The Importance of Blasphemy | by Brian Stewart

Anyone who thought the age of plague might have banished the specter of religious fanaticism was disabused last week when a middle school teacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an Islamist fanatic for displaying caricatures of the prophet Mohammad during a class discussion about free speech. The assailant, a teenager of Chechen origin, murdered and then decapitated his victim before being killed by French police. Less than a fortnight before, there was a stabbing outside the Parisian offices formerly occupied by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which France’s interior minister also described as an “act of Islamist terrorism.”

The stubborn persistence of Islamist terror speaks to the durability of ferocious faith-based dogmas, one of which seeks to reintroduce secular Western democracies to the long-forgotten notion of “blasphemy.” This will only come as a surprise to those with short memories. Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa suborning the murder of Salman Rushdie for merely writing a novel reignited the old debate about the place of tolerance in an age of religious hatred. More than 30 years later, theocratic forces have grown more diffuse but also tenacious.

Religious pluralism has long been understood as the best means of suppressing and overcoming dangerous religious passions. “If there were only one religion in England,” remarked Voltaire, “there would be danger of despotism, if there were two they would cut each other’s throats, but there are thirty and they live in peace and happiness.” It would be delusional to believe that Voltaire’s native land is approaching despotism, but it isn’t quite living in peace and happiness either. (One suspects the author of Le Fanatisme, ou Mahomet le prophète might have expected this disharmony between the republic and its Muslim citizens.) France is not a country of one religion or two, but of many and none. Its secular state sits atop a largely post-Christian society that is increasingly contending with a phenomenon of what Emanuel Macron recently described as “Islamic separatism.” France is hardly alone among European democracies in housing a swelling and poorly integrated Islamic population, but its condition is advanced since a non-trivial number of the country’s six million Muslims risk forming what Macron calls a “counter-society.”

Around the world, numerous societies are beset by the spasms of violence produced by radical Islam. A new form of religious fanaticism, fueled by Islamist passions and enabled by progressive idiocy, holds what Timothy Garton Ash calls the “assassin’s veto” over what materials may be published and consumed. It has led to vicious and sometimes lethal attacks on freethinkers far and wide, while producing a climate of fear and self-censorship among those who would ordinarily criticize religious ideas without apology.

This is an intolerable state of affairs. The brazen intimidation of free expression and the innocent blood actually being shed (the vast majority of which is Muslim blood, as it happens) is evidence of a severe problem within the Islamic faith that requires criticism. It demands that a battle of ideas be waged against Islamism and on behalf of free expression. It is imperative that every government that claims to belong to the civilized world be fully engaged in this effort. This will not be easy. Such an open confrontation with Muslim totalitarianism will not merely elicit outrage among the most bloodthirsty factions of those believing Mohammed to be God’s last messenger on Earth. It will also be condemned by what the British Muslim writer and activist Maajid Nawaz dubs “the regressive Left,” which regards any scrutiny of Islam and Islamism as an act of “Islamophobia.”

In the weeks after the assassination of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, the liberal writer Jonathan Chait summarized the apologetics of this faction as follows: “On the one hand, religious extremists should not threaten people who offend their beliefs. On the other hand, nobody should offend their beliefs. The right to blasphemy should exist but only in theory.” He continued: “The line separating these two positions is perilously thin. The Muslim radical argues that the ban on blasphemy is morally right and should be followed; the Western liberal insists it is morally wrong but should be followed. Theoretical distinctions aside, both positions yield an identical outcome.”

It has been said often before, but in the aftermath of the two Parisian attacks, it bears repeating—both Islamists and their ostensibly secular defenders must be resisted. They must understand that the defense of universal human rights is not a provocation, much less a “phobia,” but a moral obligation. The campaign of undisguised menace against artists and writers and cartoonists who question or mock revered scriptures and religious figures is granted too much credence in certain quarters that proclaim to merely be respecting “Muslim sensibilities.” What these peace-at-any-price observers don’t grasp, however, is that it is only recently (with the rise of Wahhabism) that the portrayal of Mohammad has been deemed blasphemous. In any case, scrutiny of religious texts and prophets is a foundational element of the Enlightenment. Surrender that keystone principle, and what remains of the larger edifice?

The consequence of failing to prosecute this struggle in defense of freedom of religion and freedom of speech will be the steady erosion of tolerance and inquiry in the name of good manners. It could lead to what the British writer Kenan Malik has called an “auction of victimhood,” with offended groups competing to see if they can receive special exemptions and get their taboo images removed from the public eye. A decade after Jyllands-Posten published the Danish cartoons of Mohammad in 2005, it chose not to republish the Charlie Hebdo drawings, citing its “unique position” of vulnerability. Flemming Rose, the editor who commissioned the original cartoons, told the BBC, “We caved in.” “Violence works,” he added, and “sometimes the sword is mightier than the pen.”

The cycle of Islamist intimidation and secular surrender is fraught with risk. France faces the prospect of being split into rival nations: one that lives in a secular republic and another one that lives in the shadow of sharia and blasphemy codes, even if the Islamic law is de facto rather than de jure. If this fate is permitted to come to pass, the cause of civilization will lose a vital foothold in Europe, with repercussions far beyond the old continent.

The rising secularism and pluralism of modern societies has been a crowning achievement of the West. It need not become a problem so long as there is a staunch and pervasive belief in the legitimacy of the liberal creed. Without such belief, however, societies around the globe will be poorly equipped to cope with a confident and militant faith in their midst. And as long as this faith enjoys exaggerated deference and intellectual immunity, nobody’s throats will be safe.

Brian Stewart is a New York-based political writer primarily focused on US foreign and defense policy. You can follow him on Twitter @bstewart1776.


Death by affirmative action By Emil O. W. Kirkegaard

From a public health perspective, affirmative action probably mostly kills blacks and Hispanics. People prefer to befriend and date others who are the same race, and this ethno-centrism also applies to patient’s choice of physicians.

Affirmation action is used in admission to medical schools, i.e. they practice race quotas in favor of less intelligent races, in particular blacks and hispanics, and discriminate against whites and especially (East) Asians.

Affirmation action results in less intelligent people getting into schools.

Less intelligent people tend to drop out more, so we expect and do see higher drop out rates among blacks.

Even with differential drop-out rates by race, affirmative action results in less intelligent people graduating and eventually practicing medicine.

Less intelligent people have worse job performance in every job type. This is especially the case for highly complex jobs such as being a doctor which results ultimately in patient suffering including untimely death.

Thus, bringing it all together, affirmation action for race results in less intelligent blacks and hispanics being admitted to medical schools, and when they don’t drop out, they end up practicing medicine, and in doing so, they do a worse job than white and Asian people would have done, thereby killing people by incompetence.

100 Times Jeremy Corbyn Sided with Terrorists | Guido Fawkes


  1. Invited two IRA members to parliament two weeks after the Brighton bombing.
  2. Attended Bloody Sunday commemoration with bomber Brendan McKenna.
  3. Attended meeting with Provisional IRA member Raymond McCartney.
  4. Hosted IRA linked Mitchell McLaughlin in parliament.
  5. Spoke alongside IRA terrorist Martina Anderson.
  6. Attended Sinn Fein dinner with IRA bomber Gerry Kelly.
  7. Chaired Irish republican event with IRA bomber Brendan MacFarlane.
  8. Attended Bobby Sands commemoration honouring IRA terrorists.
  9. Stood in minute’s silence for IRA gunmen shot dead by the SAS.
  10. Refused to condemn the IRA in Sky News interview.
  11. Refused to condemn the IRA on Question Time.
  12. Refused to condemn IRA violence in BBC radio interview.
  13. Signed EDM after IRA Poppy massacre massacre blaming Britain for the deaths.
  14. Arrested while protesting in support of Brighton bomber’s co-defendants.
  15. Lobbied government to improve visiting conditions for IRA killers.
  16. Attended Irish republican event calling for armed conflict against Britain.
  17. Hired suspected IRA man Ronan Bennett as a parliamentary assistant.
  18. Hired another aide closely linked to several convicted IRA terrorists.
  19. Heavily involved with IRA sympathising newspaper London Labour Briefing.
  20. Put up £20,000 bail money for IRA terror suspect Roisin McAliskey.
  21. Didn’t support IRA ceasefire.
  22. Said Hamas and Hezbollah are his “friends“.
  23. Called for Hamas to be removed from terror banned list.
  24. Called Hamas “serious and hard-working“.
  25. Attended wreath-laying at grave of Munich massacre terrorist.
  26. Attended conference with Hamas and PFLP.
  27. Photographed smiling with Hezbollah flag.
  28. Attended rally with Hezbollah and Al-Muhajiroun.
  29. Repeatedly shared platforms with PFLP plane hijacker.
  30. Hired aide who praised Hamas’ “spirit of resistance“.
  31. Accepted £20,000 for state TV channel of terror-sponsoring Iranian regime.
  32. Opposed banning Britons from travelling to Syria to fight for ISIS.
  33. Defended rights of fighters returning from Syria.
  34. Said ISIS supporters should not be prosecuted.
  35. Compared fighters returning from Syria to Nelson Mandela.
  36. Said the death of Osama Bin Laden was a “tragedy“.
  37. Wouldn’t sanction drone strike to kill ISIS leader.
  38. Voted to allow ISIS fighters to return from Syria.
  39. Opposed shoot to kill.
  40. Attended event organised by terrorist sympathising IHRC.
  41. Signed letter defending Lockerbie bombing suspects.
  42. Wrote letter in support of conman accused of fundraising for ISIS.
  43. Spoke of “friendship” with Mo Kozbar, who called for destruction of Israel.
  44. Attended event with Abdullah Djaballah, who called for holy war against UK.
  45. Called drone strikes against terrorists “obscene”.
  46. Boasted about “opposing anti-terror legislation”.
  47. Said laws banning jihadis from returning to Britain are “strange”.
  48. Accepted £5,000 donation from terror supporter Ted Honderich.
  49. Accepted £2,800 trip to Gaza from banned Islamist organisation Interpal.
  50. Called Ibrahim Hewitt, extremist and chair of Interpal, a “very good friend”.
  51. Accepted two more trips from the pro-Hamas group PRC.
  52. Speaker at conference hosted by pro-Hamas group MEMO.
  53. Met Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh several times.
  54. Hosted meeting with Mousa Abu Maria of banned group Islamic Jihad.
  55. Patron of Palestine Solidarity Campaign – marches attended by Hezbollah.
  56. Compared Israel to ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.
  57. Said we should not make “value judgements” about Britons who fight for ISIS.
  58. Received endorsement from Hamas.
  59. Attended event with Islamic extremist Suliman Gani.
  60. Chaired Stop the War, who praised “internationalism and solidarity” of ISIS.
  61. Praised Raed Salah, who was jailed for inciting violence in Israel.
  62. Signed letter defending jihadist advocacy group Cage.
  63. Met Dyab Jahjah, who praised the killing of British soldiers.
  64. Shared platform with representative of extremist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
  65. Compared ISIS to US military in interview on Russia Today.
  66. Opposed proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
  67. Attended conference which called on Iraqis to kill British soldiers.
  68. Attended Al-Quds Day demonstration in support of destruction of Israel.
  69. Supported Hamas and ISIS-linked Viva Palestina group.
  70. Attended protest with Islamic extremist Moazzam Begg.
  71. Made the “case for Iran” at event hosted by Khomeinist group.
  72. Photographed smiling with Azzam Tamimi, who backed suicide bombings.
  73. Photographed with Abdel Atwan, who sympathised with attacks on US troops.
  74. Said Hamas should “have tea with the Queen”.
  75. Attended ‘Meet the Resistance’ event with Hezbollah MP Hussein El Haj.
  76. Attended event with Haifa Zangana, who praised Palestinian “mujahideen”.
  77. Defended the infamous anti-Semitic Hamas supporter Stephen Sizer.
  78. Attended event with pro-Hamas and Hezbollah group Naturei Karta.
  79. Backed Holocaust denying anti-Zionist extremist Paul Eisen.
  80. Photographed with Abdul Raoof Al Shayeb, later jailed for terror offences.
  81. Mockedanti-terror hysteria” while opposing powers for security services.
  82. Named on speakers list for conference with Hamas sympathiser Ismail Patel.
  83. Criticised drone strike that killed Jihadi John.
  84. Said the 7/7 bombers had been denied “hope and opportunity”.
  85. Said 9/11 was “manipulated” to make it look like bin Laden was responsible.
  86. Failed to unequivocally condemn the 9/11 attacks.
  87. Called Columbian terror group M-19 “comrades”.
  88. Blamed beheading of Alan Henning on Britain.
  89. Gave speech in support of Gaddafi regime.
  90. Signed EDM spinning for Slobodan Milosevic.
  91. Blamed Tunisia terror attack on “austerity”.
  92. Voted against banning support for the IRA.
  93. Voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act three times during the Troubles.
  94. Voted against emergency counter-terror laws after 9/11.
  95. Voted against stricter punishments for being a member of a terror group.
  96. Voted against criminalising the encouragement of terrorism.
  97. Voted against banning al-Qaeda.
  98. Voted against outlawing the glorification of terror.
  99. Voted against control orders.
  100. Voted against increased funding for the security services to combat terrorism.

Quite something when you put it all down in one place…

Karl Marx Was An Intellectual Godfather of Adolph Hitler | 

It’s often argued that National Socialism’s roots partly lie in Friedrich Nietzsche’s notions of “God is dead”, master and slave morality, and the Übermensch. But when it comes to the Nazi’s anti-Semitism, Karl Marx provided a lot of intellectual firepower.

Disturblingly, one rarely hears about Karl Marx’s anti-Semitism. Modern-day champions of Marxism never bring it up. Professors sympathetic to Marxism don’t assign reading material on the subject. The media never talk about it.

But it’s there. And perhaps no greater evidence of this lies in Marx’s essay, “On The Jewish Question”. Following, in all their repugnance, are excerpts therefrom.

“What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money.”

“In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.”

“What was, in itself, the basis of the Jewish religion? Practical need. Egoism”

“The god of practical need and self interest is money….The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world.”

“The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew.…As soon as society succeeds in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its conditions – the Jew becomes impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object.”

“The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.”

There’s a reason for the word “socialism” in National Socialism. That becomes clearer when the full name of the party is written out: The National Socialist German Workers Party.

To quote Adolph Hitler, “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.”

Planks in the Nazi party platform fell right in line with those of conventional socialism/communism. The Nazis demanded:

  • the abolition of all unearned income, and all income that does not arise from work;
  • the nationalization of businesses involved in cartels;
  • the communalization of department stores, to distribute to small business;
  • land reform, confiscation from owners without compensation any land needed for the common purpose, the abolition of ground rents, and the prohibition of land speculation.

So Nazism was much like conventional socialism, with its anti-business and anti-financial attitudes, and demonization the affluent. Nazism particularly demonized a subset of affluent people (many of whom weren’t even affluent), the Jews. Envious Germans prior to and during the Nazi period hurled accusations exactly in line with Karl Marx’s slanders, smearing them as swindlers and worshiping money. Never mind that their hard work, high levels of education, willingness to take risks, and willingness to be merchants early on (upon which other members of society looked down) tended to have a positive effect on income. Success breeds contempt.

Socialism/communism blames the world’s ills on economically better off people. But in some societies those people tend to be members of a certain religion or ethnic minority group – be they Jews in Nazi Germany, Armenians in early-twentieth-century Turkey, Chinese in Indonesia, or Tutsis in Rwanda. That makes them easy to identify and pick out. The minority group becomes synonymous with the wealthy class. By scapegoating the rich, they’re scapegoating the minority group.

So Marx in the nineteenth century helped sow the seeds for both Nazism and Communism in the twentieth.

Some say Marx was the most influential thinker who ever lived. If you measure that by totaling the number of deaths resulting from Nazism and Communism – over a hundred million – then yes, he was the most influential.

Patrick Chisholm is editor of PolicyDynamics.


Feminist group admits ‘pay gap’ is caused by women’s choices | Toni Airaksinen

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has finally admitted that the “gender pay gap” is caused primarily by women’s choices, not discrimination.


  • In fact, the AAUW’s own research suggests that only about 7% of the observed pay gap can be attributed to discrimination, with simple economic factors accounting for the remainder.


The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has finally admitted that the “gender pay gap” is caused by women’s choices.

In a recent article on the gender pay gap, AAUW Senior Researcher Kevin Miller concedes that the pay disparity between women and men isn’t caused primarily by discrimination, but rather by the personal and professional choices that women make.

“The gender pay gap is…not an estimate of the effect of discrimination.”   

These choices include the tendency of women to work fewer hours to focus on “domestic work” and accept “reduced job tenure resulting from breaks in labor-force participation to raise children.”

[RELATED: AAUW tells white feminists to ‘confront your privilege’]

Miller even notes that women tend to choose lower-paying jobs than do men, pointing out that dangerous jobs such as “construction, manufacturing, and transport” are predominantly done by men, while “most workers in health care and education occupations are women.”

The problem is that male-dominated professions tend to offer higher pay, he says, asserting that “parking lot attendants (usually men) are paid more to watch cars than full-time child care workers (usually women) are paid to care for children, even though child care workers are increasingly being pushed to earn a college credential.”

Citing data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, though, he also confirms that not only are women more likely to work part-time, but also that “among full-time workers, men work longer hours on average than do women.”

[RELATED: ‘#FeministHalloween’ costumes defy ‘internalized misogyny’]

While Miller cites women’s choices as the cause of the pay gap, he doesn’t suggest that women’s choices can solve it.

In response to a common question the AAUW receives regarding whether women should “choose higher-paying jobs,” Miller is mum on whether this could make a difference, merely noting that women can’t avoid  “societal bias by choosing a career in an occupation that is higher paying.”

The AAUW, which celebrates seven different equal pay days, has campaigned relentlessly over the past few years to argue that the gender pay gap is due to discrimination, but this appears to be the first article in which the organization takes a more nuanced approach to the issue.

[RELATED: AAUW: Humans will ‘walk on Mars’ before gender gap closes]

Indeed, Miller acknowledges that to the extent that discrimination against women actually does influence the pay gap, only about “7 percent” is explained by gender, according to AAUW research, while another study pegged the figure at 8 percent.

“The gender pay gap is an estimate of the actual gap in pay between men and women, not an estimate of the effect of discrimination,” he explains, though he then goes on to argue that discrimination is still a problem.

“These estimates of the gap due to gender bias and discrimination are smaller than the overall gender pay gap, but the gap due to bias and discrimination is still substantial,” he concludes. “Regardless of how much of the pay gap is due to gender bias and pay discrimination, the size of the overall gap—the difference in actual pay received by women and men—is still an important indicator of the economic inequality faced by women in the United States.”

Campus Reform reached out to the AAUW for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Safe spaces and ‘ze’ badges: My bewildering year at a US university |

Fear of causing offence on campus is stifling free thought – as I’ve found to my cost

The student in front of me, an Australian, found this hilarious: ‘Last time I checked, I was a girl.’ Her joke was met with stony silence. Later I realised why: expressing bewilderment at the obsession with pronouns might count as a ‘micro-aggression’. Next stop, ‘transphobia’.

It was soon obvious to my fellow students that I was not quite with the programme. In a class discussion early in my first semester, I made the mistake of mentioning that I believed in objective standards in art. Some art is great, some isn’t, I said; not all artists are equally talented. This was deemed an undemocratic opinion and I was given a nickname: the cultural fascist. I’ve tried to take it affectionately.

After a year on campus, on a course entitled ‘Cultural Reporting and Criticism’, I still feel unable to speak freely, let alone critically. Although it doesn’t apply to my own course, friends have told me about ‘trigger warnings’ that caution they are about to be exposed to certain ideas; the threat of micro-aggressions (i.e. unintended insults) makes frank discourse impossible. Then there is the infamous ‘safe space’ — a massage-circle, Play-Doh-making haven — where students are protected from offence (and, therefore, intellectual challenge).

During class discussions, I’ve learned to discreetly scan my classmates’ faces for signs that they might be fellow free-thinkers. A slight head tilt at the mention of Islamophobia, a gentle questioning of what exactly is meant by ‘toxic masculinity’. I was thrilled to see a scribbled note — ‘This is utter shit’ — on someone’s copy of one of the reading requirements, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (an introduction to queer theory). In this way, I found the members of my secret non-conformist book club.

We met in a disused convent in Hell’s Kitchen and discussed campus-censored ideas. We read Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus and Walter Benn Michaels’s The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. We were a diverse group: a Catholic woman, a black conservative man, an anti-theist neoconservative, a Protestant libertarian, and a quick-witted Spanish contrarian. We were united in agreeing that we should be free to disagree. We made our own unsafe space, and at the end of each meeting, we were invigorated and parted on good terms.


How Americans Became So Sensitive to Harm | Slight to moderate liberal bias

A recently published paper explains how “concept creep” in the field of psychology has reshaped many aspects of modern society.

A mother leaves her son in the car while popping into a store at a strip mall. She is charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A high school senior complains to her Facebook friends about a teacher and is suspended for “cyberbullying.” Students at Wellesley start a petition calling for the removal of a statue of a man in his underwear, claiming that the art piece caused them emotional trauma. So many residents of Santa Monica, California, claim to need emotional support animals that the local farmer’s market warns against service dog fraud.

Conor Friedersdorf / The Atlantic

How did American culture arrive at these moments? A new research paper by Nick Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, offers as useful a framework for understanding what’s going on as any I’ve seen. In “Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology,” Haslam argues that concepts like abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice, “now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before,”expanded meanings that reflect “an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm.”

He calls these expansions of meaning “concept creep.”

Although critics may hold concept creep responsible for damaging cultural trends, he writes, “such as supposed cultures of fear, therapy, and victimhood, the shifts I present have some positive implications.” Still, he adds, “they also have potentially damaging ramifications for society and psychology that cannot be ignored.”

Two stories illustrate how concept creep can be a force for good or ill.

Story 1: During the 1950s, third graders would climb into their parents’ cars and ride around without seatbelts. When stopping short, fathers and mothers would use their right arms in hopes of keeping their little ones from hitting their heads on the dashboard. These kids lived in houses slathered with lead paint and spent hours in family rooms thick with cigarette smoke. Today, there are laws against letting children ride around without seat belts, lead paint is banned, and there is such a powerful stigma against exposing children to second-hand smoke that far fewer kids suffer from poor health outcomes related to such exposure. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for the better.

Story 2: During the 1950s, third graders could walk to school, play alone at the park, or bike 10 minutes to a friend’s house without anyone worrying or objecting, so long as they came home for supper or before the street lights came on. Today, though kidnapping is just as rare, a parent who allows that same behavior is at risk of arrest or even losing custody of their children to their state’s child protective services bureaucracy. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for ill. In Hanna Rosin’s words, it  “stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”

Expanding notions of harm have transformed many parts of society for good and ill.

Concept Creep and Abuse

How did a working-class mom get arrested, lose her fast food job, and temporarily lose custody of her 9-year-old for letting the child play alone at a nearby park?

The concept of abuse expanded too far.

Classically, psychological investigations recognized two forms of child abuse, physical and sexual, Haslam writes. In more recent decades, however, the concept of abuse has witnessed “horizontal creep” as new forms of abuse were recognized or studied. For example, “emotional abuse” was added as a new subtype of abuse. Neglect, traditionally a separate category, came to be seen as a type of abuse, too.

Meanwhile, the concept of abuse underwent “vertical creep.” That is, the behavior seen as qualifying for a given kind of abuse became steadily less extreme. Some now regard any spanking as physical abuse. Within psychology, “the boundary of neglect is indistinct,” Haslam writes. “As a consequence, the concept of neglect can become over-inclusive, identifying behavior as negligent that is substantially milder or more subtle than other forms of abuse. This is not to deny that some forms of neglect are profoundly damaging, merely to argue that the concept’s boundaries are sufficiently vague and elastic to encompass forms that are not severe.”

Students of philosophy will recall Aristotle’s belief that virtue is a mean state between extremes—for every virtue, there are corresponding vices of both deficiency and excess. That conceit could inform how a society conceives of abuse. Seeing nothing wrong with a parent who verbally berates, mocks, and frightens a 7-year-old, or fails to take her to the doctor, the dentist, or the schoolhouse, merely because there is no physical or sexual abuse, suggests a vice of deficiency.

On the other hand, consider a parent who screams at their 13-year-old in a moment of anger, “You’re behaving so selfishly that I’m ashamed to be your mother!” To construe that isolated incident in an otherwise loving home as emotional abuse would be a vice of excess, and if it led to the child’s removal by child protective services, or an overzealous psychologist convincing the child that they are a victim of abuse, it could harm all involved as surely as could a vice of deficiency.

What Counts As Bullying

How does an honor student engaged in the oldest student pastime, complaining to peers about a teacher, wind up suspended with a “cyberbullying” mark on her record?

“The concept of bullying has spread from its original meaning to encompass a wider range of phenomena,” Haslam writes. “It has expanded horizontally into online behavior, into adult workplaces, and into forms of social exclusion that do not directly target the victim with hurtful actions, as distinct from hurtful omissions.” (For example,being excluded from a group of friends is dubbed bullying.)

Bullying has expanded vertically, too.

“Behavior that is less extreme than prototypical bullying now falls within its bounds,” Haslam observes, adding, “in some circumstances bullying behavior need not be repeated or intentional, and it need not occur in the context of a power imbalance as traditionally conceived.” This “concept creep” might square with our intuitions if, say, a “bullying” college student posted, on one occasion, a “revenge porn” video of a powerful pop star a few years his elder who he dated in high school.

Yet the same “concept creep” produced this excess, as reported by the New York Times:

Katherine Evans said she was frustrated with her English teacher for ignoring her pleas for help with assignments and a brusque reproach when she missed class to attend a school blood drive. So Ms. Evans, who was then a high school senior and honor student, logged onto the networking site Facebook and wrote a rant against the teacher. “To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred,” she wrote. Her posting drew a handful of responses, some of which were in support of the teacher and critical of Ms. Evans. “Whatever your reasons for hating her are, they’re probably very immature,” a former student of Ms. Phelps wrote in her defense.

A few days later, Ms. Evans removed the post from her Facebook page and went about the business of preparing for graduation and studying journalism in the fall. But two months after her online venting, Ms. Evans was called into the principal’s office and was told she was being suspended for “cyberbullying,” a blemish on her record that she said she feared could keep her from getting into graduate schools or landing her dream job.

One rant, reasonably mild, one time, by a teen against an adult in a position of authority. By this low standard, I’ve been “cyberbullied” over Twitter and email most days.

Expanded Notions of Trauma

Trauma originally referred to a physical injury to the body. In bygone wars, many who experienced what World War I soldiers called “shell shock,” and what is now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, were denied sympathy, care and treatment for their condition.

Thanks to “concept creep,” today’s veterans are treated better. Meanwhile, the concept of trauma generally, and PTSD particularly, is expanding to include lesser harms.

Haslam writes:

In recent years, trauma theorists and practitioners have proposed including childbirth, sexual harassment, infidelity, and emotional losses such as abandonment by a spouse or loss or a sudden move or loss of home within that range. These extensions are sometimes justified empirically by research showing that these events can precipitate PTSD symptoms (e.g., Carlson, Smith, & Dalenberg, 2013). Nevertheless, they represent a lowering of the threshold of severity for traumatic events.

A recent definition of trauma produced by the U.S. Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration exemplifies this lowering:

Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

This definition abandons most of the restrictive elements of DSM’s Criterion A.

A traumatic event need not be a discrete event, need not involve serious threats to life or limb, need not be outside normal experience, need not be likely to create marked distress in almost everyone, and need not even produce marked distress in the traumatized person, who must merely experience it as “harmful.” Under this definition the concept of trauma is rendered much broader and more subjective than it was even three decades ago.

Indeed, by the government’s definition, a Wellesley student who saw that statue of a man in his underwear, perceived the event as “emotionally threatening” and experienced “lasting adverse effects” on her “spiritual well-being” is a trauma victim. Since the same designation also encompasses victims of torture and brutal sexual assaults, and people who experience adverse effects as extreme as suicide, an inevitable effect of this “concept creep” is to leave us without language to distinguish classic trauma, even though isolating such cases might be useful or necessary.

Mental Disorder And Its Treatment

Creep in the concept of “mental disorder” has been much debated in elementary education. Are boys displaying normal restlessness in school classrooms being diagnosed with attention-deficit disorders and medicated so that they’re more sedate for teachers?

“Ordinary vicissitudes of childhood now find shelter under the umbrella concept of mental disorder,” Haslam writes, and with regard to the whole range of mental disorders, “recent editions of DSM sometimes loosen the criteria for determining where normality ends and mental disorder begins. This quantitative easing allows milder, less disabling psychological phenomena to qualify as disordered. Sometimes this relaxation of criteria takes the form of recognizing less severe ‘spectrum’ conditions, as with cyclothymia, a less impairing variant of bipolar disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome, a less impairing variant of autistic disorder, which has recently been reincorporated in the latter diagnosis, thereby vertically expanding it.”

Once again, alongside potential benefits of “concept creep” are significant pitfalls. Haslam worries, “By misrepresenting normal sadness, worry, and fear as mental disorders, the mental health professions overmedicate, exaggerate the population prevalence of disorder, and deflect resources away from more severe conditions.”

These trends within psychology have influenced the larger culture, and in doing so have raised another concern about “concept creep.” There are suffering people in the world for whom emotional-support animals really do prove vital companions. But the new ethic of never questioning anyone’s subjective assessment of their own psychological needs, in combination with a surfeit of people willing to game any system that allows (say) a beloved pet to accompany them, is unsustainable.

This was best illustrated by Patricia Marx, who wrote in the New Yorker about her successful attempt to get “an emotional support turtle” into a fancy Upper East Side art museum.

She succeeded in part because she had a letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

RE: Patricia Marx

Ms. Marx has been evaluated for and diagnosed with a mental health disorder as defined in the DSM-5. Her psychological condition affects daily life activities, ability to cope, and maintenance of psychological stability.

It also can influence her physical status.

Ms. Marx has a turtle that provides significant emotional support, and ameliorates the severity of symptoms that affect her daily ability to fulfill her responsibilities and goals. Without the companionship, support, and care-taking activities of her turtle, her mental health and daily living activities are compromised. In my opinion, it is a necessary component of treatment to foster improved psychological adjustment, support functional living activities, her well being, productivity in work and home responsibilities, and amelioration of the severity of psychological issues she experiences in some specific situations to have an Emotional Support Animal (ESA).

She has registered her pet with the Emotional Support Animal Registration of America. This letter further supports her pet as an ESA, which entitles her to the rights and benefits legitimized by the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It allows exceptions to housing, and transportation services that otherwise would limit her from being able to be accompanied by her emotional support animal.

The backlash to America’s “ever-increasing sensitivity to harm” is about a lot of diffuse, sometimes contradictory things, but it is partly about an aversion to being scammed.

Changing Views of Prejudice

Prejudice is perhaps the most controversial subject that Haslam tackles, tracing its evolution in the field of social psychology. Classically, “the prejudiced person holds hostile attitudes toward members of an outgroup.” Is that definition sufficient?

He writes:

Early social psychological researchers began with an understanding of prejudice as blatant bigotry, examining endorsement of hostile and derogatory statements about African Americans, Jews, and others. However, as rates of endorsement of these statements began to wane later in the 20th century, the understanding of prejudice was broadened.

McConaghy (1986) drew a distinction between “old-fashioned” racism, exemplified by endorsement of explicit bigotry, and a subtler and more prevalent “modern” racism. Modern racists, like so-called “symbolic” racists (Sears, Henry, & Kosterman, 2000), do not endorse direct hostility to traditional targets of prejudice but instead denied the continuing existence of racism and expressed opposition to affirmative action policies. It was possible to score high on a questionnaire measure of modern racism, and later sexism, without agreeing with any derogatory evaluations of the target group. Nevertheless, such scores were taken to indicate prejudice because they were conceptualized as revealing tacit negative evaluations and were associated with other indicators of prejudice, such as discriminatory behavior.

Within academia, “concept creep” expanded what counted as prejudice “from direct, expressed antipathy…to inferred antipathy,” and then the concept was expanded in two more ways. “The concept of aversive prejudice (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004) applies to liberally minded people who deny personal prejudice but hold aversions, sometimes unconscious, to other-race people,” Haslam writes. “These aversions are not based on hostile antipathy but on fear, unease, or discomfort.” And the idea of implicit bias—that subconscious attitudes and beliefs could shape actions—entrenched the notion that prejudice included negative racial sentiments held by people even if they were unaware of harboring them.

In yet another evolution, prejudice was no longer restricted to negative group evaluations. “The concept of benevolent sexism (Glick & Fiske, 1996) extended prejudice to include group evaluations that were at least superficially warm and positive,” Haslam writes. “Benevolent sexists idealize women as pure creatures who are too delicate and morally superior to inhabit the hurly-burly public world of men.”

And the concept of prejudice as understood in the academy would not be complete without mentioning the rise of the controversial microaggressions framework:

…some research implies that prejudice exists at least in part in the eyes of the target. Research on microaggressions (Sue et al., 2007), for example, takes the target’s perceptions of prejudice as clear evidence of its existence: If a target perceives a slight as evidence of prejudice, then it is taken as such, even if the slight is ambiguous and its author denies it.

Of course, many prejudiced acts are unambiguous, target perceptions may tend to be accurate, and denials of prejudice are frequently not credible.

Nevertheless, to count perceived discrimination and ambiguous microaggressions as unqualified instances of prejudice is to subjectivize the concept. In addition to this subjectivity, the concept of microaggression extends the concept of prejudice by encompassing acts of omission and phenomena that reflect anxiety rather than hostility.

Proposed examples include the faltering speech, trembling voice, and mispronunciation of words by anxious White therapists discussing racial issues with minority clients, and “the sheer exclusion of decorations or literature that represents various racial groups” in environments that they inhabit.

The scholarship behind each step traced above has generated too much debate to summarize let alone engage here. But it seems reasonable to presume that, as in every other realm, “concept creep” around prejudice includes both salutary improvements in understanding and expansions that could be perilously excessive.

What strikes me, considering controversies I write about within this framework, is that the “vertical creep” of prejudice isn’t necessarily the core reason people are at loggerheads.

Large majorities in America believe that there should be a powerful stigma against prejudice, as classically defined. If you’re overtly hostile to members of a racial or ethnic group, I don’t want you in my home or working for my company or living next door. Like most people I know, there is no group for whom I feel more aversion than racists and few political causes that I feel as strongly about as opposing prejudice.

Nor do I object to the academics who study lesser kinds of prejudice.

It’s useful to understand and study the fact that there are people “who deny personal prejudice but hold aversions … not based on hostile antipathy but on fear, unease, or discomfort.” I think that phenomenon is damaging and worthy of remedy.

I’m grateful for the scholars who are studying implicit bias, too.

But it seems like there ought to be clearly distinguishable words and concepts for klansmen and demagogues who deliberately stoke racial anxieties, on the one hand, and college students who take a test that suggests that they have mild, negative associations about a racial group, without harboring any animosity toward people in that group, acting badly toward any members of that group, or advocating for anything but full equality on the other. Those college students may be labeled “prejudiced” or “racist,” but few people will be inclined to exclude them from their homes or their workplaces.

When social-justice progressives on college campuses call for peers to be punished, socially or administratively, for “microaggressions,” like saying the word “fútbol” instead of soccer, or donning a tiny sombrero at a tequila party, or chalking Trump 2016 on a sidewalk, I wonder if part of what’s going on is that the punishment-seekers are saying, “That’s prejudiced” or “That’s racist,” and meaning, “That’s racist, the category that we all agree should be maximally stigmatized.” Whereas their critics reply, “No, that isn’t racist,” or “You’re wrong,” meaning not that the behavior at issue is or isn’t coherently objectionable in a way worth interrogating, but that, “Right or wrong, that behavior clearly doesn’t fall into the category of things that should, almost all of us have agreed, be maximally stigmatized.”

In this telling, “concept creep” exacerbates failures to communicate.

When a concept is stretched to include “milder, subtler, or less extreme phenomena than those to which they referred at an earlier time,” any earlier judgment or consensus about how best to respond to that concept no longer applies.

Why Are So Many Concepts Creeping In the Same Direction?

Concept creep is inevitable and vital if society is to make good use of new information. But why has the direction of concept creep, across so many different concepts, trended toward greater sensitivity to harm as opposed to lesser sensitivity?

Haslam endorses two theories.

One concerns the field of psychology and its incentives. “It could be argued that just as successful species increase their territory, invading and adapting to new habitats, successful concepts and disciplines also expand their range into new semantic niches,” he theorizes. “Concepts that successfully attract the attention of researchers and practitioners are more likely to be applied in new ways and new contexts than those that do not.” The other theory posits an ideological explanation. “Psychology has played a role in the liberal agenda of sensitivity to harm and responsiveness to the harmed,” he writes “and its increased focus on negative phenomena—harms such as abuse, addiction, bullying, mental disorder, prejudice, and trauma—has been symptomatic of the success of that social agenda.”

A third theory occurs to me.

Consider criminality, bullying, and racism. As fights against crime or bullying or racism intensify, crooks, bullies and racists try to hide their misdeeds; enforcers react—if a thief starts “innocently forgetting to pay,” a crackdown on the tactic is needed; if a bully starts kicking his victim under the table rather than punching him in the face, a definition of bullying as “open aggression” is shown to be flawed and insufficient; if racists no longer use racial slurs in public, but persist in using dog whistles, the latter are stigmatized. But efforts to encompass covert bad behavior tend to target increasingly minor acts, and more alarmingly, to rely on opaque or subjective assessments that capture some non-crooks, non-racists, and non-bullies. More innocents are thus searched or arrested or dubbed racists or bullies.

Invariably, this triggers a backlash and an ensuing debate that is muddled in a particular way. When critics of the criminal-justice system or progressive anti-racism suggest that society is now punishing some people wrongly or too severely, defenders of the status quo accuse them of acting as apologists for criminals or racists. The core of disagreement actually concerns whether concept creep has gone too far.

Jonathan Haidt, who believes it has gone too far, offers a fourth theory. “If an increasingly left-leaning academy is staffed by people who are increasingly hostile to conservatives, then we can expect that their concepts will shift, via motivated scholarship, in ways that will help them and their allies (e.g., university administrators) to prosecute and condemn conservatives,” he writes. “We can expect academic concepts to ‘creep’ in ways that increase the number of victims and the damages those victims suffer, and in ways that make it ever harder for anyone to defend themselves against ugly moral charges. Such politically motivated scholarship may sometimes originate in humanities departments rather than in psychology, but it draws heavily on psychological concepts and research, and it feeds back into the six streams of creeping psychological research that Haslam reviewed.”

For liberals who are skeptical of that explanation, he adds:

Suppose that the FBI was traditionally a right-leaning organization, like most law enforcement organizations. Suppose conservatives outnumbered liberals by about three to one from its founding in 1908 through the 1990s.

But suppose that during the administration of George W. Bush the agency began to lean much further to the right. After the 9/11 attacks, the agency’s culture became extremely hostile to liberals and Democrats, who were widely associated with the gravest threats to the nation. By 2012 the ratio of conservatives to liberals was fourteen to one. Do you suppose this transformation might affect the way the FBI did its job, or would you trust the agency’s professionalism to keep politics out of law enforcement?

Might the agency shift its resources toward conservative priorities, such as fighting terrorism and moral decay, while ignoring liberal priorities such as abortion clinic bombings, civil rights infringements, and environmental crimes? And might we begin to see law enforcement concepts creeping to the right, such that more and more citizens fall under suspicion of entitlement cheating, abetting illegal immigration, or subverting American values? Perhaps we’d even see the creation of brand new legal concepts such as “micro-treasons,” defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward the United States of America.”

The Harms of Excessive Concept Creep

Concept creep “broadens moral concern in a way that aligns with a liberal social agenda by defining new kinds of experience as harming and new classes of people as harmed,” Haslam writes, “and it identifies these people as needful of care and protection. As an expansion of the moral circle into new and milder forms of harm, concept creep might appear to be an entirely beneficial sign of moral progress. It defines previously tolerated forms of abusive, domineering, and discriminatory behavior as problematic, and extends professional care to people who experience adversity.”

However, he adds,  there are many reasons to be concerned about excessive sensitivity to harm:

  • “by applying concepts of abuse, bullying, and trauma to less severe and clearly defined actions and events, and by increasingly including subjective elements into them, concept creep may release a flood of unjustified accusations and litigation, as well as excessive and disproportionate enforcement regimes.”
  • “…concept creep can produce a kind of semantic dilution. If a concept expands to encompass less extreme phenomena… then its prototypical meaning is likely to shift… If trauma, for example, ceases to refer exclusively to terrifying events that are outside normal human experience, and is applied to less severe and more prevalent stresses, it will come to be seen in a more benign light.”
  • “…by increasing the range of people who are defined as moral patients—people worthy of moral concern, based on their perceived capacity to suffer and be harmed—it risks reducing the range of people who see themselves as capable of moral agency.” There is a tendency “for more and more people to see themselves as victims who are defined by their suffering, vulnerability, and innocence…The flip-side of this expanding sense of victimhood would be a typecast assortment of moral villains: abusers, bullies, bigots, and traumatizers.”
  • Expanding mental disorder “can pathologize normal experiences, generate over-diagnosis and over-treatment, and engender a sense of diminished agency.”

While Haslam and Haidt appear to have meaningfully different beliefs about why concept creep arose within academic psychology and spread throughout society, they were in sufficient agreement about its dangers to co-author a Guardian op-ed on the subject.

It focuses on how greater sensitivity to harm has affected college campuses.

“Of course young people need to be protected from some kinds of harm, but overprotection is harmful, too, for it causes fragility and hinders the development of resilience,” they wrote. “As Nasim Taleb pointed out in his book Antifragile, muscles need resistance to develop, bones need stress and shock to strengthen and the growing immune system needs to be exposed to pathogens in order to function. Similarly, he noted, children are by nature anti-fragile – they get stronger when they learn to recover from setbacks, failures and challenges to their cherished ideas.”

They continued:

A university that tries to protect students from words, ideas, and graffiti that they find unpleasant or even disgusting is doing them no favors. It is setting them up for greater suffering and failure when they leave the university and enter the workplace. Tragically, the very students who most need the strength to face later discrimination are the ones rendered weakest by victimhood culture on campus.

The unrest on university campuses has not just been caused by creeping concepts. Black and Muslim students, in particular, must endure ignorant questions and other indignities that other students rarely face. Diversity is difficult, and more must be done to make all feel welcome on campus. But universities should be careful not encourage victimhood culture, looping effects and greater fragility.

While I agree with the potential harms identified by Haslam and Haidt, I am less inclined than they are to see concept creep and increased, sometimes excessive sensitivity to harm as exclusively liberal phenomena. Within U.S. police departments, there are many examples of creep in what constitutes probable cause, as illustrated by the thousands of black and brown men thrown against walls and frisked in New York City after cops said that they made “furtive movements.”

Unlike postal employees and meter readers, police officers fearing harm from dogs kill them by the hundreds or perhaps thousands every year in what the DOJ calls an epidemic.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration and many Americans grew increasingly sensitive to harms, real and imagined, from terrorism. Bill Maher was fired from his show, Politically Incorrect, for saying that the al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the suicide mission were not cowardly. Dick Cheney declared, “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.” The invasion of Iraq was predicated, in part, on the idea that 9/11 “changed everything,” and that America could no longer afford to contain Saddam Hussein. The drone war illustrates creep in what is said to constitute an “imminent” threat.

Before 9/11, the notion of torturing prisoners was verboten. After the Bush Administration’s torture was made public, popular debate focused on mythical “ticking time bomb” scenarios, in which a whole city would be obliterated but for torture. Now Donald Trump suggests that torture should be used more generally against terrorists. Torture is, as well, an instance in which people within the field of psychology pushed concept creep in the direction of less sensitivity to harm, as the profession became complicit in the Bush Administration’s effort to get away with “enhanced interrogations.”

Concept creep can be necessary or needless. It can align concepts more or less closely with underlying realities. It can change society for better or worse. Yet many who push for more sensitivy to harm seem unaware of how oversensitivty can do harm. The insight that concept creep spurs progress and problems alike is important, especially for those averse to doing harm in the name of sensitivity to harm. If you’ve got dissents or insights to add on this subject, email


Intersectionality | Know thine enemy

It’s not that I don’t think we make the world a more just and fair place but intersectionality has morphed from an academic concept published in 1989 to a meaningless word to shout down anyone who thinks that merit is a virtue.

Anyway lets go down the rabbit hole…

Original Paper | Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics by Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Interesting take on it at the New Statesman

Less interesting take at Socialist Review



Male victims of domestic violence are being failed by the system | Skylar Baker-Jordan

“According to a 2010 study by Parity, a men’s issues campaigning group, more than 40 per cent of victims of domestic violence are male. Yet startlingly, as BBC London reported last week, there are no refuges in London (and only 18 nationally) that serve men. That is despite a nearly 80 per cent increase in reports from male victims between 2012 and 2016.”

“Men who speak out are already facing patriarchal and societal backlash. When they do, they have few places in which to escape the violence they face at home. Unless society can address the stigma surrounding male victims and the Government can provide refuges dedicated to protecting and serving them, this epidemic will continue to grow, with violent and deadly consequences.”