Has Failed, the biggest seller in political philosophy this year.) We are living through a crisis of faith in the liberal order. This crisis in political ideals comes on top of another crisis of faith—the crisis of faith, itself.
With declining faith in religious institutions and the collapse of trust in secular ones, the West is left bereft of shared moral bearings. Social order and community cohesion are either slowly dying or already dead (depending on your level of optimism). Some collective myths maintain the vestiges of cultural authority, but they are few and may not outlast the churnings of the current age.
This is the starting point of Peterson’s project. In essence, he asks: Is it possible to build up a new sense of moral order in a society that has stopped believing in—as he calls it—“the metaphysical ethic” of its youth?
Peterson insists that this undertaking is possible. The totalitarian regimes of the 20th century are proof that new moral systems can be created and entire peoples can be convinced—or coerced—into believing in them. But those creations came at terrible cost. In his books and lectures, Peterson returns again and again to moments of horror and torture culled from the history of these regimes. He reads scenes from Gulag Archipelago or The Rape of Nanking to shocked students and asks: How do we account for this behavior? What makes someone act like that? Beneath it all is an unstated question: Without the guidestar of traditional ethical systems, how do we ensure that no post-modern society creates a “moral order” like that again?
Peterson suggests that Nietzsche foresaw the problem of our times when he declared that God was dead. From this starting point, Nietzsche hoped mankind might realize a new, shinier moral order absent all of the baggage of the “slave morality” he attributed to Christian ethics. Peterson agrees with Nietzsche’s diagnosis, but sees his solution to be fundamentally mistaken: By his lights, the path to totalitarian terror begins with this Nietzschean impulse to bend human society to the whims of human will.
Peterson takes great pains to prove that humans cannot simply “be” whatever they will themselves to become. We are hardwired to act and feel in certain ways. In his Maps of Meaning lectures and book special attention is paid to the neuroscience of emotion and the role emotions play in regulating human behavior. As Peterson tells it, humans, like all animals with relatively advanced brains, create mental maps of the world they live in. The correspondence between the map we make in our heads and the reality we live on the ground in is a prerequisite for emotional stability.
But the maps humans make are more complex than the maps a rat or cat might have in its head, for we endow our surroundings with social and sacred meanings. More important still, we must negotiate our maps with other humans. Customs, rituals, and hierarchies are, in Peterson’s view, the tools humans use to keep our shared maps of the world stable—and by extension, emotionally satisfying.
One implication of all this is that certain human behaviors—especially those related to creativity or the emotional drive to enact social narratives—are hardwired into the brain. They are just as much a part of human nature as the sex drive.
Peterson argues that the catastrophic mistake of the totalitarians lies here: They assumed that all nature, including human nature, could be subjected to dictates of human will. They never understood how much of human nature was innate and unmalleable. Peterson describes totalitarian movements a little bit like how nutritionists describe sugary treats: modern inventions that take the impulses of our evolutionary heritage to unhealthy extremes.
As he sees it, the totalitarians did create narratives and rituals to regulate behavior; they were excellent myth makers, and their rationally-constructed myths were wonderfully adapted to hijack the emotional drivers of the human brain. But in the end the gap between the mental map the totalitarians wished to impose on society and the actual society they lived in was simply too wide. It was their increasingly frantic attempts to force the territory to match the map that led to their acts of incredible brutality and destruction.
For Peterson, the totalitarian movements are a cautionary tale about the limits of a rationalist social order built from first principles. But Peterson also postulates that humans need a set of transcendent myths, narratives, and rituals to live an emotionally healthy life. If a metaphysical ethic cannot be rationally built from first principles, then where can it be found?
Peterson suggests that the guiding myths of the future will be found where they always were: in the great books, religious texts, and rituals of the human past. If we can admit that the ancients may have intuitively grasped aspects of human psychology that we are only just starting to discover through scientific methods, then there is a treasure hoard of material to draw from. As Peterson states in Maps of Meaning:
Careful comparative analysis of this great body of religious philosophy might allow us to provisionally determine the nature of essential human motivation and morality—if we were willing to admit our ignorance, and take the risk. Accurate specification of underlying mythological commonalities might comprise the first developmental stage in the conscious evolution of a truly universal system of morality.
Thus Peterson’s lectures on Biblical stories and the large passages of Biblical exegesis in Twelve Rules for Life. Peterson does not read the Bible as the living word of a Living God, but as a series of archetypes that provide a pattern of order and structure for human life. The appeal this has to millennials who have lost faith in God but still yearn for order and belonging probably shouldn’t be surprising. Peterson’s aim is to take such myths and stories and reformat them as rituals that can be re-enacted in the modern day: the building blocks of a new moral order.
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This is but a partial sketch of a much more complex thesis, a set of interlocking ideas that takes Peterson 40 hours of lectures and 300 pages full of diagrams and dense prose to lay out in full. The thumbnail is sufficient, however, to grasp both the scope of Peterson’s ambition and the myopia of his critics.
Yes, it’s true that some elements of Peterson’s quest to totalitarian-proof the Western world are shallow. His analysis of world mythology and religious imagery is built almost entirely on the writings of Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade. This a painfully limited foundation for the task at hand. And yes, there are a hundred ways one might pick at Peterson’s civilization-revitalization project. What’s striking, though is that most of Peterson’s critics don’t even seem to realize that this project exists. The liberal commentariat’s collective horror with Peterson seems instead to be rooted in an instinctive revulsion for his followers. “Does it bother you, that your audience is predominantly male?” journalist Cathy Newman asks Peterson, as if a message that appealed to young men is inherently sinful.
But is it so surprising that young men have found inspiration in Peterson’s musings? They are heirs to a faith tradition they no longer believe in. They are citizens of communities who have lost their cohesion. They are members of a generation trained to be cynical but exhorted since birth to somehow find a life full of “meaning.” Peterson has compassion for these dispossessed and recognizes that bad things happen to societies full of brooding, listless, and hollow men.
Peterson has critics from the Christian right, too, who seem to be disappointed that the answer to how to build a new moral order is “not them.” Charlie Clark’s review for Mere Orthodoxy is the best of the genre. Peterson “is not the next C.S. Lewis” (which is true) and noting that, his book concludes that people can save themselves “without God’s grace.” (Also true.)
This distinctly Christian critique of Peterson is more thoughtful (and certainly more interesting) than the reviewers who condemn Peterson merely for having the temerity to push back against progressive pieties. However, there is in these protests a certain unwillingness to engage with reality of our present moment.
The “Great Awokening” was this generation’s Great Awakening. The dam has already burst; the post-Christian tide has already swept Millennials well onto the pagan course. There will be no return to Christendom—not in the short term. “Benedict Option” type solutions might preserve Christian communities in the midst of this deluge, but they are only half a solution. They leave unaddressed what sort of moral order conservatives should support in this new post-Christian world.
This question deserves to be taken seriously. If America is destined to be a pagan nation, it is in our interest to ensure that America’s pagans are of the virtuous, not vicious, variety. It is possible to live honorably and morally without Christianity—entire civilizations have flourished outside the auspices of Christendom. But it remains to be seen if our civilization can so flourish.
To this end, I must salute Jordan Peterson. It takes foresight to recognize that the moral order of your civilization needs patching up; it takes chutzpah to believe that you can do the patching. Peterson’s patches are not perfect, but they are a useful starting point for an effort that is long overdue.
Tanner Greer is a writer and analyst currently based out of Beijing.
The Corporation: An Epic Story of the Cuban American Underworld By T.J. English 592 pp. $28.99 William Morrow
There is perhaps no better modern chronicler of organized crime and criminals than T.J. English. Combining the research of a historian with the narrative flair of a novelist, he’s chronicled bad men of Italian, Irish, Asian descent, along with the taking a bite out of racially-tinged crimes in the Big Apple.
English has covered some of the Cuba-Italian Mafia story before in his essential Havana Nocturne. But for this hefty tome, his focus is on Cuban-American crime and criminals in America.
And the whole thing swirls around the life and activities of one man: José Miguel Battle, or “El Padrino.” That roughly translates into The Godfather. Battle was obsessed with the mafia film saga, would quote lines endlessly, and many say even changed his voice at times to sound more like Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone.
An avowed anti-Castro true believer, earlier in life Battle participated as part of Brigade 2506, the 1,100 or so Cuban expatriates who fought in the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion. By all accounts, his actions proved heroic on the ill-fated expedition, and he saved many lives of his fellow expatriates. How the U.S. government and President John F. Kennedy screwed over those soldiers has filled other books, but it did allow Battle and his surviving members a ticket to the United States – initially through military service, and then citizenship.
Battle’s civilian criminal empire centered around his dominance of bolita– the ages-old, off-the-books lottery system favored by Hispanics and Cubans where kids, business people, and grandmothers of mostly lower class economic situations took a chance at betting on daily numbers with various amounts at stake and to win. At one point, Battle’s operations were grossing $2 million a week in New York City alone. All in cash, and worth millions more in 2018 dollars.
English’s narrative jumps from many locales including New York City, Miami, Cuba itself, Peru, and the unlikely venue of Union City, New Jersey were Battle started his empire. An empire that quickly expanded from gambling to drug trafficking, racketeering, money laundering, and even running a shady South American casino.
Like a revolving door, English introduces a cast of characters who may appear on a handful of pages, or pop in and out of the entire story. And sometimes, it’s hard to keep track of so many characters in such an epic narrative. Through, English also weaves an equally interesting story of the experience of thousands of Cuban Americans in exile in America, with thehated Fidel Castro looming large for decades.
There’s shadowy anti-Castro terrorist groups with names like “Omega 7” and “Alpha 66,” and a Scarface-like side story about the Mariel boat lifts of refugees coming to Florida and looking for work – any work.
Battle’s enterprise – which he called “The Corporation” – included a litany of shootings, beatings, assassinations, arson, shifting alliances trade-offs with dirty cops, cockfighting, heists, and sex. And as the body count piles high, victims are not always male and not always involved with Battle’s world.
There’s even dark comedy in the form of one Jorge “Palulu” Enriquez. He murdered one of Battle’s brothers, and then survived a dozen retribution assassination attempts over a decade (while losing a lot of blood from shootings and stabbings…and a leg along the way).
With Enriquez seemingly protected by a Divine force, the obsessed Battle even consulted black magic practitioners to make his target more vulnerable. He was eventually done in on the 12th try by assassins while lying in a hospital bed recovering from wounds suffered during the 11th attempt.
If all this sounds like it would make for a great movie…it will! Even before the book’s publication, the rights were sold to Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, and Benicio Del Toro has been cast to play Battle. And he’ll certainly have a chance to show his acting range, as Battle in this book can be at times evil, noble, vain, emotional, lustful, heroic, proud, and even a committed pet lover (he had a thing for taking in stray dogs by the dozens). Yet, he was also a man who could order the brutal murder of a mistress, possibly for embarrassing him in front of his crew with her hysterics.
Tracking Battle like a hound for much of many years of his empire was Miami cop David Shanks, who once found a live rattlesnake planted in his mailbox, likely by Battle as a sign to lay off. Fortunately, he realized the hissing coming from within was not the sound of cicadas and emptied two guns in it before opening.
In the end, the saga of “El Padrino” ends with somewhat of whimper. A very ill and defeated man by the time he pleaded guilty to racketeering (of all things) in 2006, he died the next year at the age of 78 from a host of ailments, though liver failure was the cause of record. But his deeds live on here, and English takes readers on the methodical criminal journey, every dirty step of the way.
Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
The diversity imperative demands dissimulation and evasion. The academic-achievement gap, the behavioral differences that produce socioeconomic disparities, and the ubiquity of racial preferences must all be suppressed in public discourse, since they undercut the narrative that white racism is the driving force in American society. This dissimulation was on display last week at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, when Dean Ted Ruger announced that law professor Amy Wax would no longer teach mandatory first-year law courses at the school. In a memo announcing his decision, Ruger accused Wax of “conscious indifference” to truth. It is Ruger, however, who has distorted facts.
Ousting Wax from her first-year civil-procedure class has been a desideratum of the academic Left since she published an op-ed last August celebrating bourgeois virtues like the work ethic, respect for authority, and sexual temperance. Wax was deemed a “white supremacist” for suggesting that not all cultures were equal in preparing people for participation in a modern economy.
In December, Dean Ruger asked her to desist from teaching first-year students and to take a leave of absence, in the hope that the controversy spurred by her op-ed would die down. As a “pluralistic dean,” he said, he needed to accommodate all factions in the school. Wax declined the request and reported the details of the conversation immediately thereafter to friends. (I was one of the people to whom she spoke.) Wax later described the conversation in a Wall Street Journalop-ed. Ruger denied her account through a spokesman, claiming that he had merely engaged in a pro forma discussion of her sabbatical schedule, such as he would have done with any other professor. Ruger’s version is not credible, though: in an informal survey, no law professor polled reports ever having a dean drop by his office to discuss a routine sabbatical. This alleged bureaucratic convention does not exist, unless Dean Ruger has only recently introduced it.
Ruger’s request that Wax stop teaching first-year students became non-negotiable, however, after a video dialogue Wax had recorded in September came to the attention of her opponents. On the video, Wax and Brown University economist Glenn Loury discuss affirmative action. Wax talks about how racial preferences hinder the ability of their alleged beneficiaries to succeed academically, by catapulting them into schools for which they are significantly less prepared than their peers; this negative consequence of affirmative action is known as the “mismatch effect.” At Penn’s law school, Wax said, she didn’t think that she had ever seen a black law student graduate in the top quarter of his class, and “rarely” in the top half. Loury asked Wax if the University of Pennsylvania Law Review had a “racial diversity mandate.” Wax answered “yes.” In his memo to the school, Ruger denied this point: “the Law Review does not have a diversity mandate,” he wrote. “Rather, its editors are selected based on a competitive process.”
By any common understanding of a “diversity mandate,” the Penn law review most certainly has one. In the summer of 2003, it created a new pathway for membership to solve the perennial lack of racial diversity among its editors. According to a contemporaneous Chronicle of Higher Education article, until then, students were selected based either on their grades or on a writing competition that assessed analytic and editing skills. Now, however, a third criterion would be added—a “personal statement,” in which an applicant might address the “challenges” he has faced, the “familial, cultural, or personal experiences that have contributed” to his worldview, and the “unique contribution” he would make to the review. The editorial guidelines explain that the personal statement allows the law review to find editors who bring “diverse perspectives” to legal scholarship.
Anyone familiar with “holistic admissions” will recognize this language, even had the architects of the personal-statement requirement not already explained that its goal was to increase racial diversity. Somehow, “challenges” and “cultural experiences” always pertain exclusively to underrepresented minorities. The percentage of editors selected via the personal statement, which is factored into a new composite score that includes first-year grades and the writing competition, may vary from year to year.
The 2003 Chronicle article was a rare public peek into law reviews’ diversity efforts, not just at Penn but across the country. Since then, the Penn guidelines have been closely guarded; any editor who discusses them with an outsider risks getting kicked off the review. But they remained in place as recently as 2015, according to a former member. There is zero chance that the review has since reverted to a purely meritocratic selection process, especially in the era of Black Lives Matter campus protests.
If challenged, Ruger might argue that the Penn law review’s diversity policy is not a “mandate,” since it was not imposed by the administration. But most such diversity policies are similarly self-imposed. Ruger might also insist that the process remains “competitive.” But the question is: would the candidates who compete via the personal-statement route have gotten on the review through grades or writing skills alone? If they could not have, then the competition is not universal but race-specific.
Ruger also accused Wax of saying during her interview with Loury that Penn’s black law students should not “even go to college” (whatever that would mean, since they have already gone to college). That, too, is a distortion, presumably intended to inflame the sentiments against her. Wax at that point in the discussion was speaking about college generally. She said in passing that while no critic of racial preferences is saying that black students should not go to college, some students should not. Wax was speaking generally, not referring to Penn law students in particular.
As for the low number of black Penn law students graduating in the top of their class, Wax’s observations about the mismatch effect accord with all available data. The Law School Admissions Council collected 27,000 law student records in the early 1990s, representing nearly 90 percent of accredited schools. After the first year, 51 percent of black law students ranked in the bottom tenth of their class, compared with 5 percent of white students. Two-thirds of black students were in the bottom fifth of their class. Only 10 percent of blacks were in the top half of their class. As mismatch theory predicts, bar-examination failure rates were also skewed, since students put into classrooms above their preparation levels will learn less than when teaching is pitched to their current academic skills. Twenty-two percent of black test-takers in the LSAC database never passed the bar exam after five attempts, compared with 3 percent of white test-takers.
Unfortunately, Wax overlooked the precautionary rule for criticizing affirmative action: avoid any generalizations that can be rebutted with an even vaguer generalization. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class and rarely, rarely in the top half,” she said, clearly speaking informally and from a subjective perspective. Ruger responded in his memo: “It is imperative for me as dean to state that these claims are false: black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law.” Ruger’s statement leaves unspecified what the “top of the class” is and how many black students over what period of time have graduated in it. But his assertion, as so broadly defined, is undoubtedly true. It is also not inconsistent with Wax’s claim that black students have graduated in the top half of the class, but “rarely.”
Ruger’s stated reasons for demoting Wax were that she had violated the confidentiality of students’ academic records and had put her impartiality regarding black students into doubt. The confidentiality charge is the only facially plausible one. Though Wax mentioned no students by name, and was speaking generally, to state even a provisional recollection that no black student has graduated in the top quarter of his class does allow an inference about the grades of all black law students. But if making such a statement is a punishable offense, then there will be a serious chilling effect on any discussion of the negative consequences of affirmative action.
Ruger says that black students may now “legitimately question whether the inaccurate and belittling statements she has made may adversely affect their learning environment and career prospects.” That is a calumny. Wax has won teaching awards from students and from faculty. There is no evidence that she has ever treated her students unfairly. And even if she were inclined to partiality, which she most decidedly is not, grading in first-year courses is blind.
If Wax’s statements about the mismatch effect are “belittling,” that is not her fault. She has simply dared utter the facts about black academic underpreparedness that the diversity charade works overtime to conceal. It is the perverse consequence of affirmative action that the people who pull back the veil on that charade are the ones accused of doing damage to minorities.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops.
Larry Norman was perhaps the most complex figure in 20th-century American music. He was a mess of contradictions, a singer with a message who grew more contradictory the more he tried to keep his message pure. He struggled quite visibly, grappling both with his own personal failings and with a movement that he helped start but which leapt beyond his control, mutating into something he hated and which had world-changing implications. Who was Larry Norman? He’s one of the fathers of spiritual rock music, “the Forrest Gump of evangelical Christianity”—which puts him on the front lines of America’s culture wars, though on whose side it’s hard to say—and the subject of Gregory Alan Thornbury’s fantastic new biography, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? The book, titled after one of Norman’s best-known songs, draws extensively on Norman’s personal archives, where he was thoughtful and introspective about his beliefs, work, and doubts, giving Thornbury’s work a level of insight and intimacy that’s all too rare among recently published artist biographies. When it comes to telling the story of an artist, what makes a good biography is not the fame or even the talent of the book’s subject, but the complexity of the figure and how that manifests itself through their life and work. Norman’s story has this in abundance. Why Should The Devil also serves as a primer on Christian rock, a critical analysis of the genre, and a compact history of Christianity in the latter half of last century, a period where Jesus went from a counterculture hero to all outcasts to a cynically deployed tool of the religious right.
Today, Christian rock is closer to sub-emo and ska in the extent to which it is maligned by mainstream critics, a statement Norman himself would’ve likely agreed with. (He died in 2008). He was a man of faith but also an artist of integrity, who wanted to push music forward and saw no reason why spiritual music couldn’t challenge audiences and rock at the same time. He played on the same bills as The Who, the Doors, and Janis Joplin, and later jammed with members of the Sex Pistols, and appeared onstage with Pixies frontman Black Francis. Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney were fans; U2 and Gun N’ Roses both cited him as an influence.
There are a number of fascinating through-lines in the book, each of which arise organically from the material and are explored in depth by multiple articulate perspectives; this isn’t a book of cheap shots.
One theme centers on religious pop art in general, and whether it should be accessible enough for secular audiences or geared toward the converted, and if so, whether it should challenge or celebrate one’s faith. On top of that, there’s an analysis of faith-based art on artistic grounds, with the argument it lacks the kind of inspiration or technical skill that would make it of interest to those who appreciate craftsmanship but aren’t there for the sermon. (This argument easily applies to the recent spate of Christian films, which have a loyal audience of the already converted but don’t even try to preach to any other choir.) The book quotes a Christian record executive who dismisses the genre as “not art” and “merely propaganda,” saying “it never relies on—in fact it seems to be ignorant of—allegory, symbolism, metaphor, inner-rhyme, play-on-word, surrealism, and many of the other poetry born elements of music that have made it the highly celebrated art form it has become.”
Norman, who pushed the envelope both artistically and thematically, is at the heart of these debates. He wanted it both ways, Thornbury writes: “He wanted to rock and he wanted to talk about Jesus, he wanted to follow Jesus and to offend other followers of Jesus, for people to enjoy his music but also be discomfited by it.” Of course this pleased no one; he was “too edgy for the Jesus people and too religious for the run-of-the mill rock fans.” Christian stores didn’t stock his records and secular ones didn’t know how to categorize him. (“‘Christian psychedelic’ was hardly a category.”)
He’s a fascinating character to have at the center of a book. Like Dylan, who had his own religious phase, Norman had a combative relationship with interviewers, lashed out at any attempt to define him, and grew discomforted with his own success. But there’s another layer to this, which is that Dylan resisted narrow definitions for his own reasons, while Norman viewed himself relative to a higher power. He was essentially preaching in his concerts, which made his popularity something of a moral paradox. The more popular he became, the more his music was about him as opposed to Jesus, even though the popularity meant more people were hearing his message in the first place.
His struggles are palpable and very relatable, and they’re far more interesting than the contract disputes and behind-the-scenes anecdotes that make up so many artistic biographies. Norman has his flaws and weaknesses (failed marriages, an apparent child out of wedlock he was reluctant to acknowledge), but he’s also sincere in his message. The core of the book is what it means to truly be a Christian in the mold of Jesus, and what a life like that looks like. Certainly there’s something parable-esque about how Norman preferred spend time with “honest, albeit crass-talking” punk rockers, rather than suffering through “the pious spiritual mumbo-jumbo from his fellow CCM artists.”
There’s something exhilarating in the example Norman sets: He rails against religious institutions for their racism and other sins, and is dismayed when the Republican Party co-opts Jesus and ignores his message of love, tolerance, and helping the misfortunate. At one point he’s the subject of a smear campaign, as an establishment that doesn’t want to be questioned grows threatened by his willingness to call out all sinners, particularly those in religious power. At times he seems to take umbrage at everyone, including his own fans; he “would often stop playing [in concert] if people started clapping during his songs or singing along. His main interest was forcing his audience toward self-examination, so if people were having fun at his concert, Larry though, they probably weren’t thinking hard enough.”
Thornbury captures this personality its all its complexity, and by the end Norman seems like one of the great unsung cultural figures of the era. It’s hard to not have affection for an artist who views clichés as a sin (“maybe not to God, but to the muse of art”) and who can go from chewing out his own sound crew (“Could you turn the guitar up on the dial just past where it says ‘folk music?’ ... This is rock ’n’ roll, okay? Louder is better.”) to dismissing the genre he pioneered with a joke. “As for mixing God with rock music,” he muses at one point, “well, maybe with God all things are possible, but this was not one of them.”
Jordan Peterson, the Canadian clinical psychologist, is having an enormous impact on our culture. His refusal to use legally mandated language has reverberatedaround the world.
He is obviously rattling leftists as they continue to make hysterical claims about him. The most recent and long-winded example comes from Nathan J. Robinson, the editor of Current Affairs. He published an almost twelve-thousand-word essay in that journal. It's hard to believe, but even with all those words he lands not a single blow on Peterson. He does manage to make a complete fool of himself.
His essay begins by listing an impressive group of people, including the head of Harvard's Psychology Department, who praise Peterson's work. He then sets out to try to prove them all wrong. He also lists a large number of writers who have treated Peterson unfairly. He then supersedes them all. There is no way to cover all the silliness in this piece, but I can explain a few of the problems in it. If you think I'm making this stuff up, by all means, read the whole messy, wordy essay.
Robinson has a long windup. There are many long paragraphs with snide remarks and hand-crafted editing designed to make Peterson look vague. The man is anything but vague. Finally, we arrive at the first factual disagreement with Peterson. In the famous interview with Cathy Newman, Jordan said that you now have more female than male doctors, and the trend in that direction is accelerating.
Robinson tells us there are not more female than male physicians either in the U.S. or Canada. (In context, you can hear the rim shot.) It's worth dwelling on this supposed killer line. Peterson was in England being interviewed by Newman. His English interviewer is pelting him with questions about the lack of female executives in England. Jordan explained that women are often drawn to alternative professions. For example, you, in England, have more female doctors than male. That's what he said, and he is correct. Don't take my word or his. Invest thirty minutes to watch a truly intelligent and, under the circumstances, gracious person at work in that half-hour interview.
While it's worth noting that trends in the medical profession in North America are moving in the English direction, the current ratios are not germane to the conversation Jordan and Ms. Newman had about England. It is fair to ask: was Robinson trying to slip one by, like a Clintonian lawyer, or is he just sloppy in his thinking? I think it's a combination of both in roughly equal measure. He, like many of his peers on the left, is half-cocked. That phrase will come in handy later.
The original basis for Peterson's worldwide notoriety is his objection to being compelled to use legally mandated language. This is a huge step beyond the current Canadian laws, which prohibit and criminalize certain speech. Robinson denies that the law does any such thing and that it's crazy to think speech would be criminalized. The link he provides looks moderate enough. It's the text of the law that simply adds gender pronouns to existing hate speech law. Robinson is careful not to link to the existing law, but we easily grasp its content by noting that the amendment is to the Criminal Code. I'm not a lawyer, so instead of the legal text, here is Wikipedia on that criminal code. Peterson is right.
Again, I don't think Robinson is lying. There is a funny space that some people on the left occupy that blinds them to facts. They are just very odd people.
To paint Peterson as a space cadet, Robinson presents a "random" transcript of 17 minutes of a YouTube lecture. He then dares the reader to read all the way through because it's so spacey. I lost the dare. In print, the lecture is full of anecdotes and asides that make it hard to follow. But if you have 17 minutes and have not watched Peterson, this YouTube lecture is a good one to start with. As a lecture, it is enlightening, in places very funny, and finally at the end a little sad. Two thoughts: Robinson may have shot himself in the foot, as some of his cohorts might actually watch this video. They will see Robinson in the same negative light as I do.
If you believe the claim that this video, which clearly does not translate to print, was selected "at random," please come to Florida, because I have some prime land for you. In today's world, you'll make a fortune growing oranges.
One of the reasons why unfettered speech is vitally important is that it's our only alternative to violence. Peterson makes a couple of recurring points here. One is that he, like most men, knows how to stand up to other men who have unfairly trespassed. We all know that in a serious – say again, serious – dispute, things can get physical. Peterson says in a variety places that no one respects a man who makes it clear that under no circumstances will he stand up for himself. His second point is that physical force is clearly prohibited between men and women. It is forbidden, and for good reason. But that prohibition can put men in an untenable position. It is important to recognize that problem.
Robinson reads this prohibition as Peterson regretting that he can't hit a woman. That's pretty amazing. Here is the video in question.
Decide for yourself. But our man doesn't stop there. He stoops to the lowest of all internet tactics: he quotes from the comments section. I never know who is serious or even who is, in a case like this, a troll saying things I've never heard right-of-center people say. I think Robinson understands the problem. Not for lack of trying, I can't find a place to leave comments on the Current Affairs website.
A recurring theme in Peterson's work is the need to fix yourself before you reform the world. The world is made up of complex systems. It requires a competence to change a complex system for the better. It is much easier to destroy a complex system than it is to improve it. One step on the road to competence is to fix yourself. Peterson says to develop some competence. Clean your room before you try to reform the whole world. While he means that literally, he also means it metaphorically.
This sends Robinson into a frenzy of lists of things that people like him aim to fix, and these things are of greater importance than a tidy room. He completely ignores competence. I do not have space here to debate all the issues, but it is clear that many of the reforms designed to help the disadvantaged have done more harm than good. Rather than get too far afield, I'll say just this: black unemployment is at an all-time low and continuing to improve. Liberals, progressives, socialists, or whatever had nothing to do with that. Programs they want to implement will actually undo this progress.
A final point: There is a paradox. Like me and many other folks on the right, Peterson is a fan of the socialist George Orwell. Virtually everyone knows 1984 and Animal Farm. Few people are familiar with The Road to Wigan Pier. It is a fabulous book that is divided in half. The first half is a heartbreaking picture of the brutality of working-class life in early 20th-century England. It catalogs what the left wants to call the contradictions of capitalism. But it's not that at all. It paints a clear picture of the deprivations caused by the social and personal disruptions of moving from near subsistence farming to an industrial economy. It's terrible, but so is what came before it.
Peterson spends many lectures movingly describing these deprivations. He is also, like many of us, interested in the second half of the book. In it, Orwell describes his total disgust with socialists. They are not interested in alleviating suffering. They are smug, resentful, bratty snobs who want to strike out at people. That pushed Peterson away from socialism, as it did me and many other people.
Robinson says we should work on our reading comprehension, because here is Orwell's conclusion: "To recoil from Socialism because so many socialists are inferior people is as absurd as refusing to travel by train because you dislike the ticket-collector's face."
I read that line as a teenager. My opinion has not changed: Orwell was wrong. Socialism puts the government in charge of all economic resources. When people realize they and all their relatives are mere economic resources, then the depraved nature of individual socialists takes on paramount importance. They are the inferior people who under socialism run everything – run it badly and run it cruelly. We see that in every instance, in every part of the world, where socialism's been implemented. When Orwell wrote Wigan Pier, socialists were neither nice nor competent. In Robinson, we can all see that they've gone downhill. Had Orwell lived to see the drivel published by Current Affairs, it's quite likely he'd rethink that quotation.
It is possible that Mr. Robinson's room is neat and tidy. His magazine and his writing are not. His work is creepy in its dishonesty. He should clean up his act. That would start with an apology for the garbage he's spread in this essay. When that's done, maybe we'll listen to his ideas for reforming the world. Well, maybe.