1. Opinion

Selected readings from the left and from the right

Published Feb. 17, 2017

Since we live in such a partisan world, our news consumption habits can reflect our own biases – and reinforce rather than challenge assumptions. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook by offering reading suggestions from the right (for those on the left) and from the left (for those on the right). None of these essays are typically seen in the mainstream media.


From: "Womanhood Redefined: A Feminist's Take On The Transgender Controversy" by Natasha Vargas-Cooper in the American Conservative.

The context, from the author: Mount Holyoke, a women's college, decided not to produce a play about women and their vaginas (The Vagina Monologues) because some audience members who identify as women — but don't have vaginas — would feel excluded. The result was that women who did possess vaginas, and maybe had complex feelings about that fact, were out of luck. Further, anyone who wanted to see the play, or even star in it, was at risk of being accused of transphobia or bigotry.

The URL:

The excerpt: Young people who have insisted that we treat those who are different with more acceptance and tolerance have tended to be on the correct side of history. But trans acceptance is a twofold proposition: the realistic and the rhetorical. The realistic aims are easy enough to accept: access to sex-reassignment surgery and access to hormones; the ability to use the bathroom of one's chosen gender; bureaucratic institutions issuing a preferred M or F on documents; and to be treated with the overall dignity a civilized human being should expect.

The trouble arises when we are asked to concede to the rhetorical demands: when we are told to concede that womanhood is a construction and not a matter of biology; that surgical mutilation is brave; that men who decide to become women are immune from criticism after they've taken a certain amount of estrogen; that expression of discomfort is bigotry; and that the cause of women's political and economic liberation is somehow hindered if we alienate transgendered women or if we discuss the realities of women's biology.

From: "A Crisis For Crisis-Pregnancy Centers" by John D. Hagen Jr. in Commonweal, a Catholic publication assembled by lay Catholics.

The context, from the author: Crisis pregnancy centers are the compassionate face of the pro-life movement. But they now face a serious and sophisticated threat, one that distorts the First Amendment, menaces religious liberty, and broadly imperils free speech rights.

The URL:

The excerpt: I once heard a compelling account of a counselor at a (pro-life pregnancy crisis) center being contacted by a single mom with three children who had become pregnant again. The woman said, "There's no way that I can have another baby! I can't do this alone." The counselor made some calls, and in half an hour had a volunteer to clean the woman's home, another who was willing to buy groceries for the family for a year, and another who could offer respite child care. The woman kept her baby and received ongoing community support.

Such episodes give the lie to depictions of pro-lifers as dour zealots, unconcerned with the welfare of mothers or of children once safely born. Many centers provide impressive programs of ongoing support for their clients. Some offer classes in parenting, job seeking, budgeting, and other life skills. Many offer ongoing support groups for mothers. Some have programs to mentor men.

The centers are locally managed by volunteer boards of directors. Their outreach is shaped by local demographics and culture. ... Catholics always have played a leading role in the pregnancy-center movement (as have Evangelicals in recent decades).

From: "Seven Conservative Classics Every American Should Read" by the editors at Breitbart.

The context, from the authors: As the populist-conservative movement continues to grow and expand in the Age of President Trump, a new generation of energized voters and young people will do well to arm themselves with the intellectual firepower of the giants upon whose shoulders today's movement rests. Here, then, are seven conservative classics that should be on every American's bookshelf.

The URL:

1. Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver

2. The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek

3. The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

4. A Choice Not an Echo by Phyllis Schlafly

5. Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman

6. A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell

7. Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


From: "If Trump Gets His Way, These Will Be the First Places to Ban Abortion" by Hannah Levintova in Mother Jones.

The context: Several states (though not Florida, it seems) have "trigger" laws ready, which would automatically ban most, if not all, abortions if Roe vs. Wade is overturned.

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The excerpt: Many such laws (say) that if Roe is overturned, the state intends to renew their so-called "policy" that life begins at conception. This approach could not only affect the legality of abortion but also common forms of birth control, such as Plan B or IUDs, which some anti-abortion advocates consider to be abortifacients despite medical consensus to the contrary. "After the passage of Roe, a handful of states said, 'If we can ever go back, we want to go back,' " says Daniela Kraiem, the associate director of the women and the law program at the Washington College of Law at American University. "The point of those laws, up until now, has been largely symbolic," she says, a way for states to "allow women to exercise their constitutional rights, but under protest." With the commitment of Trump and Pence to overturning Roe, these laws may no longer be only symbolic.

From: "Coal and Climate Change In Kentucky" by Tanner Cole in the Progressive.

The context, from the author: Out of every county in the nation, Trimble County, Ky., has the lowest percentage of people — 43 percent — who believe in climate change, according to a 2015 Yale study. About 73 percent voted for Donald Trump.

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The excerpt: In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson stopped in Martin County, Kentucky, while traveling along his "Poverty Tour" of America. His message was clear: These people need help. But there is a resentment in Appalachian Kentucky toward those who look to the mountain communities and see nothing but poverty. The mountain folk who live under poverty levels and ignore modern science are firmly attached to the exploitative and land-destroying coal industry. The end of coal, propelled in part by the threat of global warming, means the end of a way of life. In 2016, Kentucky coal jobs hit their lowest level in 118 years, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. Coal production in the state is the lowest that it's been since 1935, and in 2016's third quarter, just over 6,000 people were still working in Kentucky coal mines. That's down from more than 70,000 in the late 1940s. Yet even as the industry vanishes, Kentucky's love of coal seems undiminished.

From: "The Clue's in the Name" from a blog run by Debbie Cameron called "language: a feminist guide."

The context, in the author's words: You might have thought that if there was one thing we could all agree on in the year 2017, it would be the right of every individual to be referred to by the personal name of their own choice. English law affirms that right: as long as you aren't trying to defraud anyone, you may go by whatever name you like. So why is there still so much controversy about what married women choose to call themselves?

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The excerpt: Married women who keep their original names are not just a minority, they're a minority of a minority — they are heavily concentrated in the elite professional class. Name-keeping is strongly correlated with having at least one degree, and you're most likely to be a keeper if both you and your husband have more than one. Another strong correlation is with the woman's age at marriage. Women who marry in their early 20s are more likely to change their names than those who marry later (a group that overlaps significantly with the category of highly-educated women). Economists have argued that this need not be because the women concerned are feminists. If a professional woman marries when she's already established a reputation (a.k.a. "made a name" for herself), then — regardless of her political beliefs — it makes sense for her not to change her name. But there are other factors which have been shown to influence women's choices, and which do seem to be related to social and political attitudes.