I went into this broadly sympathetic with Lukianoff's stated aims, but was thoroughly disappointed. I've read significantly more in-depth, informativeI went into this broadly sympathetic with Lukianoff's stated aims, but was thoroughly disappointed. I've read significantly more in-depth, informative and insightful blog posts (and even Facebook comments) on the subject. There's nothing new in here for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject, and Lukianoff's analysis is shallow and trite. There are plenty of much better discussions of recent anti-free speech trends available for free online....more
One reason it's so hard to talk sensibly about the current wave of online public shamings is that everyone's trying to take sides all the time; bringOne reason it's so hard to talk sensibly about the current wave of online public shamings is that everyone's trying to take sides all the time; bring up "donglegate" or #CancelColbert and most people immediately line up behind opposing barricades based on grand ideological or moral positions. So it's refreshing to read a book that pretty much sidesteps such issues and instead focuses on the human experience of both shaming and being shamed, online and in public. The result is funny, troubling, compassionate and utterly human.
Highly recommended, especially if you're someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter etc....more
This is the second book by Malik I've read recently - the first being From Fatwa to Jihad, a look at the Rushdie affair and its consequences. That booThis is the second book by Malik I've read recently - the first being From Fatwa to Jihad, a look at the Rushdie affair and its consequences. That book was especially strong on the way the anti-racism movement and notions of cultural identity have changed in Britain since the 1980s, and made a strong case that left wing politics took a misguided turn in the wake of the controversy around The Satanic Verses.
Strange Fruit is Malik's previous book and looks more broadly at the way we have talked about race and culture over the centuries, and what that can tell us about our current assumptions and political debates. It's a difficult and flawed book, but well worth reading and wrestling with. Difficult not in terms of readability (the prose is easy and fluid), but because it challenges many assumptions and values that have become deeply embedded orthodoxy among anti-racist progressives. The book's flaws are various: at times Malik oversimplifies in order to make things fit his historical narrative; his characterisation of postmodernism is narrow and simplistic; he puts too much emphasis on intellectual history and the writings of philosophers, rather than trying to reconstruct the everyday assumptions and attitudes of average people in different periods; his arguments can be a little sloppy at times, and structurally the book is a bit all over the place. With numerous books and a steady flow of columns and essays, reading Malik can feel like dipping into an ongoing non-stop debate - but a fascinating and important one that more people should be having.
One of Malik's key points is that left-wing and anti-racism activists have become colonised by the very racial concepts they once opposed, albeit now reframed in terms of respect for cultural diversity. This isn't some crude reactionary rant against positive discrimination (which I don't think is mentioned even once); instead, Malik's concern is with the underlying ideas and mental blueprints that shape our thinking about difference, individuality and society. At times, this critique seems on the money; at others, it feels a little forced and simplistic. Certainly, it's a difficult discussion to have, but a reader willing to examine and question deeply held positions and assumptions will get a lot out of this book, even if they end up disagreeing completely.
For me, I wonder if one of the problems with what Malik calls multiculturalism is not the wish to respect diversity, but how we define that diversity. By defining diversity almost entirely according to broad, contested, flawed and crudely constructed categories like culture, ethnicity, nationality or religion, we ignore individual diversity - within and across such groups, whereby individual people hold many conflicting beliefs, opinions, values and lifestyle preferences. Before long, we're forcing all kinds of people into the same crassly stereotyped boxes that racists have used for centuries, although now we rename them "cultures," "communities" or "faiths" and claim to be supporting them. In doing so, however, we end up suppressing those who don't fit the mold in which they've been placed, empower conservative forces who seek to define and dominate these communities and even deny individual agency and human rights to those trying to live differently. It also increases the legitimacy of good old fashioned racism, whose argument that racial identity defines and divides us into discrete separate groups now forms the basis of many progressive assumptions about "culture." Malik, in contrast, emphasises our common humanity and the right of every individual to challenge the constraints of culture and to pursue social and political progress.
At his best, Malik issues a powerful call to work for a society where everyone can live with freedom, dignity and equal rights, whatever their origin, background, parentage or colour. Whether you find its arguments inspiring or infuriating, this is a book to wrestle with, and I suspect I'll be arguing with it for some time to come....more