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Toronto is back! Plus: Controversy at Princeton, bad feminists, the disinformation board up in flames, and international researchers publish a paper on the consequences of vaccine mandates
I went out a lot this week and I’m happy to report that the city is, finally, emerging from its epic slumber. At the Writers Room lounge the other night, it felt as if nothing had ever happened. Electricity once again coursed through the veins. There was laughter, there was animated conversation. Revellers toasted the night with cocktails named after Canadian literary legends (salut to the unburnable Margaret Atwood). And not one person looked like they’d rather be at home watching Netflix.
Toronto, it seems, is back. Wherever he is, I hope Drake is smiling.
I spent a fair bit of time this week talking with friends about the news that Princeton University has fired the acclaimed classics professor Joshua Katz. The story struck a chord with many in my circle, despite the fact that we are in a different country, everyone is well past university age, and all but one of us have never set foot on the Princeton campus. Why, then, did it resonate so much?
If you’re just getting up to speed: Katz is a superstar academic who had a years-long consensual relationship with a student roughly fifteen years ago, when he was in his thirties and she was in her twenties. He was later investigated for it, and, in 2018, was disciplined with a yearlong unpaid leave. In 2020, the university reopened the investigation.
Katz was, by then, engaged to marry another former student, a PhD candidate at Cambridge, Solveig Gold.
The second investigation came days after Katz sparked controversy with his criticism of a faculty letter on anti-racism measures, which he published in Quilette. Depending on who you read, The New York Times or The Daily Princetonian, this is either salient information or a gross misinterpretation of the facts.
The story is of interest to me on the grounds of free speech, of course. But perhaps even more so because of the questions it raises about sexual relations post-#MeToo.
I get that student/faculty relationships are unwise and perhaps even unethical. And that there should probably be something in place to prevent professors, who have enormous power over students’ career prospects, from abusing that power.
But I have to say that I find it profoundly disturbing that we’ve invited elite institutions into our bedrooms. It’s concerning to see intimacy — which is messy almost by definition — now being adjudicated by unaccountable bureaucracies.
I think it’s worth remembering that every aspect of the Princeton story involves consenting adults. Indeed, Professor Katz’s wife, Solveig Gold, who is now being painted as a victim, wrote a fiery essay at Common Sense this week, pressing this very point. Theirs is a relationship of equals, she stresses, and if anything she is the alpha. Who are we to disbelieve her?
The tear-down-all-norms progressive culture turns out to be surprisingly Victorian when it comes to young women.
It strikes me — and I am certainly not the first to observe this — that we have adopted pretty regressive views about young women in the wake of #MeToo. We have decided that they are fragile and vulnerable and in need of protection. And lacking in agency.
This reminds me of an incendiary 2018 essay from Margaret Atwood, “Am I a bad feminist?” and this paragraph in particular:
Nor do I believe that women are children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions. If they were, we’re back to the 19th century, and women should not own property, have credit cards, have access to higher education, control their own reproduction or vote.
One should be able to ask: Is not a woman in her twenties capable of making her own decisions? Should she not be free to make her own choices? If she is smart enough to get into Princeton, can we not trust her to pick her own sexual partners? And even to make her own romantic mistakes?
The post-#MeToo consensus, it should be said, also tends to view power in simplistic ways, and assumes that power differentials are predictable and static. But this is not always the case. Human beings are complex; relationships even more so.
Finally, on the specific matter of Gold and her husband: Life is hard, dating in this era is hard, and if two adults find a relationship that works well enough to get married, good on them. I fail to see how it is any of Princeton’s business.
For Lean Out, I recently spoke to Canadian social scientist Kevin Bardosh about a pre-print paper he authored, along with a group of international researchers, on Covid-19 vaccine policies. It surveyed 13 potential unintended consequences of vaccine mandates, and concluded that the mandates did more harm than good.
That paper has now been published. You can read it here.
When will Canada lift the vaccine mandates for travel?
The Globe and Mail editorial board would also like to know.
The American government has pulled back on its ill-advised disinformation board, and New York magazine’s Sam Adler-Bell has an interesting piece on why “The Liberal Obsession with ‘Disinformation’ is Not Helping.” Here’s the money quote:
“Disinformation” was the liberal Establishment’s traumatic reaction to the psychic wound of 2016. It provided an answer that evaded the question altogether, protecting them from the agony of self-reflection. It wasn’t that the country was riven by profound antinomies and resentments born of material realities that would need to be navigated by new kinds of politics. No, the problem was that large swaths of the country had been duped, brainwashed by nefarious forces both foreign and domestic. And if only the best minds, the most credentialed experts, could be given new authority to regulate the flow of “fake news,” the scales would fall from the eyes of the people and they would re-embrace the old order they had been tricked into despising. This fantasy turned a political problem into a scientific one. The rise of Trump called not for new politics but new technocrats.
Like other pathological reactions to trauma, the disinformation neurosis tended to re-create the conditions that produced the affliction in the first place. (Freud called this “repetition compulsion.”) By doubling down on elite technocracy — and condescension toward the uneducated rubes suffering from false consciousness — liberals have tended to exacerbate the sources of populist hostility.
The last word this week goes to Bari Weiss, writing powerfully about American madness, in her piece on the horror and heartache in Texas:
The dissolution of our social ties — and with them the accountability and responsibility that an actual community demands — has allowed insanity to fester unnoticed. Lockdowns accelerated the isolation, the purposelessness, the lack of meaning that was already overcoming us.
If we insist on viewing this shooting as part of some isolated issue or species of violence, then we miss the point. The point is the country is being consumed by what Philip Roth famously called “the indigenous American berserk.” It stretches back many decades, or longer, and for ages, it was possible to ignore or compartmentalize. Now the brokenness is everywhere we look and it is impossible to unsee it.