Suggested readings, #142

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Like COVID-19, the Black Death had its own “truther” movement, too. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been an inflection point of modern history, it is nowhere close to being the deadliest pandemic in human history. That dubious distinction belongs to the infamous “Black Death,” a bubonic plague that swept through Europe and the Near East in the mid-14th century. Like COVID-19, the bubonic plague was a terrible way to die, but with very different symptoms. The most notorious were the dreaded buboes (hence ‘bubonic plague’), severe inflammations of the lymph nodes that oozed pus and broke out over the groin, armpits and neck. A victim’s skin and flesh would eventually turn black and rot, although long before this happened they would experience intense nausea, vomiting, fever, headaches and aching joints. Within days — or, at most, a couple weeks — the infected person would die. … (Salon)

The great masquerade of evil. Writing a few short months before his arrest by the Gestapo in April of 1943, the German scholar, theologian, and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestled with the challenges of living in a context of evil. Bonhoeffer had opposed the Nazi regime from its inception, delivering a critical radio address just two days after Hitler’s rise to power ten years earlier. Deeply at odds with Lutheran leaders who acceded to, and even cooperated with, Nazi influence on the German churches, he helped to found the breakaway Confessing Church movement set against such influence. In 1935 he participated in organizing an underground seminary to train pastors for these new churches, serving as the leader of that residential community until it was disbanded by Hitler’s government in 1937. … (the Raven)

How to pray to a dead God. On an evening in 1851, a mutton-chopped 28-year-old English poet and critic looked out at the English Channel with his new bride. Walking along the white chalk cliffs of Dover, jagged and streaked black with flint as if the coast had just been ripped from the Continent, he would recall that:

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams, and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. … (Aeon)

The gender wars and academic freedom. Philosophical arguments regarding academic freedom can sometimes appear removed from the real conflicts playing out in contemporary universities. This article focusses on a set of issues at the front line of these conflicts, namely, questions regarding sex, gender and gender identity. As a philosopher and a sociologist, we aim to elucidate the costs of curtailing discussion on fundamental demographic and conceptual categories. We argue that these costs are educational in the broadest sense: constricting the possibility of shared learning and knowledge production, which in turn are vital to a functioning democracy. (The Philosophers’ Magazine)

How leftist theory stopped making sense. There exists a strand of social thought, stretching from Georg Hegel in the 19th century through to Max Weber in the early 20th and Juergen Habermas in the postwar era, that insists that a hallmark of modernity is the differentiation of forms of human knowledge. The sophistication of culture is defined in part by the autonomy of science, morality, and art from religion, and their mutual incommensurability. Any undoing of this development, according to these thinkers, would mean regression to a less sophisticated form of culture. … (Foreign Policy)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

4 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #142”

  1. The gender wars essay is on its best footing arguing against harassment and for academic freedom, but is overeager to baldly endorse gender critical talking points rather than play the neutral ref. For all its talk of encouraging discussion, it seems to come out of an echo chamber poorly conversant or at least reflexively dismissive of the other side of the debate. Like, holding up Littman’s work on ROGD as uncontested and comfortably verified, nothing to see here? Not only do trans people have a lot to say here, but so does, per the link below, “the Coalition for the Advancement & Application of Psychological Science (a group of 50 psych associations, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the World Professional Association of Transgender Health)”, which decided against the use of ROGD as a diagnosis “given the lack of rigorous empirical support for its existence.”

    I also don’t buy the notion that accusations of “transphobia” are an inherently illegitimate form of speech because they stifle debate. I’m sorry, but imagine MLK being told he couldn’t call segregation racist because it stifled segregationist speech? Or that we can’t call Kevin MacDonald an antisemite because it threatens his academic freedom, despite the fact that he’s verifiably been one of the most prominent purveyors of antisemitism for decades and yet retains his cushy position at CSULB? Sorry, but the question of whether or not the gender critical movement is a reactionary and bigoted phenomenon is part of the debate, and there is genuine evidence that its leading lights fit the bill:


    1. You are correct that sometimes positions ought to be dismissed outright. I’m not interested in conversing with a fascist, only to make sure he’s incapable to do what he wants to do.

      That said, I’m equally not convinced that the gender critical crowed doesn’t make some reasonable points. And I don’t think of myself as either a fascist or a transphobe.

      I’m not sufficiently familiar with the ROGD controversy to comment, but it is certainly the case that the entire field of clinical psychology and psychiatry has been in shamble of late, partly because of the replication crisis, partly because of the lack of empirical evidence connecting diagnoses to biological mechanisms. Which means that anyone who claims a high degree of certainty about these things is either a fool or has an agenda.


    2. Yeah, I don’t take you to be a transphobe, and just because someone’s gender critical doesn’t mean that all their positions on the subject are moot. I find their critics (as linked above, for instance) much more convincing, however.

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