Thursday, December 30, 2021


The bacterium Yersinia pestis, bubonic plague, originated in China and had long lived harmlessly in the burrows of marmots and gerbils on the Tibetan plateau. Highly unstable climatic conditions, at their worst in the 1340s, caused changes in the disease and its hosts, and it spread to rats, rat fleas and humans. It was carried to the frontiers of Europe by Mongol armies, whose attack on a Genoese outpost in the Crimea led to the first recorded outbreak of the plague in Europe in 1346, the year of the English victory over France at Crécy. The disease reached Constantinople in 1347, and arrived in Weymouth in a ship from Gascony in May 1348. It was probably now being carried by humans and their fleas and lice, and was thus readily transmissible between people, which explains its rapid spread along established communication routes: from Weymouth to Bristol, Ireland, and up the Severn into the Midlands; then in the autumn from the east-coast ports into East Anglia.

During 1349 it crept across the whole island, averaging a mile or more a day. Soon after it arrived came the first deaths. Two weeks after that, the disease reached epidemic proportions: “Many died of boils and abscesses, and pustules on their legs and under their armpits; others frantic with pain in their head, and others spitting blood.” It was almost universally explained as a divine punishment for sin. The disease was unknown in Europe, so natural immunity was low, and 80 percent of those contracting it died, some within hours. The mortality rate was highest for the vulnerable, already weakened by a succession of harvest failures. Children, pregnant women and the elderly were particularly hit. So were the poor, living in more verminous housing, badly fed and clothed, and without servants to look after them once they were ill. So were carers—women and priests. But no earls died, and only one of the royal family.

Where entire households or communities were struck down, the direct effects of disease would be worsened by absence of basic care and by economic paralysis. In England, as across Europe, perhaps half the population died. Some communities were wiped out—in the manor of Wakefield it was noted that “the vill of Shelf is dead.” In Winchester, six parish churches were abandoned. Crops remained unharvested, livestock wandered. Yet if society was shaken, it did not collapse. Even the dead were usually buried properly: although half the population of London died, excavations at the plague cemetery of East Smithfield show that bodies were not just thrown into pits, but were buried neatly in individual graves—proof that family, confraternity and Church carried on. Vacant tenancies and offices were filled.

Even scaled-down war in France soon restarted, with its inevitable consequence, taxation. The unparalleled trauma left surprisingly few visible traces: England did not see the extreme religious reactions that appeared in places on the Continent. Though a large band of flagellants came to London from the Low Countries in 1349, whipping themselves and singing hymns outside St. Paul’s, few joined in. Subjected to unimaginable horror, people carried on, and so the disaster was survived. This resilience even created the opportunity for greater freedom and prosperity.

Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (117-118). [2014] Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, December 27, 2021


The Old Regime in Canada
Chapter XXIV, Francis Parkman
The Francis Parkman Reader,
New York, Da Capo Press, 1998, pp. 266-268

    Not institutions alone, but geographical position, climate, and many other conditions unite to form the educational influences that, acting through successive generations, shape the character of nations and communities.

    It is easy to see the nature of the education, past and present, which wrought on the Canadians and made them what they were. An ignorant population, sprung from a brave and active race, but trained to subjection and dependence through centuries of feudal and monarchical despotism, was planted in the wilderness by the hand of authority, and told to grow and flourish. Artificial stimulants were applied, but freedom was withheld. Perpetual intervention of government,—regulations, restrictions, encouragements sometimes more mischievous than restrictions, a constant uncertainty what the authorities would do next, the fate of each man resting less with himself than with another, volition enfeebled, self-reliance paralyzed,—the condition, in short, of a child held always under the rule of a father, in the main well-meaning and kind, sometimes generous, sometimes neglectful, often capricious, and rarely very wise,—such were the influences under which Canada grew up. If she had prospered, it would have been sheer miracle. A man, to be a man, must feel that he holds his fate, in some good measure, in his own hands.

    But this was not all. Against absolute authority there was a counter influence, rudely and wildly antagonistic. Canada was at the very portal of the great interior wilderness. The St. Lawrence and the Lakes were the highway to that domain of savage freedom; and thither the disfranchised, half-starved seigneur, and the discouraged habitant who could find no market for his produce naturally enough betook themselves. Their lesson of savagery was well learned, and for many a year a boundless license and a stiff-handed authority battled for the control of Canada. Nor, to the last, were Church and State fairly masters of the field. The French rule was drawing towards its close when the intendant complained that though twenty-eight companies of regular troops were quartered in the colony, there were not soldiers enough to keep the people in order. One cannot but remember that in a neighboring colony, far more populous, perfect order prevailed, with no other guardians than a few constables chosen by the people themselves.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


 “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson

[West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette,
319 U.S. 624 (1943)]  

[Jehovah’s Witnesses objected to a requirement for students to salute the American flag. They believe such salutes are due only to God. During WWII, [1943] when patriotism and the flag were especially important, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children of Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag in school against the teachings of their faith.]

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

YEAR 1989

Thus the year 1989, which the Left throughout the world had planned as a celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution—the beginning of modern radical politics, as it was argued—turned into something quite different: a Year of Revolutions indeed, but of revolutions against the established order of Marxism-Leninism. Not all of them succeeded. In March 1989 riots in Tibet against the Chinese occupation and its policy of genocide were put down with savage force. 

The next month, Chinese students in Peking used the occasion of the death and funeral (22 April) of the Communist leader Hu Yaobang, who had been popular with the masses but deposed by hardliners in 1987, to stage a major demonstration. By 27 April this had developed into an occupation by students of the vast Tiananmen Square in central Peking. Other mass demonstrations occurred in various Chinese cities, including Shanghai. On 15 May, student demonstrators, to the shame and fury of the Chinese leadership, disrupted a visit by Gorbachev to Peking, designed to be the first Sino-Soviet summit for thirty years. On 30 May, a 30-foot fibre-and-glass replica of the Statue of Liberty was erected in the square. 

This seems to have goaded the authorities, who had been holding inconclusive discussions with student leaders about ‘reforms’, into action. Large forces of China’s Red Army, overwhelmingly drawn from peasant soldiers from remote regions, to whom city-dwellers were natural enemies and students ‘parasites’, were concentrated around Peking. On the night of 4 June, the regime attacked, using tanks and infantry in overwhelming numbers, clearing Tiananmen Square, and in the process killing 2,600 people and injuring over 10,000. Despite rumours of divisions in the leadership and army commanders, the unrest was put down everywhere with great severity, and thousands were jailed.

Johnson, Paul. Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties.
HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 17, 2021


The Communist élites which seized power by force all over Indo-China in April 1975 immediately embarked on nationwide programmes of social engineering which recalled Stalin’s collectivization of the peasants, though in some respects they were even more inhuman. The best-documented is the ‘ruralization’ conducted in Cambodia by the Communist Khmer Rouge, which entered the capital Phnom Penh in mid-April, the American embassy having been evacuated on the 12th. The atrocities began on 17 April. They were carried out mainly by illiterate peasant soldiers, but they had been planned two years before by a group of middle-class ideologues who called themselves Angka Loeu (‘the Higher Organization’). Details of their plan had been obtained by a State Department expert, Kenneth Quinn, who circulated it in a report dated 20 February 1974.

The scheme was an attempt to telescope, in one terrifying coup, the social changes brought about over twenty-five years in Mao’s China. There was to be ‘total social revolution’. Everything about the past was ‘anathema and must be destroyed’. It was necessary to ‘psychologically reconstruct individual members of society’. It entailed ‘stripping away, through terror and other means, the traditional bases, structures and forces which have shaped and guided an individual’s life’ and then ‘rebuilding him according to party doctrines by substituting a series of new values’. Angka Loeu consisted of about twenty professional political intellectuals, mainly teachers and bureaucrats. Of the eight leaders, all in their forties (one a woman), five were teachers, one a university professor, one an economist, one a bureaucrat. All had studied in France in the 1950s, where they had absorbed the doctrines of ‘necessary violence’ preached on the radical Left. They were Sartre’s children.

It is notable that, while this group of ideologues preached the virtues of rural life, none had in fact ever engaged in manual labour or had any experience at all of creating wealth. Like Lenin, they were pure intellectuals. They epitomized the great destructive force of the twentieth century: the religious fanatic reincarnated as professional politician. What they did illustrated the ultimate heartlessness of ideas. In any other age or place, the plans of these savage pedants would have remained in their fevered imaginations. In Cambodia in 1975 it was possible to put them into practice.

On 17 April over 3 million people were living in Phnom Penh. They were literally pushed into the surrounding countryside. The violence started at 7 am with attacks on Chinese shops; then general looting. The first killings came at 8.45 am. Fifteen minutes later troops began to clear the Military Hospital, driving doctors, nurses, sick and dying into the streets. An hour later they opened fire on anyone seen in the streets, to start a panic out of the city. At noon the Preah Ket Melea hospital was cleared: hundreds of men, women and children, driven at gunpoint, limped out into midday temperatures of over 100 Fahrenheit. Of 20,000 wounded in the city, all were in the jungle by nightfall. One man humped his son, who had just had both legs amputated; others pushed the beds of the very ill, carrying bottles of plasma and serum.

Every hospital in the city was emptied. All papers and records in the city were destroyed. All books were thrown into the Mekong River or burned on the banks. The paper money in the Banque Khmer de Commerce was incinerated. Cars, motorbikes and bicycles were impounded. Rockets and bazookas were fired at houses where any movement was detected. There were many summary executions. The rest were told, ‘Leave immediately or we will shoot all of you.’ By evening the water-supply was cut off. What gave the episode its peculiar Kafkaesque horror was the absence of any visible authority. The peasant-soldiers simply killed and terrified, obeying orders, invoking the commands of Angka Loeu. Nothing was explained. The intellectuals who had planned it all never appeared.

Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, December 16, 2021


The policymaker undertakes multiple tasks, many of them shaped by his society’s history and culture. He must first of all make an analysis of where his society finds itself. This is inherently where the past meets the future; therefore such a judgment cannot be made without an instinct for both of these elements. He must then try to understand where that trajectory will take him and his society. He must resist the temptation to identify policymaking with projecting the familiar into the future, for on that road lies stagnation and then decline. Increasingly in a time of technological and political upheaval, wisdom counsels that a different path must be chosen. By definition, in leading a society from where it is to where it has never been, a new course presents advantages and disadvantages that will always seem closely balanced. To undertake a journey on a road never before traveled requires character and courage: character because the choice is not obvious; courage because the road will be lonely at first. And the statesman must then inspire his people to persist in the endeavor. Great statesmen (Churchill, both Roosevelts, de Gaulle, and Adenauer) had these qualities of vision and determination; in today’s society, it is increasingly difficult to develop them.

For all the great and indispensable achievements the Internet has brought to our era, its emphasis is on the actual more than the contingent, on the factual rather than the conceptual, on values shaped by consensus rather than by introspection. Knowledge of history and geography is not essential for those who can evoke their data with the touch of a button. The mindset for walking lonely political paths may not be self-evident to those who seek confirmation by hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends on Facebook.

In the Internet age, world order has often been equated with the proposition that if people have the ability to freely know and exchange the world’s information, the natural human drive toward freedom will take root and fulfill itself, and history will run on autopilot, as it were. But philosophers and poets have long separated the mind’s purview into three components: information, knowledge, and wisdom. The Internet focuses on the realm of information, whose spread it facilitates exponentially. Ever-more-complex functions are devised, particularly capable of responding to questions of fact, which are not themselves altered by the passage of time. Search engines are able to handle increasingly complex questions with increasing speed. Yet a surfeit of information may paradoxically inhibit the acquisition of knowledge and push wisdom even further away than it was before.

The poet T. S. Eliot captured this in his “Choruses from ‘The Rock’”: “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Facts are rarely self-explanatory; their significance, analysis, and interpretation—at least in the foreign policy world—depend on context and relevance. As ever more issues are treated as if of a factual nature, the premise becomes established that for every question there must be a researchable answer, that problems and solutions are not so much to be thought through as to be “looked up.” But in the relations between states—and in many other fields—information, to be truly useful, must be placed within a broader context of history and experience to emerge as actual knowledge. And a society is fortunate if its leaders can occasionally rise to the level of wisdom.

Henry Kissinger, (2014). World Order (348-350). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, December 13, 2021


I wrote Irreversible Damage because I knew the point of all the educational opportunities I received—opportunities my equally-qualified grandmothers never had—couldn’t be to plod through life as a well-oiled automaton.

What I told the students at Princeton—
Show some self-respect and reclaim your freedom

Abigail Shrier
December 8, 2021

I was so honored tonight to be hosted by the Princeton Tory, the Witherspoon Institute and the Tikvah Fund. The undergraduates I met tonight were clear sighted and brilliant and astonishingly well read. There’s so much on their shoulders. Here was my message to them.

The question I get most often—the thing that most interviewers want to know, even when they’re pretending to care about more high-minded things—is:  What’s it like to be so hated?  I can only assume that’s what some of you rubberneckers want to know as well: What’s it like to be on a GLAAD black list? What’s it like to have top ACLU lawyers come out in favor of banning your book? What’s it like to have prestigious institutions disavow you as an alum? What’s it like to lose the favor of the fancy people who once claimed you as their own?

So, perhaps I’ll begin by telling you a little bit about myself mainly because I’m not so different from many of you. I grew up, daughter of two Maryland State judges, in a multi-racial suburb in Prince George’s County, Maryland. I attended a community Jewish day school, which I loved. In high school, I worked as a stringer for the Washington Jewish Week and edited my school paper. I attended Columbia University, where I received the Kellett Fellowship for two years of graduate study at Oxford. From there, I earned my J.D. from Yale Law School and then clerked for a Clinton-appointee on the D.C. Circuit.

At the beginning of my clerkship, I accepted a setup with a guy from Los Angeles, and by the end of that year, had decided to follow my then-boyfriend to California. I took a job with a terribly prestigious LA firm, whose daily tasks nearly anesthetized me. I married my boyfriend, struggled to hold onto pregnancies, quit law firm life and had three children. I taught them to read and sang them songs very badly and wrote a series of unpublishable novels. Most people who’d known me before wondered what the hell I was doing.

I began writing a few op-eds for our local Jewish paper, one of which was spotted by a Wall Street Journal editor, who invited me to submit to the Wall Street Journal. I did, and in the course of that year, published 13 op-eds with the Journal. One of those op-eds inspired a reader to contact me and tell me the story of her teen daughter who was rushing into a sudden gender transition. After trying and failing to find an investigative journalist who wanted the assignment, I took it on myself. 

My investigations turned into a book called Irreversible Damage. All of which is to say: I’m not a provocateur. I don’t get a rush from making people angry. You don’t have to be a troll to find yourself in the center of controversy. You need only be two things: effective, and unwilling to back down.

Why am I unwilling to back down? Why wouldn’t I prostrate myself before the petulant mobs who insist that my standard journalistic investigation into a medical mystery—specifically, why so many teen girls were suddenly identifying as transgender and clamoring to alter their bodies—makes me a hater? Why on earth would I have chosen to write this book in the first place and am I glad that I wrote it?

You don’t have to be a troll to find yourself in the center of controversy. You need only be two things: effective and unwilling to back down.

If you’re here, you no doubt are familiar with at least some of the unpleasantness you encounter whenever you deviate from the approved script. So, again, what’s it like to be the target of so much hate? It’s freeing. That’s what I’d like to talk about tonight.

As an undergraduate studying philosophy, I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering whether my will was free. This is the metaphysical question of whether anyone can be said to have acted ‘freely.’ And most of the philosophers seemed to agree that our will wasn’t all that free. The hard determinists painted a world in which every human action was ultimately explicable by the wave function of elementary particles, ultimately leading neurons to fire—setting off of axonal conduction well beyond our control and none of which we directed.

Even if you weren’t a hard determinist, you struggled with the obvious problem that human decisions – and the reasons behind them—are structured by one’s upbringing, experience or even inborn personality traits, all of which shape our motivations. Compatibilists claimed that, at most, one could hope to live according to one’s own motives and preferences. That is, motives and preferences that were largely determined by things like personality. 

“The Actions of man are never free,” 18th Century determinist Baron Holbach once wrote. “They are always the necessary consequence of his temperament, of the received ideas, and of the notions, either true or false, which he has formed to himself of happiness, of his opinions, strengthened by example, by education, and by daily experience.”

I remember reading those lines as an undergraduate, tugged by the worry that Holbach was right: maybe our motivations were determined by our personalities and upbringing and received ideas. Today, I read them and think: if only.
In 2021, it seems a luxury to worry that a will determined and shaped entirely by received ideas and our own personality-driven desires might not be entirely free. Today, before any of us decides what it is we want, we open our phones and participate in our own manipulation at the hands of those who actively want us to think, and see, and vote differently than our own wills would have us do. If we were not entirely free before, in other words—we are far less so now.

Every dating app pushes us toward the same few attractive mate choices; Spotify presses us to like the same music; Amazon pushes us to purchase specific books and away from others. If you’re under the impression that the books Amazon recommends to you are based solely on a content-neutral algorithm, I can disabuse you of that fiction right now. I once asked one of my sources at Amazon, who was concerned about the ways the search results were being manipulated, whether he’d ever seen a book deliberately boosted. Yes, he said. Becoming by Michelle Obama. When that book came out—he told me—virtually every search you did led to the recommendation to buy the former First Lady’s book. And the opposite is also true. There are books that are never recommended by the Amazon algorithm, irrespective of how well they’ve sold or how likely a specific shopper is to buy them. Or, at least, there’s one such book. I’ll let you try and guess what it is.

But the larger point is, your will is being toyed with, subverted, manipulated. And in a fairly insidious manner. None of you will be shocked to hear that Google promotes certain search results in order to lead us to a certain perspective. But did you know that, for contested entries, Wikipedia assigns editors, some of whom are ideologically committed activists, many of whom have very particular views they want you to walk away with. 

If you form views based on those Wikipedia articles or reports by corrupt fact-checkers, if you act based on them, are you exercising freedom of will? Given that you’ve been spun and prodded along to a pre-determined conclusion by hidden persuaders, perhaps you aren’t. Perhaps you’re left in the same sorry state as the Moor of Venice: toyed with, subverted, manipulated. Acting out someone else’s plan, pointed in the direction that he wants you to walk.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years debating whether this kind of manipulation is at the root of our political divisions, but I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to an even more basic question: how it has interfered with freedom of conscience and ultimately free will.

When polled, nearly two out of three Americans (62%) say they are afraid to express an unpopular opinion. That doesn’t sound like a free people in a free country. We are, each day, force-fed falsehoods we are all expected to take seriously, on pain of forfeiting esteem and professional opportunity:

“Some men have periods and get pregnant.” “Hard work and objectivity are hallmarks of whiteness.” “Only a child knows her own true gender.”  “Transwomen don’t have an unfair advantage when playing girls’ sports.”

On that final example of a lie, the one about transwomen in girls’ sports, I want you to think for a moment about a young woman here at Princeton. She’s a magnificent athlete named Ellie Marquardt, an all-American swimmer who set an Ivy League record in the 500-meter freestyle event as a freshman. Just before Thanksgiving, Ellie was defeated in the 500-meter, the event she held the record in, by almost 14 seconds by a 22 year old biological male at Penn who was competing on the men’s team as recently as November of 2019. That male athlete now holds multiple U.S. records in women’s swimming, erasing the hard work of so many of our best female athletes, and making a mockery of the rights women fought for generations to achieve.

Ellie Marquart swam her heart out for Princeton. When will Princeton fight for her? Where are the student protests to say—enough is enough. When a biological male who has enjoyed the full benefits of male puberty—larger cardiovascular system, 40% more upper body muscle mass, more fast-twitch muscle fiber, more oxygenated blood—decides after three seasons on the men’s team to compete as a woman and smashes the records of the top female swimmers in this country, that is not valor—that’s vandalism.

Where is the outrage? Imagine, for a second, what it must be like to be a female swimmer at Princeton, knowing you must pretend that this is fair—that the NCAA competition is anything other than a joke. Imagine being told to bite your tongue as men lecture you that you just need to swim harder. “Be grateful for your silver medals, ladies, and maybe work harder next time,” is the message. Imagine what that level of repression does to warp the soul.

Now, imagine, instead, the women’s swimmers had all walked out. Imagine they had stood together and said: We will meet any competitor head on. But we will not grant this travesty the honor of our participation. We did not spend our childhoods setting our alarm clocks for 4am every morning, training for hours before and after school, to lend our good names to this fixed fight.

“Be grateful for your silver medals, ladies, and maybe work harder next time,” is the message. Imagine what that level of repression does to warp the soul.

I know why students keep their heads down. They are hoping for that Goldman or New York Times internship, which they don’t want to put in jeopardy. Well, any institution that takes our brightest, most capable young people—Princeton graduates!—and tells you can only work here if you think like we tell you to and keep your mouth shut, that isn’t really Goldman Sachs and it isn’t the paper of record. It’s the husk of a once-great institution, and it’s not worth grasping for. Talk to alums at these institutions: they sound like those living under communist regimes. That’s the America that awaits you if you will not speak up.

You who are studying at one of the greatest academic institutions in the country only to be told that after graduation, you must think as we tell you and recite from this script—why were you born? What’s the point of being alive? Computers are vastly better at number crunching. They’ll soon be better at all kinds of more complex tasks. What they cannot do is stand on principle. What a computer cannot do is refuse to lend credibility to a rigged competition—to refuse to strengthen its coercion—making it that much harder for the next female athlete to speak up. What the computer cannot know is the glorious exertion of the human will when it refuses to truckle in the face of lies and instead publicly speaks the truth.

Machines will soon be better than humans at all kinds of complex tasks. What they cannot do is stand on principle. 

I didn’t write Irreversible Damage to be provocative.  In a freer world, nothing in my book would have created controversy. I wrote the book because I knew it was truthful and I believed recording what I found—that there was a social contagion leading many teenage girls to irreversible damage—was the right thing to do. I also believe if I hadn’t written it, thousands more girls would be caught up in an identity movement that was not organic to them but would nonetheless lead them to profound self-harm. But I didn’t write it specifically to stop them. I wrote it simply because it was true.

When I testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in March, I started by stating that I am proud to live in an America where gay and transgender Americans live with less stigma and fear than at any point in American history. That is the glory of freedom as well—the chance for adults to live authentic lives and guide their own destinies. And allowing mature adults to make those sorts of choices for themselves is absolutely a requirement of a free society. Yes, you can reject the false, dogmatic insistences of Gender Ideology and still wish to see transgender Americans prosper and flourish and fulfill their dreams in America. I do.

I wrote the book because the story of one mom and her teen daughter compelled me, and so did that of the dozens of other parents who then spoke to me—mothers and fathers who sobbed as they described how their daughters had become caught up in a craze that seemed completely inauthentic to the child, but which they were powerless to arrest.

I wrote the book not because I believed the fancy institutions I’d attended would celebrate me, or even acknowledge me, after I had done so. I wrote it because I knew that the point of all the educational opportunities I received that my equally-qualified grandmothers never had, the purpose of all the sacrifices my parents had made for my education—for all the time my teachers and professors had taken with me—couldn’t be to plod through life on a forced march. The point of all the hours my parents and teachers and mentors had devoted to me, was surely not to become the world’s best-oiled automaton. The point of all of that privilege—and yes, I think that was a kind of privilege—was to be able to write and think as others lacked the will to do.

Spotify employees tried to hold that company hostage because they carried my podcast episode with Joe Rogan. Amazon employees threatened to quit if they continued to carry my book. GoFundMe shut down a grass-roots fundraiser by parents, who reached into their own pockets, to advertise my book. And the ACLU threw its entire, century-old mission in the garbage, all because of one book with which it disagreed. Joining these petulant mobs is not a show of strength, and it is not freedom. It’s closer to servitude.

I wrote Irreversible Damage because I knew the point of all the educational opportunities I received—opportunities my equally-qualified grandmothers never had—couldn’t be to plod through life as a well-oiled automaton. 

True, if you dare exercise your will, you may sit for decades on the Supreme Court, as the eldest member, the only African American, perform your duties admirably and with integrity, and perhaps not a single elementary school in America will bear your name. Does anyone doubt this is a discredit to his detractors—not to Justice Thomas?

I cannot claim to know if we are truly free in the metaphysical sense. But if the universe is anything less than thoroughly determined down to the last sub-atomic particle, then we must also agree that freedom admits of degrees. And if that is true, then we are far less free today in this decade—that you, as undergrads, have lost a significant measure of freedom that your parents once had.  Take it back.  Take it back. It’s yours to demand. Take back the right to speak your mind—thoughtfully, courteously, with a goal in mind beyond giving offense. The list of unmentionable truths expands so rapidly, without reason other than the attempt to suffocate a free people so that they forget the exhilaration of a lungful of air.

If you are someone who believes you have pronouns or would like to supply them, by all means, that is your prerogative. Whenever anyone asks me to use their preferred pronouns, and I can do so without confusing my audience or muddying an argument, I do so and I think this is an important courtesy. But—when asked, I will not state my pronouns and if you don’t believe in Gender Ideology, you shouldn’t either. When you state your pronouns, you participate in the catechism of Gender Ideology—the belief that there are ineffable genders, unknowable to all but the subject. That no one can possibly know I am a woman unless I’ve supplied these. I do not believe this. I regard this as nonsense. When asked for my pronouns, I say: “I am a woman.” Take back your freedom. Reclaim it now.

Psychiatrists and pediatricians tell me they are afraid to resist an adolescent’s demand that she be given puberty blockers because they’re afraid—if they point out the risks or the hastiness of the decision—they will lose their licenses. Parents tell me they are afraid to push back on the activist teachers and social workers at their kids’ school for fear of being called some flavor of phobe. Whatever freedom is—it isn’t that—and all of the wonderful education you have earned here will have been wasted if you find yourself one day observing some lie predominating in your own field and the best you can do is sit on the phone with me anonymously lamenting the state of things. You will soon be graduates of Princeton. Show some self-respect and reclaim your freedom.

It isn’t in those moments when you do just what’s expected that your will is tested. It isn’t in those moments when you recite the script that you exceed what any computer can achieve. Those moments when you managed to make yourself a faceless member of a pre-approved chorus will slide away as though you were never part of them.

The wonderful education you have earned here will have been wasted if you find yourself one day observing some lie predominating in your own field, and the best you can do is sit on the phone with me anonymously lamenting the state of things.

You will, each of you, have the chance to matter. You will find yourselves at hospitals or in banks or in courtrooms and at newspapers where you will see things happen that you know to be wrong—where you find that the standard line is actually a lie. You may have found yourself there already. If you’re fortunate enough, you may even find yourself one day with children of your own, knowing you are their best defense in this world. And you’ll feel the nub of your will, pressing you to do something—say something. And when that happens, don’t sit there like a sock puppet.

I’m 43, which I realize makes me very old to many of you. But not so long from now, you’ll wake up and be 43 yourselves. And when I look back on my life thus far, it occurs to me that the decisions of which I am most proud—the ones that strike like an unexpected kiss—are not the times when I obeyed the algorithm. They’re the times when I defied it and felt, for a moment, the magic and power of being alive. When I felt, even for an instant, the exquisite joy of not being anyone’s subject. When I had the unmistakable sense that I’ve existed for a purpose, that I stood the chance of leaving the world better than I found it. You don’t get any of that through lock-step career achievement and you certainly don’t get that by being the Left’s star pupil.

You feel that frisson when you choose a person to commit yourself to knowing full well that any marriage may fail; when you bring children into a world where there are no guarantees of their safety or success. When you summon the courage to fashion a life, something that will remain after you are gone. When you speak the truth publicly—with care and lucidity.  And when you say to the world: you cannot buy me with flattery. Purchase my colleagues or classmates at bulk rate. I am not for sale.

Thank you.

Monday, December 6, 2021


 “Fusillé par les Allemands” (Shot by the Germans)

            This “extremely aggressive guerrilla warfare,” as von Kluck called it, and especially the sniping by franc-tireurs at German soldiers, exasperated him and his fellow commanders. From the moment his army entered Belgium he found it necessary to take, in his own words, “severe and inexorable reprisals” such as “the shooting of individuals and the burning of homes” against the “treacherous” attacks of the civil population. Burned villages and dead hostages marked the path of the First Army. On August 19 [1914] after the Germans had crossed the Gette and found the Belgian Army withdrawn during the night, they vented their fury on Aerschot, a small town between the Gette and Brussels, the first to suffer a mass execution. In Aerschot 150 civilians were shot. The numbers were to grow larger as the process was repeated by von Bülow’s army at Ardennes and Tamines, by von Hausen’s in the culminating massacre of 664 at Dinant. The method was to assemble the inhabitants in the main square, women usually on one side and men on the other, select every tenth man or every second man or all on one side, according to the whim of the individual officer, march them to a nearby field or empty lot behind the railroad station and shoot them. In Belgium there are many towns whose cemeteries today have rows and rows of memorial stones inscribed with a name, the date 1914, and the legend, repeated over and over: “Fusillé par les Allemands” (Shot by the Germans). In many are newer and longer rows with the same legend and the date 1944.

            General von Hausen, commanding the Third Army, found, like von Kluck, that the “perfidious” conduct of the Belgians in “multiplying obstacles” in his path called for reprisals “of the utmost rigor without an instant’s hesitation.” These were to include “the arrest as hostages of notables such as estate-owners, mayors, and priests, the burning of houses and farms and the execution of persons caught in acts of hostility.” Hausen’s army were Saxons whose name in Belgium became synonymous with “savage.” Hausen himself could not get over the “hostility of the Belgian people.” To discover “how we are hated” was a constant amazement to him.

[Barbara W. Tuchman, [1962]. The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I; Barbara W. Tuchman's Great War Series (Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books) (Kindle Locations 4338-4354). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]