People who pretend to read as a status symbol are certainly obnoxious — but are they on to something?


When you first hear about a store called “Books by the Foot,” you might think: The name tells me they’ve got a whole lot of books to sell me. But it turns out this Washington, D.C.-area business is going for something far more literal.

Books by the Foot, Ashley Fetters tells us in Politico, “has become a go-to curator of Washington bookshelves,” offering “precisely what its name sounds like it does.” You call them and tell them how many feet of books you need. Maybe you tell them you’re a liberal; they send you books with the names of liberal…

Sometime last year I got an email from a philosopher I knew just a little bit — nobody you’ve likely heard of, just a sharp person with whom I had corresponded occasionally about this or that issue in some niche literature. They asked if I wanted to write a joint review of Cornell philosopher Kate Manne’s celebrated book Down Girl, offering as part of the suggestion a brief overview of some of their critiques of ideas in it, and they asked if they could remain anonymous in doing so. Their request to be anonymous didn’t strike me as at all…

Group dynamics, the definition of politics, and why politics is so unpleasant

“Among Us”

The new online party game my friends and students have been playing during lockdown is called Among Us. A social deception game in the mold of the classic Mafia (also called Werewolves), Among Us involves a spaceship’s “crew” which has been assigned a set of tasks along with one or more “impostors” who try to prevent them from finishing these tasks. The impostors can move in slightly different ways than the crew, can sabotage parts of the ship, and can kill crew members every so often. …

Does a tendency to reflexively empathize with the feelings and failures of men explain the structure of society?

Kate Manne

In 2017, Cornell philosopher Kate Manne’s book Down Girl, an academic treatise on misogyny, was published to great acclaim. Manne had become well-known for her non-academic writing analyzing sexism in the 2016 election, which she saw in the way Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was treated and talked about by everyone from left-wing “Bernie Bros” to right-wing Trump supporters.

Down Girl itself made a splash for two reasons. The first is that, through a complex and sometimes dubious philosophical procedure called “ameliorative analysis,” it redefined the term misogyny to apply to the arrangements, norms, and practices of a culture rather than…

Review of Cynical Theories by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay

Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay’s new book Cynical Theories proposes to outline the relationship between the “postmodernism” of the 1960s and what they’ve called elsewhere the “grievance studies” of contemporary academia. In so doing, it aims to explain the perspective of “woke” activism. The authors think such activism is based on a “complex spiritual worldview” similar to “tribal animism” or “hippie spiritualism” or “sophisticated global religions.” This worldview is “very peculiar” — so peculiar that it “even speaks its own language.” Due to what they see as its dogmatism and lack of contact with reality, it “at best [has] a…

The public meaning of what “canceling” refers to may be more a fuzzy web than a precise definition. It’s still bad.

We’ve all been writing a lot about “cancellation” and “cancel culture” recently. But defenders of certain practices of public critique have suggested that it’s ill-defined. And not unjustifiably. When has someone been “canceled”? What’s the difference between “canceling” and simply criticizing or even just disagreeing forcefully? In response to this, some Harper’s letter signatories and similar writers have attempted to give a definition of the term.

I don’t think this is a good strategy.

For something to be a cancellation means that it is caught up in a certain set of interrelated social dynamics. We should think of these dynamics…

On open letters, open debate, and how the arguments against illiberalism could be even stronger


On July 7th, an open letter appeared in Harper’s signed by many of my friends (including some Arc contributors and my college professors Roger Berkowitz and Ian Buruma). The open letter is about the increasing danger to social and professional prospects that one faces when one engages in public debate about certain kinds of sensitive topics. The letter is correct: That danger is increasing, and that’s bad (though perhaps, as some conservative critics of the letter have suggested, things have been bad for some time already). To the letter I say: “Yes, and…”

There are two elements to the “and,”…

On “White Fragility” and the psychology behind the critical reception to anti-racist reading lists

(Wikimedia Commons/Arc Illustration)

All over the country, people are putting together “reading lists” and “study guides” about race in America. On every list, and at #1 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, is the book White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo is white and writes, as I understand it, about white people — about how weird and awkward and racist they are and about how they don’t want to admit it or whatever. In particular, she writes about her (seemingly futile) attempts to “train” white people in corporate diversity seminars and workshops, for which she is presumably pretty well-remunerated.

Many people…

Oh my

Thousands gathered in New York’s Times Square for a demonstration organized by Black Lives Matter Greater New York. The group announced their plan to enact Law Enforcement Reform Policies and the “I CAN’T BREATHE ACT,” which would take actions against police violence. (Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/Getty)

Public health experts, on their own as well as through our media and our government, asked a lot from Americans during the coronavirus pandemic this spring. They asked that we stay home from school and work, that we miss or cancel events like weddings and graduations, that we avoid our loved ones in their precious final moments.

To do so, they relied on an image of expertise which was narrow and which avoided vexing questions of tradeoffs among values. …

I spent the year of 2009–2010 in law school, and Lewis Sargentich was my torts professor there, and my favorite professor. He was well-known for using a typewriter for syllabi; for using somewhat strange locutions to describe certain features of cases — for instance, he would say “this case sounds in contract” if he felt principles of contract law were more appropriate for evaluating it than principles of tort law; and for looking a bit like Santa Claus. …

Oliver Traldi

I’m a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

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