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Why left leaning – and right-leaning – governments always come to disfavour.      (December 26, 2016)
 

Conservatives are like the primly unaccommodating governess, constantly warning of what is permissible, what is reasonably consistent with the limitations of reality. Liberals are like the doting aunt, who never appears without a bag of candy, who holds out the promise of an easy trip to the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where the bluebird sings, and the sun always shines. (Observation #475)

The fashionable approach to government in western democracies has been "leftish" for more years than we can count – using all our original equipment digits made available for that computation.

It is our conclusion that "leftishness" is based upon a perception of human nature and of human possibilities which is more optimistic than reasonable.

On the extreme left, of course, is socialism, which is based on the notion that, deep down, people are just like ants.

Ants are wonderful creatures who are programmed to act altruistically in favour of the colony. We do not hear of individual ants giving speeches against the queen, rallying the populace for a better distribution of food, or decrying the strategies employed in the latest ant-battle as woefully inadequate. Ants do not stand out in a crowd. They are like little robots whose sole aim is not self-actualization, but group survival.

Socialism simply assumes that the ant model is the solution to the organization of society, and demands egalitarianism (except, of course, where the party leaders are concerned) and slavish conformity to whatever the state thinks is in the "best interests" of citizens.

While leftish governments seldom attempt to construct a socialist state – the track record of implementation is consistently abysmal and horrific – they tend to see reality through an idealistic prism. Socialism is based on the notion of an attainable equality – and left-wing governments are influenced by egalitarianism.

In the real world, of course, everywhere one looks, there is disparity. There are rich and poor, powerful and weak, clever and stupid, talented and gormless, articulate and dumb, inspirational and boring.

The left-wing mind-set is appalled by this reality. The rich must be repressed, the poor lifted up; the powerful should be bound and the weak should be given extra vitamins. The clever should reap as little reward as possible; the stupid should be praised for not putting their pants on backwards. Everything – short of actual socialism – must be done to make things seem more equal.

We heard the other day -- on the CBC’s Ontario Today -- a program based on the story of a landlord who had had the misfortune of renting a house to unsatisfactory tenants. They had allowed animals into the building and occasioned thousands of dollars worth of damage. Because legislation in Ontario favours tenants, the landlord had great difficulty in actually achieving an eviction. The callers to the program were all landlords with stories which illustrated the legislative bias, and the damage which it causes.

That bias is easy to understand. A left-leaning government sees tenants as poor and weak, landlords as rich and powerful. Tenants must be empowered; landlords must be hobbled. No consideration is given to the reality: virtue is not the sole preserve of the poor and weak; nor are self-interest and perversity to be found only among the rich and powerful. The left-leaning government also errs in assuming that all landlords are rich and powerful, and all tenants poor and weak.

Left-wing governments are always driven by a preferred narrative which is always at considerable variance from reality.

Thus the most general statement which can be made about left-wing governments is that they are driven by ideal rather than real notions. Reality is too complex; dreams are terribly attractive. Let’s go with the dreams.

Thus, left-wing governments usually make appeals on the basis of ideals. Mr. Obama stressed hope and change. Mr. Trudeau is much enamoured of "sunny ways." People love to be told that the impossible is within reach – even when they know they are being lied to. It probably has something to do with hope springing eternal in the human breast: "Yes, they lied to us last time – but surely, this time it is different."

We should note that left-wing governments are universally in favour of the idea of catastrophic global warming. That is not because they are fascinated by catastrophe -- but because climate alarmism holds forth the wonderful notion of "saving the planet." Rather ordinary politicians, whose intellects would feel lost in the vastness of a thimble, and whose talents have the illuminating potential of a firefly at noon, are seized by the notion of fame and adulation which will be their "legacy" – because of their prescient efficacy in cooling the planet.

The fact that cooling the planet seems to require oppressing the rich and powerful – with the ultimate aim of saving the poor and weak – is simply an added bonus.

We could add to our list of left-wing causes. There is political correctness, which assumes that equality is the true and natural state of mankind – and which stifles criticism in order to prevent hurt feelings. There is affirmative action, and the sin of cultural appropriation -- which allow for discrimination against some groups in favour of other groups which are considered less than "equal." There is multiculturalism, which assumes that all cultures are equal. Globalism is a bit like multiculturalism – it is based on the notion that cultural – that is tribal – differences are of no importance – and national identities can easily be wished away – subsumed in the creation of one great big ant colony. We see the European Union as an example of globalist principles.

The great weakness of left-wing ideals is that they eventually run up against some sort of reality.

Often "social progress" is purchased at the cost of economic viability. High taxes needed to pay for social programs tend to discourage economic activity. It is not hard to predict the fall of the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals because their devotion to the ideal of green energy has resulted in high prices for hydro -- which anger consumers and drive businesses to other jurisdictions.

Mr. Obama, a committed egalitarian, tried to tame the lion of initiative and enterprise in his country and make it a pussy-cat of socialist mediocrity. Abroad, he sought equality by appeasing enemies and betraying friends. It was the pursuit of an ideal world while ignoring the constraints of the real one.

Eventually, human beings will assert the fact that they are not ants, and will elect a Mr. Trump.

Conservative governments also fall into disfavour. Conservatives tend to have a more realistic view of human nature; they tend to be skeptical of the possibility that the Big Rock Candy Mountain is just around the next bend in the road. They tend to say "no" to things, and claim that you can’t spend money that you don’t have. They understand – perhaps dimly – and would certainly not be so foolish to articulate the idea – that the world is a very unequal place – and there are limits to the extent to which "equality" can be achieved. They may know, instinctively, that without competition, failure, and the triumph of meritorious ideas over the duds, progress is difficult to achieve.

But nobody wants to hear these things.

Thus, after a period of tidying up after left-wing folly, conservatives are voted out. It’s time, once more, for hope and change – and a Nirvana of equality that is just around the corner.

 

 

 

 

 

Tribes Rational and Irrational                (December 21, 2016)

 

If a tribe becomes too rational — perhaps it will always succumb to the tribe that has the determination that only blind belief can confer. (Observation # 888)

We made the above observation based on the idea of E. O. Wilson: "Competing is intense among humans, and within a group, selfish individuals always win. But in contests between groups, groups of altruists always beat groups of selfish individuals."

By "altruists" we believe Mr. Wilson is referring to religious believers. A blind and unreasoning belief would seem to be a great tribal advantage: religion promises an afterlife, which makes death in battle a mere temporary inconvenience – and religion, being without any rational foundation, is not particularly vulnerable to rational doubts. It requires a complete unreasoning commitment to something beyond all petty human considerations.

Religious commitment in the West has been declining. The Christian Inquisition was fuelled by absolute certainty, but that certainty has declined – especially as science has consistently shown that religion is often mistaken.

Galileo introduced the idea that the earth was not the centre of the universe. Darwin showed that species evolved, rather than appearing complete, through divine summonings. We now know that all life is built of the same genetic bricks; thus the claim of a special hierarchical place for humankind in a "chain of being" is refuted. Most recently – in Western democracies, at least – social views on human sexuality have changed – adding to existing skepticism about the notion that God is so fanatically obsessed* with the subject that he has a divine plan full of rules and regulations which must be observed in order to ensure a warm welcome at the pearly gates.

It cannot be said that the same decline in certainty is apparent in Islam. Indeed, some have argued that Islam is undergoing a reformation – a return to the certainties of the perceptions developed in the seventh century. There are laws against blasphemy in Pakistan. Novels deemed insulting result in fatwas. Cartoons of the prophet bring riots and murders. No cruelty or horror, no act of random destruction cannot be justified by those attempting to create a modern caliphate.

If the Koran is examined, if Sharia law is considered -- it is clear that the values of Islam are absolutely incompatible with those of the West. Western democracies uphold freedom of speech, but Islam claims that no criticism of it can be permitted. Western governments are essentially secular, but Islam pretends that religion is the source of all wisdom in government. The West has advanced in such matters as gender equality, and believes that the interaction of citizens is best conducted when faces are visible. Islam has many restrictions on women, and it is a typical belief of Muslims that female faces may or should be concealed.

How can the differences in these views of reality be resolved? We do not think they can be; they are antithetical. There is no "middle ground" of accommodation between clear opposites.

Thus we do see – despite the protestations of the politically correct – a "clash of civilizations."

What we wonder is – is it likely that our Observation about the clash of rational and non-rational tribes will hold true?

We see the world of Islam as the "irrational" tribe – exhibiting all the signs of blind and irrational belief.

On the other hand, the West has lost most of its religious certainty, and has embraced the rationality of science. It has not lost all its altruism – but the altruism is not religiously motivated. It may be described as a naive belief that being warm, accommodating, and tolerant will soothe all conflicts. There is an underlying perception that once the "irrational" tribes see and experience the manifold benefits of western culture, they will see the error of their ways, and sign up for secularism.

 

We are not so sure.

It seems that many Muslims regard western culture as misguided, decadent, and depraved. Certainly a significant proportion of them seem determined to launch attacks of death and destruction as symbols of their undying antagonism to western values.

The West, for its part, seems committed to tolerance based on an naive egalitarianism. The Germans, no doubt fuelled by the guilt for their aggressive nationalism in the twentieth century – and despite Ms. Merkel’s earlier recognition that multiculturalism doesn’t work – have welcomed hundreds of thousands of Islamic refugees. Their ideals are noble; the reality is that ideals are suitable for inspiration, not implementation. Ms. Merkel has just now expressed her fear that the attack on the Christmas Market in Berlin yesterday might have been committed by a migrant.

It remains to be seen the extent to which a naive and tolerant idealism will negatively affect European culture.

Here in Canada, we have thus far not experienced such attacks.

But it is interesting to see the same naive tolerance, the same lack of backbone in resisting cultural incursions. We have decided that it is perfectly acceptable to wear a face-covering garment while taking an oath of Canadian citizenship. The Supreme Court has refused to make a ruling on the acceptability of such apparel in court – leaving the decision – in cowardly fashion – up to the presiding judge in each case.

A couple of years ago, pressure was placed on the rabbi of a synagogue to deny Pamela Geller, a critic of Islam, the right to speak. In 2011 it was discovered that Islamic prayers were being conducted in the cafeteria of Valley Park Middle – in spite of the fact that Christian and other prayers are not permitted in the public system. The Toronto police have -- insanely -- announced their intention to allow the wearing of a religious symbol – the hijab – by police officers.

Freedom of speech seems to be giving way to the idea that people who resent criticism should not be criticized. Quebec’s Bill 59 would allow the initiation of a lawsuit against a person making discriminatory statements about a group. but we suspect that, in practice – only one group – Muslims – will be protected. While there are many examples of discriminatory statements made by Imams against unbelievers – those sorts of things don’t count. At least -- we have not heard of any human rights complaints with respect to such matters.

In short, the policy of the more rational tribe with respect to irrational tribalism appears to be appeasement. In other words, the rational tribe seems to think that giving in is likely to win the battle.

But appeasement is not noted for an unblemished record of success.

We will be interested to see whether Canada eventually experiences the same problems as those currently being encountered in Europe, and if so, whether appeasement still retains its allure.

In the meantime, we will find out more about the battle between the rational and irrational tribes by comparing the experience of Europe, and that of the United States, where Mr. Trump seems less inclined to adopt a policy of giving in. 

 

*The fact that God cares so much about human sexuality – but seems not to give a damn about the sexuality of dolphins, or elephants – is yet another reason to be suspicious of his impartiality, his priorities, and his motives.

 

 

 

The Macro-aggression of Micro-aggression.  (December 17, 2016)

 

The determination to find microaggressions represents a significant macroaggression: it is the prim-lipped attack of the holier-than-thou. (Observation # 908)

There is much talk of "microaggressions" these days. Especially on University campuses in the United States, there seems to be a determined effort to pass all speech through a fine sieve of political correctness in order to prevent hurt feelings – apparently the chief tragedy of our age.

There are a number of reasons we think the search for microaggressions is misguided.

The first of these is that the definition depends upon the feelings – or the assumed feelings -- of the victims. The trouble with feelings is -- they tend to be considerably variable and elastic. What one person might find offensive, another might not. Is there any way of determining what is and what is not a microaggression – when the definition is variable?

This seems related to a second problem: when there is a determined attempt to discover microaggressions – it seems that the only limit is that of the human imagination.

An example of a microaggression which passes several kilometres into the territory of absurdity is one found in some guidelines developed at the University of North Carolina:

Even a simple compliment like "I love your shoes," at least when addressed to a woman in leadership during a Q&A after a speech, really means "I notice how you look and dress more than I value your intellectual contributions. How you look is really important." (June 28, 2016, www.truthrevolt.org)

It seems clear, that virtually any statement, examined through so precise and sensitive a lens, must constitute a microaggression. To compliment a hostess on the crunchiness of her asparagus must surely cast aspersions on the limpness of the broccoli. And – consistent with the above caution – valuing someone’s intellectual contributions might overlook the exquisite fashion sense displayed by the shoes. One might think that escape would lie in an exhaustive catalogue of praise – but surely some sin of omission would occur!

This is a world down a rabbit hole, where the rules are arbitrary, and likely to be created as the demands of the priesthood dictate.

Yes, we did say "priesthood" – for what is the sin of microaggression, but a reprehensible element in the new religion of Political Correctness?

As with any religion, Political Correctness depends upon establishing a level of rectitude which is impossible to achieve, and then finding all guilty. The rest -- demanding contrition and obedience is easy. The position of those setting standards and demanding obedience is not without its attractions

Priests, unless they are very gullible, are not into religion because it offers virtue – but because it offers power. Imagine those professors at the very forefront of defining the modern sensibility! They can define microaggression, monitor its occurrence, and impose the punishment of public shame. It will be a short step to re-education classes or expulsion on the grounds of inferior sensitivity and incompatibility with the ideals of the university!

And this leads us to our third point. Religion depends upon a certain element of unchallenged belief. If there is a God – and there certainly is – and if this is His Book – which nobody can deny – then you must do as we say or risk eternal damnation. Things tend to fall apart when enough people question the very premise – that there is a God who has a Book which expresses his Divine Plan.

 

 

With Political Correctness, the assumption is that all ideas, people, cultures and religions are equal. Given this "undeniable" fact, nothing must be said that will upset people – which might suggest that they are, in any possible regard – deficient.

We are immediately reminded of another of the cautions developed by the University of North Carolina referred to above: it is a terrible thing to ask participants in a meeting to "stand and be recognized." For how would such a request appear to those in a wheelchair? – surely it would remind them of their deficiencies!

The unfortunate fact is that those in wheelchairs do have deficiencies. Pretending they don't will not allow them to stand and be recognized -- or to run for the exits to escape mindless absurdities.

Thus, at the heart of the search for microaggressions is an assumption which is simply not valid. People and ideas are not equal – some are less deficient than others. To found a modern etiquette on a false view of reality is more likely to create, than solve problems. If microaggressions are to be labelled sins – what happens to speech which is fully aggressive -- critical and adversarial? We happen to harbour the politically incorrect notion, for example, that hurt feelings are a small price to pay for the erosion of stupidity!

Finally, we should mention how grim and humourless -- and ultimately unproductive -- the universe of microaggressions appears. The light touch is unknown when people are anxious to score points in the grim game of finding ways to be offended. Take, for example the imaginary lady receiving a compliment about her shoes. If she should actually feel slighted – which hardly seems possible in the real world – she could easily say: "Yes that’s me – fancy-foot Kate – all fashion and no brains!"

We are reminded there is a University in Oklahoma which has set up a hotline so that those aggrieved by microaggressions can report them. What sort of person would actually avail himself of such a resource? Surely only someone with a determination to feel offended, one morbidly entranced by the rτle of martyr crucified on the cross of insufficient sensitivity.

What the focus on microaggression does is to encourage people to find validation in victimhood. The competitive instinct is turned – not to accomplishment – but to a triumphant wallowing in grievance. As we have remarked elsewhere – "There can be no innocence where a feeling is determined to be hurt."

We are not, of course, suggesting that the world would be a better place if people went out of their way to antagonize others. It is simply that too much caution in speech will lead to a world in which more effort is spent in navigating the rocks of misleading statements arising from a sea of false assumptions than in achieving practical and realistic goals.

In fact the ultimate – although unrecognized -- goal of the pursuit of microaggressions is that singular virtue – complete silence. For as long as there is speech, feelings will be hurt.

We live in an imperfect, competitive world. People, not being made of crystal, are similarly imperfect and will always be subject to hurt feelings. The best way to combat hurt feelings is not to dwell on them – to seek triumph in making others feel guilty -- but to make them irrelevant through accomplishment.

Political Correctness -- and its attendant sin of microaggression -- must be rejected as the false religion of a false God – the God of "Equality."
 

See also, The Valley of Hythlos,  Drivel, March 9, 2011

 

 

 

 

The U.S. Election          (November 9, 2016)

 

Barack Obama was not elected because of his qualifications, but because of his symbolism.

Here was a black man, educated and articulate, whose election would be a symbolic salve on the ancient wound of racial antagonisms in the American body politic.

Appropriate to that healing, was his message of hope and change: a new world order could be created in which tensions at the international level could be relieved, and, domestically, a greater social equality could be achieved.

In our view, of course, Mr. Obama is that most dangerous of men: the theoretical idealist with power. His impracticality has led to a new world order worse than that which it replaced.

Mr. Obama is firmly of that typical left-wing conviction that all differences are superficial, and no there is virtually no conflict that cannot be resolved with the earnest effort of men of good will – all men are men of good will – sitting down over a glass of beer on a sunny afternoon.

Thus, his first effort when elected was to hold out an olive branch to the Muslim world, assuring them that America had no better ideas about the conduct of life than anybody else, and would be pleased with whatever the Muslim world decided to do.

As part of this philosophy, he refused to utter the words "Islamic terrorism," and preferred to label instances of it – wherever possible – as "workplace violence." On no account – in his ideal world – should it be suggested that the religion of Islam had anything to do with the terrorist acts committed in its name. He even seemed willing to sacrifice the concept of freedom of speech if that might involve "slander" of the prophet of Islam: "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."

If he drew a red line in the sand, it was conveniently moved if the occasion seemed to require. A man of principle, his chief principle was that enemies should be appeased; a secondary principle was that friends should be ignored or snubbed. Thus, Iran was encouraged in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and Canada was told the keystone pipeline would not be built.

And in general, rather than promoting the interests and sphere of influence of his country, he seemed anxious to minimize them. America was no more "exceptional" than all the other "exceptional" countries. Tact and good taste required quiet withdrawal, a retreat to the nearest backwater, a fading into the unobtrusive wallpaper of the busy ballroom of the world.

Mr. Obama is also notable for having swallowed the anthropogenic climate change theory hook, line, sinker, fishing rod – with a climate alarmist at the end of it – whole. We take this as a measure of his significant intellectual limitations. It seems common among left-wing politicians of rather ordinary abilities that they seek to rise above their limitations and secure an enduring "legacy" for prescience and virtue in the promoting of "green" initiatives. Mr. Obama seems no exception in this class.

Domestically, he introduced Obamacare – with noble purpose but inadequate planning. Promises about retaining existing plans and doctors were made, when it was known that this was a statement notably parsimonious with the truth. Indeed, Obamacare is currently beset with the problems of increasing costs and disappearing providers.

More importantly, he attacked the ethos of his own country -- one forged from the freeing of individual initiative and the encouragement of entrepreneurial industry. People who appeared to be successful were not actually so: they were merely the inevitable result of co-operative social effort and government-provided infrastructure. If you had a successful business – "you didn’t build that" – most of the credit should go to a wise, benevolent, and sustaining government.

It should also be noted that the great social principles which seem to have sprung from the new world order are those of harmony and equality. An exquisite sensitivity has been developed to detect the slightest nuance of insult. It is assumed that all wonderful and equal creatures have an inalienable right to live a life chock full of self-esteem, never experience hurt feelings, and have access to prompt and immediate coddling upon any unfortunate encounter with an unco-operative reality. These assumptions have given rise to a way of dealing with the world which has been described as "political correctness." We do not maintain, of course, that Mr. Obama is the cause of political correctness -- simply that it seems to have flourished to the point of absurdity during his time in office.

In yesterday’s election, Mrs. Clinton, of course, had her own symbolic advantage. Her victory would represent the refutation of another perceived prejudice – that women are in some way inadequate to serve as national political leaders. While that view has been disproved in other countries – there has never, thus far, been a female president of the United States.

However, the electing of leaders on the grounds of symbolic egalitarianism – as shown by the presidency of Mr. Obama – may not represent the highest wisdom.

In addition, Mrs. Clinton suffers from some extraordinary deficiencies. While the mainstream media – which sees the world through a left-wing prism – has gone to extreme lengths to overlook them, and to paint her in the most attractive colours of rose, gold, and lavender – some of the darker tones have managed to seep through -- to at least a portion of the population..

 

 

We know that she lied to the public about the attack on Benghazi in 2012. She claimed that it was inspired by a video – "Innocence of Muslims" – when she knew perfectly well that this was not the case. However, the truth – that it was an anniversarial Al Qaeda attack – did not suit the preferred narrative -- the narrative that the terrorist organization was a spent force. So often the truth must be sacrificed for political ends!

And then there is the vexed problem of the private server used when Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State. Was it hacked by foreign governments? Would an ordinary public servant have been given a free, expense-paid trip to the local hoosegow for criminally careless behaviour? Why did Mr. Comey admit that the private server represented a significant breach, but decide that, if it was Mrs. Clinton’s breach, it didn’t really matter that much? What was the significance of the tarmac meeting between Loretta Lynch, the attorney-general, and her old boss, Mr. Clinton? Was it really all about improving her golf game?

And then the even more vexing allegations that the Clinton Foundation was little more than a way of raising cash for a favourite and deserving charity – the Clintons themselves. Cash was received in return for influence and favour from the conveniently placed Secretary of State.

Perhaps we should make a brief note on the polls. While the polls consistently showed Mrs. Clinton in the lead, one must wonder whether they themselves were influenced by the way the questions were asked, or by assumptions made in the manipulating of the raw data. For some reason, those polls were not consistent – either with anecdotal evidence of sign prevalence and rally sizes – or with the ultimate election result.

It has also been suggested that Mr. Trump had been painted in such a negative light, that many people polled were reluctant to admit their obvious failure of discernment in supporting him.

At any event -- it is not hard to see how Mrs. Clinton’s advantage of symbolic egalitarianism and apparent popularity in the polls was ultimately negated by the unpalatable realities of her past behaviour.

Mr. Trump – similar to Mr. Obama in his lack of political experience – gained victory in yesterday’s election. Despite lapses of political correctness which would have resulted in almost immediate execution for any other candidate – the expected media outrage seemed to bounce, and slither off. He seemed to have acquired, in some inexplicable and mysterious fashion, a teflon coating similar to that which the media had taken such pains to provide for Mrs. Clinton.

But perhaps there is no mystery: he simply represents a rejection of Mr. Obama’s view of the world.

Internationally, he has vowed to "make America great again." He has stated that his initial impulse to run for office arose from his horror – which we share – at the pusillanimous appeasement of Iran – with a deal under which Iran has agreed – in return for bundles of cash – to develop nuclear weapons for the purpose of annihilating Israel – somewhat more slowly than they would in the absence of the bundles.

Unlike Mr. Obama, he has recognized that the religion of Islam does actually have some connection with terrorism. "Islamic terrorism" is different in context and meaning from "workplace violence." It is even likely that he realizes that the tenets of Islam are fundamentally incompatible with the values of western democracies. He has called on a halt to Muslim immigration until some way of dealing with these incompatibilities can be discovered.

He has realized that uncontrolled illegal immigration from Mexico cannot be allowed to continue if the United States is to retain any control over its security and the viability of its social programs.

We think it unlikely that Mr. Trump views appeasement as the chief plank in effective foreign policy.

Unlike Mr. Obama, he is a businessman and entrepreneur. He probably thinks that the success of his business is more likely determined by human decisions than by government benevolence.

Mr. Trump – to his eternal credit – has expressed skepticism of the anthropogenic climate change theory. Until climate scientist have shown that they understand the causes of global temperatures sufficiently to allow them to make accurate predictions – radical economic costs to combat climate change appear unwarranted.

Because Mr. Trump is not politically correct himself, we suspect that safe space, greenhouse, rare-orchid-growing approach to society which has flourished in the Obama era might lose a bit of its momentum.

We suspect that many citizens, dissatisfied with their lives under the idealistic Obama regime, feel that a return to more traditional values is worth a try.

We do not think Mr. Trump’s aims will be easily accomplished. We suspect that many of his claims – like the building of a wall along the border with Mexico – should be taken as symbolic rather than literal expressions of intent.

He will likely disappoint significantly. But, regardless of the size of the advance, we think that the change in direction which he represents is to be applauded.

 

 

 

What is the difference between "reasonable accommodation," and "the tyranny of the minority?"

(October 31, 2016)

 

Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has refused to use "gender neutral" pronouns to refer to those who reject traditional gender definitions. Such people – apparently -- wish to be referred to with a number of different words; there does not seem to be one upon which all have agreed. We have been given to understand that there are thirty-one designations for those of differing gender perceptions recognized by the City of New York. It would seem logical that each designation would demand a different pronoun – in the name of equality of treatment.

The University administration appears to be horrified at this situation – as are we.

The University, however, seems to be horrified that Professor Peterson would stand in the way of "progress;" we, on the other hand are horrified that "progress" seems to demand an alteration in the English language for a small group of people who demand a recognition of personal contrarian perceptions of their gender.

We do not deny the validity of their personal perceptions – although we should note that the lack of an objective means of determining that validity does lead to the possibility of frivolous claims. It is not unknown -- for young people especially – to seek for ways to discomfit and upset the generations which have preceded them. The reasons for such rebellion are more emotional than logical. Indeed, such behaviour may have an evolutionary origin and advantage.

Leaving aside the possibility of claims for special treatment are for the purpose of disruption, rather than recognition of an unconventional sense of gender identity -- the question remains: should this demand for particular pronouns be considered as a legitimate claim for "equal treatment" – or should it be seen as a claim for special treatment by a very small group which is too impractical and too burdensome on society at large to be considered reasonable?

We should note here that there seems to be a difference between demands for equality which might be termed "passive," and those which could be considered "active." With passive equality – the demand is simply for a cessation of discrimination. Let us imagine minority "x" has suffered discrimination – women have not been hired as firefighters because of their gender. The claim is that, as long as women can show the same physical strength as that of men usually hired, such discrimination should cease. This demand for "equality" seems reasonable.

"Active" equality goes a step further – it is the demand that special jobs should be created for women in the firefighting business – or that standards should be altered to accommodate the generally inferior physical capabilities of women. This demand is less convincing. It looks like a demand for special treatment.

We should note that all "quota" and "affirmative action" policies are "active" equality measures. They do not seek to level the playing field, but to tilt it in a direction which favours a group deemed to be disadvantaged.

It is clear that, in the matter of gender neutral pronouns, we are dealing with "active" equality. No one is being denied access to a job or to housing because of a minority status. What is being demanded is "active" – an alteration in the English language and in customary speech in order to produce "equality."

What must be determined, then, is this a claim for "reasonable accommodation" or is it unreasonable – the tyranny of the minority?

If, in fact, only one pronoun were being demanded – that would – from a practical point of view – help. If people whose gender self-perception differed from objective reality demanded to be described as "it," the change to the language would not be dramatic. But it seems as though one new pronoun is insufficient. It appears that there are multiple states of gender self-perception, each requiring its own pronoun. If there are actually thirty-one different gender designations – it would appear that society would have to learn – and use correctly – an equivalent number of pronouns.

Yes – "use correctly." For there is a further practical difficulty. How are different states of gender self-perception to be accurately conveyed to the uninitiated? Will there be a special forehead tattoo? Would that, perhaps, be too definitive? Possibly one’s self-perception might vary from Tuesday to Thursday. A series of different decorative pins, perhaps, to be worn serially as the inner perception changes or evolves?

Surely there would have to be some external representation of a self-perceived inner state. Otherwise it would be necessary for each oddly gendered individual to proclaim his self-perception to each new person that he/she/it encountered. And that encountered person would have to remember each gender peculiarity proclaimed.

Until some element of simplicity can be assured --it seems that the accommodation being demanded is unreasonable.

And even that simplicity would suggest future dangerous possibilities.

The best analogy we can think of is the lady who requested that all oak trees be removed from her daughter’s school playground. She did so on the grounds that her daughter was allergic to acorns.

One might argue that the request was made on the grounds of "equality." If the oak trees were removed, the threat to all the children would be equalized.

But if that principle were to be recognized – what limit would there be? Surely the oak trees should be removed from the yards of the lady’s immediate neighbours?

Does the daughter go to the local convenience store? What route does she take? Should not all the oak trees on that route be removed? Does the daughter have friends in other neighbourhoods whom she might visit? Should not all the oak trees be removed from the city?

But why stop there? Is there any possibility that the daughter might visit other countries, where oak trees are grown?

The lady’s request, quite clearly, seems an example of the tyranny of the minority. There is a limit to the extent to which a minority can require actions on the part of the majority in the name of "equality."

Indeed, one could argue, in this case, that the demand for a special pronoun is exceptionally "active" – perhaps "hyperactive."

When one calls a male, "he," and refers to a female as "she" – one is using an objective assessment of appearance and treating each individual in an objectively determined category in an equal fashion.

To defer to the claimed subjective impressions of individuals is risky to begin with. I may wish to be addressed as the King of Siam, and be perfectly convinced in my own mind of my royal station. But my subjective impressions should not be the paramount consideration.

Indeed, it seems clear that the demand for different gender pronouns is a kind of self-indulgence – a seeking of validation – the attempt to turn a rare and not particularly helpful difference into a triumph of special status.*

As such – it represents the tyrannical impulse of the minority.

                                                               ****

* We might note that the search for "equality of result" in society – leads to some peculiar distortions. The fact that "equality" – beyond, perhaps at the atomic level – does not exist in the natural world -- is deemed to be an unpleasantness – an unpleasantness which, at all costs, must be disguised.

We call these distortions "Compensatory Celebrations of Misfortune."

In more primitive times, people with physical disabilities – obviously "unequal" – were called "crippled." The term soon became viewed as harshly demeaning and was replaced by other words designed to banish the stigma of deficiency – like "handicapped" or "disabled." But such terms -- with direct references to dysfunction -- soon suffered the same fate. Since then -- not surprisingly -- there has been a studied move towards neutrality – "alternatively abled" – or "having special needs."

We understand that sometimes those with physical disabilities have expressed gratitude for the unique perspective on life which their disadvantage has given them. We do not quarrel with such sentiments -- but we suspect that descriptive terminology will – if it has not already done so – be shifted to suggest superiority: "alternatively gifted," "perceptively enhanced," "uniquely blessed" are obvious choices.

Being homosexual in a society where the vast majority are heterosexual has few advantages. It is not by accident, therefore, that the term "gay pride" has been adopted as a compensatory celebration of misfortune.

We understand that some deaf people have become so appreciative of their "special" world, that they feel it would be a disservice to take a deaf child and provide him with hearing.

Making the best of things is, indeed, admirable. But subjective impressions should always be viewed with some degree of skepticism, and claims for special treatment be given careful consideration, rather than automatic approval.

 

 

  

 

The Human Condition   (All you ever wanted to know -- but were too afraid to ask.)  (August 25, 2016)

 

The universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this purpose has any similarity to ours.  (Bertrand Russell, 1872 - 1970)
 

The human condition is difficult. As a species we must journey between the Scylla of despair in contemplating the blind, destructive, indifference of the universe -- and the Charybdis of necessary, protective, but potentially dangerous hopeful illusions.*

The universe itself is not a particularly hopeful place. It has an unfathomable origin, and a future which is unknown  -- but one not likely to merit the celebratory enthusiasm of a Hallmark card. Its one reliable aspect seems to be constant change, a process which involves continuous creation and destruction.

Speaking of destruction – the fact is that our sun will eventually expand and destroy the earth, and by that time our human experiment will have come to an end. That, of course – is a long way off – but it does draw one’s attention to the limitations of hopefulness.

In the meantime, as we know – astonishingly -- and mysteriously -- the laws of the universe allow for the creation – and destruction – of sentient creatures capable of experiencing a consciousness of their environment. But even that miraculous circumstance – we did mention destruction, didn’t we? – is not all sweetness and light. For the most part, sentient creatures are caught in an entirely necessary web of predation – murder on a grand scale in the battle for survival.

And even individuals who survive the battle contain the seeds of their own inevitable destruction. And -- yet again – even entire species arise, prosper, and are then wiped out by some alteration in the environment which may seem entirely random – like an asteroid impact, or some unthinking, indifferent process -- like an ice age. "Indifferent" is the key word.

Frankly, my dear, the universe doesn’t give a damn.

Interestingly, it is the very battle for survival – the need to act and triumph that gives rise to – in homo sapiens – which has the capacity to articulate them – such concepts as "intent," "choice," "achievement," "success," and "meaning." While there is no evidence that the universe has intent, purpose, or meaning, it is only natural that human beings instinctively apply these concepts to the universe as a whole.

If it sounds odd to claim that human experience is not necessarily reflected in the universe as a whole, it is perhaps worth considering that human conceptions of origin are similarly not relevant to the universe. Human experience is inextricably linked to the notion of causality. Every event has its cause, and that cause is similarly linked to what has gone before.

When it comes to ultimate origins, we can conceive of only two possibilities: something has always existed – or something arose out of nothing. If we assume that "something always existed" – we are dissatisfied; our next question is: but what caused that something to be there? What was there before that something? If, on the other hand, we assume that " something arose out of nothing," we are again dissatisfied – because – in our language – that concept does not make any sense: nothingness – by definition -- excludes somethingness.

Yet -- after all  -- the universe is here  -- not giving a damn again.

But we digress.

Let us accept the fact that we ascribe to the universe elements of our own experience – like purpose and meaning -- which are likely not there – since evidence is lacking. This fact of ascribing is an act of the imagination. It shows our ability to imagine alternative realities. (In us, at least, the universe has some interesting qualities.**)

 

 

There is another way in which our situation leads to the imagining of alternative realities. Sentient creatures, such as ourselves, are conscious, and consciousness has a bias towards its own continuance. Indeed, we have elsewhere noted:  "Sentience can only thrive in the unreasonable expectation of its own permanence."*** We assume that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that we will be able to experience it. Without that optimistic assumption – there – pretty much -- go purpose, intent, achievement, and meaning.

Thus one of the most attractive alternative realities that we can imagine is that our consciousness is not temporary, but permanent: the destruction of death which we witness is illusory – a temporary faηade concealing a more comforting and benign reality.

Thus, it is not difficult to see how, in the human circumstance, the foundations are laid for the great contradiction between reality and illusion.

The reality of the universe appears bleak: change involves a creativity which is made pointless by the necessity of destruction; while complexity may increase, destruction is still inevitable. The universe is a triumph of temporality.

Yet our consciousness within that reality leads to the desire – perhaps the necessity – of alternative realities. We imagine that the universe is characterized by the same purpose and intent which we experience, and that our consciousness is permanent, rather than temporary. These ideas, are, surely, the impetus behind religion, and the idea of God.

This yearning for an alternative reality is expressed in other ways. The desire to show that the creative element resists or overcomes the destructive is suggested and expressed  in the human construction of semi-permanent artifacts – paintings, sculpture, buildings, and other objects -- and in ideas which may be musical, literary, or philosophical. All of these show our interest in things which, in intent and conception, defy, to some extent, our mortality. Elsewhere, we have described these creative activities as "art:" Art is man’s challenge to Time, his rebuke to Chaos; the protest will survive neither the triumph of fire, nor the finality of ice -- but it is better than the silence of consent.****

Perhaps the most powerful of these creative endeavours are the philosophical ideas for the governing of society; but these can be both useful and dangerous. Sometimes, of course, they have a consonance with reality – they bring political order, create useful organizations, and enable the material benefits of science.  They strike a reasonable balance between co-operation and competition. Capitalism, by the way, which also displays that balance, is less a philosophical concept than a system which arises naturally from individual pursuits of self-interest.

However, the great danger is that, in imagining alternative realities, the distinction between what is desirable and what is possible is lost. In seeking such realities, there is always the lure of perfection, the siren call of the ideal. But ideals, are by definition, unyielding absolutes. Imaginary ideal schemes may be created -- but human beings -- arising from and embedded in the competitive Darwinian struggle, are irrevocably real -- not ideal: they cannot possibly fit into them.

Thus the ideal, and exclusively "co-operative" worlds envisioned by religion, socialism, multiculturalism, and globalism -- all tend to be Procrustean beds; they do not provide the utopian benefits of a promised land; rather, they are absolutist totalitarian conceptions. The attempt to impose them on human societies invariably leads to misery and oppression.

This, then, is the difficulty of the human condition:  in our need for illusions – protective and necessary bulwarks against despair – we create alternative realities that often do little more than replace a deep pit with a dangerous chasm.
 

*Observation # 764
**
Divinity is not enthroned above, in a heaven amid the stars, but in ourselves, the dust of stars which encodes and reflects the creativity and the imagination of the universe. (Observation # 130)
***Observation # 204
**** Our primary Observation.

 

 

 

Appliance Woes            (August 13, 2016)

The modern appliance reflects the temper of the age, which is driven by change and entranced by fashion. There is no point in making a durable product when the ultimate aim is to make the customer dissatisfied with it as quickly as possible. (Observation # 745)

 

About two years ago, we detected a bit of smoke emanating from our Frigidaire Microwave/Convection oven at Wind-in-the-Pines.

Although we were unable to discern any definite pattern created by the smoke – we made the assumption that the Frigidaire was sending us a message: after twenty-five years of faithful convecting and microwaving, it had felt the call of the great Dump on the Little Chute Road; it wanted to move on.

A full replacement was out of the question. It was an expensive machine – about $400 – when we bought it so many years ago. That was when we were young and optimistic – possibly anticipating a Stock Market Ship entering the harbour, or a raining down of diamonds from beneficent rain clouds. Now, older and wiser – and having seen Stock Market Ships succumb to winds and poor navigation, or being blown up by old submerged mines still functional in the harbour waters – and having seen diamond-bearing rain clouds chose frogs, instead – we are less ambitious.

The price of such machines has more than doubled – and while we used to use the convection feature to roast small chickens – we note that Food Basics provides the same meal at a relatively modest cost.

Thus, we purchased an ordinary microwave at what appeared to be a bargain price: an LG 1.5 cubic foot microwave in stainless steel finish for $138.

Bargains are sometimes deceptive. We suspect the "reduced" sticker is applied to those machines which have proven themselves to be unworthy.

Sure enough, a few days ago, we arrived at Wind-in-the-Pines to discover the LG cold, dark, and unresponsive. We tried the resuscitation of a different outlet, and gave it a couple of sharp slaps. Its mouth was far too cavernous for an effective use of our own life-breath.

We reached the inevitable conclusion.

The previous weekend, we thought it had lost some of its power and zip – but speculation was made that on a busy long weekend, power from the local grid – which is provided by Hydro One using the services of unionized gerbils operating sophisticated Hamster Wheels – was under pressure. It has now become clear that the LG had been convulsed with its own death-rattle – after only a couple of years of service.

We admit to some mixed feelings about the untimely demise. While the machine had been admirable in many respects, it had a feature which we can only describe as demeaning and insulting. After finishing its heating task, it would beep several times.

Fine and good. We like to know what is happening in our kitchen when we are preparing a meal. It is our kitchen, and we like to feel that we are in complete control of the events taking place therein. We feel competent, skilled and capable.

Unfortunately, the LG had a mind of its own. If we did not promptly open its door and retrieve the heated item, it would beep again. And if we failed to heed that beep, it would follow with another. We never put it to the test, but we assumed it was inexhaustible: it would beep intermittently until we had done its bidding.

We are not sure whether to characterize the LG as a small child, anxiously requiring the attention of an adult – or as an interfering nanny, determined to ensure the small child in the kitchen was behaving according to her rules.

We lean towards the latter characterization. The nanny LG doubted our competence. It suspected early onset Alzheimer’s – or simple simple-mindedness.

From our perspective – as we have suggested – we feel perfectly competent, skilled, and capable. If we have failed to open the LG’s door, it is because we are responding to a Higher Power – the Infallibility of our own blessed Judgment. Yes, we know the heating has been completed – but we are busy with Something Else. Who, exactly, is in control of this kitchen – we or that dratted machine?

Thus, there was some small element of relief that the LG – a disrupter – an upstart competitor with entirely inferior mental capacity – would soon be finding its way to the great Dump on Little Chute Road.

It was a concern, of course, that we not purchase a machine of similar arrogance. A Google search revealed that we are not alone in our resentment of and fury towards nanny microwaves. However, getting precise information about particular models did not seem easy.

At Canadian Tire, we were grateful that the machines on display had brochures in the heating cavity. We made the assumption that if the brochure simply stated that the machine signalled the end of its task with five beeps – then it was unlikely to follow up with reminders.

At Best Buy, the machines contained no brochures. A saleslady – very young, of course – said she had never had a microwave without nanny certificate and busybody credentials.

At WalMart, some brochures were available. Our first choice – a 1.1 cubic foot Hamilton Beach in stainless steel for about $100 was not in stock. The one in white looked tacky.

The Panasonic in black for $138 was our next choice – but at the last minute we were swayed by our exquisite sensitivity to the harmony of the kitchen. Last year* we had purchased a new stainless steel refrigerator. It has, we suspect, become accustomed to the stainless steel complementarity of the LG microwave. The big question was – would the harmony of the kitchen be disrupted with a non-stainless steel addition? Would the refrigerator sulk – or would the microwave complain about the oppression of gleaming steel?

The risk was too great to take.

We bought – at an absurd price – the Panasonic in stainless steel.

It seems to work – but we are still nervous that behind its sleek exterior, some nannyism may yet lurk.

We heated an item, waited a minute – and there was no reminder. But suppose the nanny is not roused until two minutes have passed?

We shudder at the thought.
 

* See Drivel, September 1, 2015

 

 

Political Correctness and Religion: Ideals and the Totalitarianism Impulse          (August 10, 2016)

 

We have classified Political Correctness as "the new oppressive religion." and as "despotism disguised as virtue" – and these definitions came to mind when we heard of a politically correct enterprise at the University of North Carolina.*

That august and worthy institution has apparently developed a list of politically incorrect phrases – they are termed "microaggressions"** – that employees at the college should avoid. This list became known because of a posting made by Katie Turner, a "Faculty Programs Specialist" with "a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies and a certificate in Gender and International Development from the University of Florida." (Breitbart News, June 27, 2016)

An examination of some of the forbidden phrases illustrates how far down the rabbit hole of insanity the new Wonderland of social discourse has fallen.

One of these is the mention of Christmas or Christmas holidays. We can only assume that this is a jab of cultural smugness which might make those who are not Christians feel marginalized and excluded.

A phrase such as "I love your shoes!" might be considered – by the uninitiated – as a harmless – if somewhat exaggerated – compliment. Once the prism of political correctness is firmly in place, it will be seen that the focus on shoes implies a disregard for other worthy qualities of the wearer. It pointedly ignores other wonderful attributes –such as intellectual acuity, verbal dexterity, or unfailing cheerfulness. As such, it can only be seen – by the properly sensitized -- as an egregious micro-put-down.

Asking people to "please stand and be recognized" might be seen -- by the unenlightened -- as a simple request to stand and be recognized. A moment’s thought will suggest that "standing" implies certain physical capacities which may be beyond those who are infirm or incapacitated. To ask someone in a wheelchair to stand is surely to remind him -- in a thoughtless and callous fashion – of his disability.

Indeed, we can hardly refrain from pointing out that the use of English is an insult to those incapable of comprehending it – and that the use of any language at all is a significant and hurtful reproach to those unable to hear, or who lack the mental capacity to understand verbal expression.

Possibly Ms. Turner will take her line of thought to its logical conclusion, and spend the rest of her days in contemplative silence.

We could go on – but enough of the madness. What has this got to do with religion?

The other day (July 5), writing in the National Post, Barbara Kay noted that "Abstract sins one cannot defend against are the hallmarks of totalitarian states."

A moment’s reflection will suggest that "abstract" – or perhaps "unavoidable" sins are the tool of despotism – whether it be for a totalitarian state, a religion, or a regime of political correctness.

Such abstract, theoretical, or manufactured sins are created by measuring real life against an idealised concept. Idealism is, by its nature, concerned with absolutes – and absolutes are always, necessarily, in conflict with the messiness of reality.

But Ideals have a great appeal – it seems that human beings have an innate longing for a world of perfection which is an escape from the real one of inequality, change, and uncertainty.

 

In addition – we have come to suspect that the human psyche comes fully equipped with a vast reservoir of potential guilt, which needs only to be roiled with a scant breath of "sin" to transform it into a useful tsunami of social control.

It should be noted that in the totalitarian state – especially as suggested by George Orwell’s 1984 – and with both political correctness and religion – the concern is not merely with outward behaviour – but with the "correct" thoughts which give rise to that behaviour.

Thus, political correctness holds up an impossible standard of niceness, based upon an impossible world of equality. But further, the politically correct person must engage in a constant monitoring of thoughts, so that they will be in accordance with the ideal of harmony and the absence of hurt feelings which that harmony implies.

Similarly, religion holds up an impossible standard of behaviour – to which no actual human being can possibly adhere. The constant oversight of thought is also essential; that is why it is always maintained that God knows what you are thinking. Smiting rod in hand, He’s looking for any thought deviation from the virtuous path .

Similarly, the totalitarian state – whether it be socialist or a simple dictatorship – attempts, with repressive measures, to alter the thinking of citizens in accord with some preconceived ideal notion of how the state should function. Communist China was noted for its "re-education camps" -- which have only recently been "officially" abandoned.

It seems reasonable to conclude that the totalitarian impulse is a constant in human society. It is seen in its most extreme form in totalitarian states, but it is also present in religion and political correctness.

The ultimate aim is power and influence. Those who make up the rules of political correctness or religion gain power. They are able to hold up an ideal of virtue, and shame others into a recognition of their "sin" – and hence into an alteration of behaviour. We would be remiss if we were not to mention that anthropogenic climate change is a secular religion which employs exactly the same tactics.

Eventually – as with any merely theoretical concept unsubstantiated by facts – the divergence between the imagined and the real becomes too great. When climate "science" makes too many unsuccessful predictions, the jig is up. In societies where scientific ideas become common, religious explanations of the universe tend to fade. The ideal of the politically correct may be harmonious equality – but the world is, at its essence, a competitive and striving place. Inequality is at the heart of change, life, and progress. Merit achieves more than equality.  The rose garden of harmony where feelings are never hurt was never promised – nor is it deliverable.

The totalitarian impulse – which uses some idealized concept of reality to control citizens – will always be with us. It can only be fought by a courageous skepticism which recognizes the limitations of the real world.

                                                                ***

*Political correctness is the new, oppressive religion. (Observation # 600)

Political correctness: despotism disguised as virtue. (Observation # 656)

**Microaggression: "...Turner describes it as "brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation and religious slights and insults to the target person or group." (Breitbart News, June 27)

 

 

 

 

 

Some Reflections on the Universe and the State of Mankind    (August 1, 2016)

(Well, why not? Otherwise we might have to do the laundry.)

 

We saw recently a program called "The Nine Months that Made You" – an account of the development of various aspects of the fetus. One has to be impressed with the marvellous ingenuity of the process, and one is tempted to see it as a proof that a superior intelligence has organized matter in a fashion that is past our understanding.

Of course, intellectually, we understand that the process represents millions of years of evolution, in which small changes were either approved or denied by the environment at the time. Those changes that worked, survived to be replicated; those that did not, failed and died out.

Everything – including living creatures -- that exists today is a testament to utility – the universe has, in a sense, given it a passing grade.

The result is the intricacy and complexity which astounds us and leads to the supposition of divinity.

While we reject such a surrender to supposition, the question still niggles away – once life began – why wasn’t it satisfied? Why did it have to keep experimenting? Of course, the word "experiment" implies intent. The answer, perhaps, is to use the more neutral word "change." Perhaps it is simply true that constant change gives rise to an "experimental" effect.

Viewed thus, the Universe, through constant change, becomes a kind of giant experimental machine – constantly throwing out ideas to see which are consistent with its underlying governing principles, and which are not.

Given an infinite amount of time, we might argue that the universe will create whatever is consistent with its underlying principles, recognizing that there are limitations imposed by the particular environment at any given time a change is made.

Thus, a change in one environment might be rejected; the same change in another environment might be accepted.

The fact that changes give rise to greater or lesser degrees of utility introduces another human concept – that of competition. It appears as though any organism is seeking some advantage in its environment. It is constantly trying out small changes to see if they will enhance survivability.

This very notion of competition – a constant seeking for maximum survival – introduces the antithetical notion of co-operation. Complex life forms are in competition with their environments – including other complex life forms – but they are in themselves, after all, examples of large numbers of cells or elements in a state of co-operation – with the overall aim of maximizing the survival of the whole.

These two antithetical notions seem to be at the heart of existence. Every living creature represents a marvel of cells co-operating for the greater competitive good of the creature as a whole.

When one considers colonies of ants or hives of bees, the same principle is observed. The ant colony is a collection of co-operative elements working together to compete – to maximize the success of the colony in its environment.

Are human tribes much different? Once again – we see a human tribe as a competitive entity which uses the co-operative forces of its individual members to ensure success. It is important to realize that the success of the tribe depends upon each competitive human being deferring his self-interest to the greater interest of the tribe.

Thus the tribe is akin to a living organism – driven by an instinctive, collective, spirit.

Perhaps it is worthwhile to enquire about the status of tribes and tribalism in the modern world.

In the old days, the aim of the tribe was "empire." True to its competitive nature, the tribe was expansionary. Single-celled organisms are not content with their lot, they seek to join with other cells for a competitive advantage. In the jungle, the choice is to eat or be eaten. Poll after poll of sentient creatures has consistently confirmed the results: eating has a significant popularity advantage over being eaten.

 

More recently – with the advent of more destructive weapons – and the horror of the holocaust – there has been a recoiling from the notion of nationalist expansion, and nationalism generally. Nuclear weapons have made the idea of expansion less attractive - except, perhaps, for those nations driven by blind religious fervour – or – a similar insanity -- suffering from a collective cultist delusion.

The response to one extreme is not often a middle ground – but to another, opposite extreme.

In reaction to the obvious dangers of uncontrolled nationalism, it is now believed that nationalism is, in itself, a bad thing.

The new idea is multiculturalism – which holds that different cultures can mix peacefully and harmoniously in a contentment of tranquility and brotherhood. The European Union is an attempt to nibble away at nationalism and show that there is more advantage to co-operation than tribal rivalries. It is an attempt to make a supra-national tribe without the conquest.

And underneath that, perhaps, lies the concept of globalism -- which envisions a tribal Pangea – a single unified tribe – a harmoniously buzzing hive of humanity controlled by a council of queen bees – each a certified expert in her field -- probably located in Brussels.

This notion of a unified world in which democracy – troublesome, unpredictable, and uninformed – vulnerable to the whims of the unenlightened masses – is finally put to rest – is also the aim of climate alarmists. In 1992 the Club of Rome, anti-democratic, anti-industrial, and elitist, made it clear that the threat of climate disaster was to be used as a tool to ensure that the world would submit, and accept the dictates of those with an unimpeachably superior understanding of what is best for the planet.

The solution to nationalism, in other words, is a greater nationalism – a unity achieved through benevolent dictatorship.

Hmmm. We are not so sure.

It may sound wonderful – a perfect, ultimate solution – in which competition and co-operation are merged into a perfect, seamless whole. It sounds like God, infinity, or a return to the denseness of the singularity – the universe before the big bang.

But, frankly it sounds impossible in the universe as we know it. It does not seem not consistent with the governing principles of the universe.

What evidence may suggest this?

The European Union – an attempt to create unity from diversity -- is already showing signs of disintegration. It appears to be an ideal concept which has little flexibility in dealing with obdurate realities. The idea that all nations have equal economic competence is attractive – but like many attractive ideas, has only a tangential relation to reality. The fact of Greece tends to refute the notion. And co-operation in matters of trade seems to involve giving up of national control of the economy to unelected functionaries in Brussels. The human reality is that those used to having a say in tribal decisions do not welcome the new tribal council that is unelected and unaccountable, and deaf.

Also, by embracing multiculturalism – the European Union threatens tribal instincts and traditional cultural values. The implied assumption of multiculturalism is that all cultures are equally worthy.  In fact, it should be obvious to anyone who gives it a moment’s thought – the attempt to meld cultures which have absolutely antithetical values will not go well. Those who believe that religion should be the basis of government are not likely to awaken on a fine Summer’s day imbued with the contrary notion – that it should not.

No one this side of sanity, of course, is in favour of aggressive, expansionary nationalism. But the opposite – a world government of final, fixed conclusions and happy, blissful conformity seems an unlikely realizable alternative.

Diversity and competition do have their advantages. Is it not better to have some numbers of nations working towards the most reasonable approach to creating the greatest happiness of the greatest number?

Let each nation compete – not militarily – but culturally.

In time, better ideas – those consistent with the limitations of the environments in which they are generated – will tend to triumph.

Even then, we may not see any final "world government" conclusions – just a gradual movement towards societies which are organized in a manner more consistent with the happiness and well-being of their citizens.

Thus, our conclusion is that the process of change and experimentation which seems to operate in our tiny corner of the universe, and the mixture of competition and co-operation which seems to govern the development of creatures and tribes, is one that is likely to continue.

This means that people, cultures and ideas are not equal, but exist in a competitive environment. The ultimate end is not world government, a singularity of culture, or a Nirvana of equality.

Rather, it is a continuation of the process in which utility is constantly refined, but perfection is always elusive.

 

 

 

 

 

Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle – and the Vestige of an old Idea of Freedom     (July 9, 2016)

Some Reflections on Gun Control in the United States   

      

 

In our ideal society, the most dangerous weapon accessible to the general public would be the standard-sized foam pillow. We specify foam, because we have encountered a number of rather heavy feather-based pillows.

We understand that to achieve our idealistic goal, automobiles, axes, hammers, bricks, two-by-four lumber, large stones, rebar, and a number of other items now freely available to ordinary citizens, would have to be banned.

In addition, human hands and feet would have to be replaced with sponge rubber, which might significantly impair both locomotion and dexterity.

As usual, there are always practical barriers to the creation of ideal worlds.

There is no doubt that – compared with other nations – the United States seems to have an inordinate number of citizens who own guns, and significantly spectacular crimes are committed through their use.

It is the constant mantra of those on the political left that gun ownership should be made increasingly difficult. Everyone would agree that the mentally unstable and criminally inclined should be prevented from obtaining guns through legal channels – and that there are types of guns which seem inconsistent with any reasonable domestic use.

At the same time, while we think that some progress can be made in restricting the possession of guns – we think that erasing the "gun culture" is more difficult than many may think.

It is the problem of putting the Genie back in the bottle. Once a Genie has emerged from the confines of his container, it is very difficult to persuade him to return.

The difficulty in erasing the "gun culture" itself arises from the fact that once there are a lot of guns in circulation, it is hard to get rid of them. In a society where guns are seen as useful devices for self-protection – because so many people own guns – it is difficult to convince citizens to give up that means of protection, and make themselves vulnerable.

That is particularly true when those most likely to give up their guns are law-abiding citizens, and the least likely are the most dangerous.* It has been noted that many mass shootings occur in "gun-free" zones.

If you were intent – through some mad misperception of reality -- on shooting large numbers of people – which would you choose -- a gun-free zone – or a venue where you might be shot by other citizens before you had a chance to do much damage?

Now that the Genie has escaped from the bottle, the most practical approach would seem to be twofold: Try to restrict possession to the most sane and responsible – and ensure that there are no "gun-free" zones which make citizens vulnerable.

There is another element which makes the destruction of gun culture in the United States difficult to erase: the historic and innate distrust of government.

 

The United States was formed as a revolt against unfair government – "no taxation without representation" was the cry of justification. The new Government established was based on checks and balances – limitations on the power of any one branch. The idea of the citizens’ right to bear arms rests on the notion that government is not to be entirely trusted. This idea is clearly articulated in two remarks of Thomas Jefferson:

When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.

Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.

It is safe say that the idea – and rτle -- of government has changed considerably from those early days. Jefferson thought that the reach of government should be limited:

A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.

But the desire for security outweighs the desire for liberty. Citizens of the modern state expect it to protect them from harm – and even from their own stupidity. In return the modern state requires a great deal of earned bread, and enacts much regulation which restricts the freedoms of citizens. The price of security is always liberty.**

This modern increase in the power and scope of government is like a move from the danger and liberty of the savanna to the security, conformity, and regulation of the hive. The government-hive is essentially socialist in nature. Equality, fraternity, and security – amid a harmonious buzzing – are the idealistic socialist aims.

It is worth noting, perhaps, that "political correctness" is the social manifestation of these goals. It pretends that equality and fraternity are the natural state of humankind – and attempts to ensure that no individual experience the harm of hurt feelings. Thus, "political correctness" is a kind of wilful blindness, an exercise in self-censorship in the aid of the socialist ideal.

It is not by chance that President Obama – the epitome of left-wing idealism -- uses every event of shooting to blame – not the motivation or ideology of the shooter – but the presence and availability of guns. Guns are a symbol of an old citizen freedom which has no place in the well-regulated, harmonious, egalitarian state.

The resistance to gun control, then, is two-fold.

First, there is the practical difficulty of getting people who have power to protect themselves, to give up that power. Power once possessed, as we have noted, is never relinquished except under delusion or necessity.***

Secondly, gun culture is the vestige of a freedom once considered important in the early days of the republic. It represents a symbolic distrust of government which has become increasingly powerful and intrusive in the lives of ordinary citizens.

We do not have, of course, any solution for the problem of mass shootings. We simply think that the refrain of "gun control" suggests a simplistic solution, and ignores certain relevant practical difficulties.

*For similar reasons we think nuclear disarmament is a pipe-dream. The most dangerous nations would find some way to cheat, and subsequently threaten all the law-abiding nations with destruction.
**Observation #371
***Observation #239.

 

 

 

The Religious Instinct. Some Hypothetical Meanderings.           (June 14, 2016)

 

God --  of course -- is not real. He is just an idea, an illusion. But here is the troubling question: Is such an illusion essential to the success of the tribe? Is the competitive universe a place where a rational tribe must always succumb to one driven by a blind -- but determined  -- collective insanity? (Observation # 616)

(We should note that after making this observation, we discovered that it was merely a repetition of the idea of E.O. Wilson:

Religious beliefs evolved by group-selection, tribe competing against tribe, and the illogic of religions is not a weakness but their essential strength. )

 

We have often puzzled at the persistence of religion – especially in the modern age. Here we are – in the age of science – where we have benefited from all kinds of discoveries about how the world actually works. You would think that we would have given up on ancient theories concerned with how it should work. Nor can it be overlooked that religion -- at least the Christian religion -- has had to make significant concessions to science. Little by little, facts have overcome theory: the earth, does, after all, circle the sun; the evidence for evolution of species over time – rather than their independent appearance based on Godly intervention – is compelling.

You would think that religious theory, so obviously unsupported by facts in particular instances, would be a structure irrevocably and fatally compromised: it would be a Swiss cheese of obvious gaping holes – and vulnerable to collapse at the nibbling of the next mouse.

Beyond the discovery of hostile evidence, one would expect ordinary, common sense skepticism would play a rτle in the disappearance of religion.

Why would people continue to believe hearsay -- stories of miracles taking place many centuries ago – when so little was known about the real world, and people were correspondingly more gullible?

Why would people believe – today -- the ancient founders of religions – those who, without evidence, claimed a special knowledge of "God "– an entity whose existence has never been proved – always supposed?

And – finally – thinking particularly of the Christian God – if he did exist, and really wanted to "save" mankind – why would he pursue such an unlikely hare-brained scheme as the one supposedly adopted? Choosing one particular place and time, and hoping his message would spread to the rest of the world seems like the plan of someone "cognitively challenged." A moral deficit is also suggested -- a callous disregard for the "saving" of those who lived earlier – and those who had the misfortune to be born elsewhere and believe in some other God. And this is to say nothing of the ethics of filial torture and sacrifice.

Thus the Christian God, in particular, stands condemned by a foolishness and moral vacuity inconsistent with the propaganda so earnestly spread on his behalf.

It is true that Christian religious belief has declined – especially in countries with modern and successful economies. But there are still intelligent people – we are tempted to say otherwise intelligent people – who believe the old myths.

And Islam, a religion based firmly on perceptions of the world current in the seventh century, seems not even marginally embarrassed by that upholding of primitive sensibility; it appears determined to conquer the modern world, and turn the clock definitively back.

No, it is clear that religion has very little to do with rationality or common sense. Religious belief seems like the Roadrunner, the cartoon character who runs far past the edge of the cliff, but – unaware that his flight is completely unsupported – travels resolutely on.

One might argue that religion persists simply based on hopefulness – despite all reason, the delights of eternal harp-playing and multiple, continually reconstituted virgins compel unshaken belief.

In some cases, this may be true; but we think that such fantasies are insufficient to account for the dogged persistence of religious belief. We think that there must be something else at work.

Our favourite theory is based on the notion of as E.O. Wilson that tribalism -- and religion -- are instinctive ways of thinking – ways of thinking that have become part of our cognitive heritage because of some evolutionary advantage.

The advantage of tribalism seems clear: co-operation, and a certain conformity of thought, allow the tribe to accomplish tasks that would be impossible for individuals acting on their own.

The advantages of religion – we suspect – are twofold. First, it may be that belief involves a certain element of optimism, which engenders a useful confidence. Thinking that God is on your side, and that you will be rewarded in the afterlife, may well bequeath a comfortable and useful serenity not available to troubled and uncertain unbelievers.

 

The second advantage – which is related to the first – is the sheer irrationality of religion. What is based on faith cannot be destroyed by reason. Not only is there confidence – but it is irrational, unassailable confidence. If that is fanaticism – well, perhaps -- in fact -- there is an advantage to fanaticism.

Let us imagine two tribes in battle – one which is religious – and one which is not – which one – given technological and numerical parity – is most likely to prevail?

It seems clear that the religious tribe, fighting not just for itself, but convinced that "God" is on its side – that its cause is somehow linked to a great idea, a great and universal Verity – will fight with a degree of irrational fanaticism – with a frenzied conviction of the rightness of its cause that the other tribe may lack. The fact that an afterlife -- another irrational aspect of religion -- is assured -- may also render the inconveniences of the moment – like death – of relatively minor consideration.

Seen in this light, religion becomes an integral part of the larger "competitive instinct" for every tribe – and perhaps for every individual. It is a special human "driver" of the competitive impulse which underlies all evolution.

If this hypothesis is correct – it may account for the persistence of religion – in spite of lack of evidence, and common sense skepticism. It represents a kind of fanatical idealism which has been useful in the past, and is now part of our instinctive heritage.

This also suggests why religion may be very difficult to get rid of. The cortex may disapprove, but the primitive brain -- the diencephalon -- has its unshakeable reasons.

We would note that, if this hypothesis is true, our own view of society must be somewhat altered.

Up to this point, we have deplored the persistence of religion, and had some hope that, as contrary evidence piles up it might gradually succumb. We think religion stands in the way of seeing things as they are. With all its dogmas and certitudes, it represents ways of thinking which are simply not in accord with the realities of the human condition.

Now – we are going to get theoretical. We hasten to say that we have no expertise in biology, anthropology or sociology – our explanations merely seem consistent with reality

Our theory of society is that it is a fabric woven of two contrasting strands – the fibre of competition, and the thread of co-operation. Competition is the bedrock, underlying reality of all existence. If the original single-celled organisms had been egalitarian, instead of competitive, the world would, today, consist of single-celled organisms. Inequality, we have noted, is the seed of progress.

At the same time, human society has prospered because of tribal co-operation. That co-operation has, as a necessary concomitant, a hierarchical structure, and involves a high degree of conformity. The competitive instinct has been modified by co-operative advantages. Co-operation – apparently non-competitive on the individual level – is an aid to competition at the larger, tribal level.

We have seen religion as most obviously linked to the co-operative element in society. We have described it as a cultural glue of mythic tradition. We have seen it as a binding element – a common devotion to an ideal. It encompasses the ideas of hierarchy and conformity which are essential to the effective functioning of the tribe.

We have thought that, as merely a helpful ideal, it was, perhaps, more amenable to reform.

Like other dangerous ideals – socialism, communism, equality, and multiculturalism – we have seen religion as vulnerable to common sense.*

But it now appears to us that religion is not simply part of that co-operative, idealistic strand in society.

Rather – it is like tribalism itself. It is, in fact, the epitome – the crowning achievement, if you will – of tribalism – which mitigates individual rivalries and competition in order to gain ultimate competitive tribal advantage. The co-operation and conformity demanded by religion – its ideal and absolutist nature represents, ultimately, the most powerful competitive element in the tribe. It is most powerful precisely because it is most unreasonable – because it requires nothing more than its own existence as an unimpeachable justification.

Just as evolution has favoured a combination of competitiveness and co-operation in human society, so it has favoured the idealism and unreasoning commitment of religion. The most religious tribe is the one which is likely to triumph and prosper.

Thus, religion is a far more formidable force than we had believed – an entrenchment in our primitive reptilian brains which does not cede lightly to cortical perceptions.

Thus, while we are still hopeful that both tribalism and religion will be weakened, as the world grows smaller, and as more is discovered about how the world actually works -- we think it will take a very long time.

In the meantime, we question how advisable it is to attempt to accelerate that natural process. Both tribalism and religion are instinctive, and inherently competitive. The attempt to ignore different tribal values and different religious values, and pretend that there can be a happy, rapid, and harmonious melding of different cultures is doomed to disappointment. That melding – called multiculturalism – is fraught with difficulties and dangers which it is better to recognize than ignore.

We are in favour of common sense – but sometimes that common sense involves recognizing the power of instinctive, irrational forces which are resistant to reason.

 

*Upon reflection – we might see the common element of fanaticism in all dangerous ideals.

 

 

 

The Canada Revenue Agency Scam     (May 26, 2016)

 

We have received a number of calls in recent months – probably four in total – both at the Lumpenbangen Studios and at Wind-in-the-Pines -- which claim to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.

These calls suggest the existence of some case file over which the Revenue Agency is pursuing us. There are warnings of dire legal consequences for not returning the call.

This is a rough transcript of the call most recently received;

This is a last and final legal notification call for you. The very second you receive this message I need you or your attorney of record to return the call. The issue at hand is extremely time-sensitive.

My name is officer Jacob Martin, calling you from the Canada revenue Agency. The hotline to my division is 613-689-1525. I repeat it: 613-689-1525.

We have already tried to send the registered notifications to you about this case, but we have not received any positive response from your side. So this is the last legal notification call for you.

If we never receive any positive response from your side on this date, you will face the legal consequences. So don’t try to disregard this call...(Answering machine time-out cut off the call.)

 

Other calls we have received have thrown in terms such as "grand jury," and "magistrate’s court" – to suggest the magnitude of the crime supposedly committed.

We understand that if the victim returns the call, an attempt is made to obtain immediate payment to settle an outstanding debt to the Agency.

Now, the rational mind finds it easy to dismiss such calls.

First, one knows that one has no ongoing dispute with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Second, one knows that if such a dispute were to arise, the Agency would not use a telephone call to initiate a discussion.

Third, if – in some bizarre breach of protocol -- a telephone call were to be used, the caller would at least know one’s name.

Fourth, Officer "Jacob Martin" would not likely have so pronounced an Indian or Pakistani accent.

Fifth, Officer Martin would have a better command of the English language – although, considering the educational standards of the current day – perhaps not.

Sixth, the Revenue Agency would not be so blatantly aggressive and intimidating.

So yes, it is very easy for the rational mind to dismiss such a call.

 

But the rational mind is not in charge in such a situation.  Numerous clinical studies have shown that while the words "Canada," "Revenue," and "Agency" are, in and of themselves, relatively benign -- in combination they cause immediate synaptic collapse in all major regions of the cortex. The synapses degenerate into fragile, attenuated doohingies, and, as a result, all rational thought is immediately suspended. 

With the cortex completely out of commission, all that is left is the ancient reptilian brain, the diencephalon. The besieged diencephalon goes into "fight or flight" mode. It is easy to imagine some senior person. veering towards the edge of marble loss, might actually consider calling 613-689-1525.

In the most recent instance, our own brain, veering towards the edge of marble loss, went into "fight" mode.

We called the Canada Anti-Fraud Centre. We did not get to speak to a real person. Recorded messages assured us that the Centre conducted no investigations, but were there to pass on our expressions of angst to those who might be interested. Mention was made of calling the police – or, indeed, – the Canada revenue Agency itself. If we insisted on actually talking to someone, they said Press "seven." But they had already said they were awfully busy.

We got the impression that they wished we would just go away.

They did, however, provide us with the CRA telephone number.

All we got was a busy signal.

Time and time again.

Fraud, shmaud – who gives a damn?

From our perspective – this should not be a difficult matter.

There should be someone to call.

Within minutes – with today’s technology and the full legal heft of the Canada Revenue Agency -- it should be a simple matter to determine the location of the callers at 613-689-1525. A SWAT* team could be duly despatched -- the perpetrators could be arrested, and hauled off to the nearest jail. No bail should be granted. A mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years in prison should be imposed for such a crime, with no chance of parole.

The perpetrators should be made to listen to their calls – played over and over again -- between midnight and two a.m. every morning.

We suspect that, with quick and decisive action -- with firm but entirely reasonable penalties imposed -- these telephone scams would disappear in a matter of weeks.

The fact that these calls persist shows that the government – as we have always suspected – doesn’t give a damn about its citizens – and the criminal justice system is a complete farce.

 

*Special Weapons and Tactics

 

 


 

Censuring the Census      (May 17, 2016)

 

We think that we have seen the last of three census forms: two for the duplex in which the Lumpenbangen Studios are housed, and one for Wind-in-the-Pines, our escape property near Running Brook, which is thirty minutes from the bustling Metropolis of Mariposa.

The first form we received was delivered by hand at Wind-in-the-Pines. We were startled to hear a knock at the door one weekday morning. We should explain the Wind-in-the-Pines is not easily discovered: it is reached only over a driveway belonging to our neighbour.

That driveway – beyond our neighbour’s house – is not particularly welcoming. The gravel runs out, and gives way to a grudging track. Indeed, we have had visitors telephone from our neighbour’s drive in despair, thinking that they are hopelessly lost. They are not, in fact, lost; they merely lack the fortitude and determination to persist. Accustomed to paved roads, they lack the nerve and the spirit of adventure demanded by a petering pathway.

Thus, we must give credit to the stalwart employee of Statistics Canada who persisted to the end of the road in order to deliver important government documents.

The envelope we were given contained a form to be filled out in the traditional manner – using an old-fashioned writing instrument which, through some outmoded technology, transmits symbols to paper.

We must assume that the hand-delivered document requiring obsolete technology was a condescension to inhabitants of a rural area.

For, when we received the next two envelopes at the Lumpenbangen Studios, they arrived by mail, and although the envelopes looked as though they might contain forms, they did not. They contained instructions for contacting the nice Statistics people in Ottawa.

Of course, they are not all that nice. Each envelope we received contained the stern warning:

Complete the census – it’s the law.

 

 

Of course we do enjoy a little bullying by the government every now and then. The government is usually so warm and friendly, asking how it can help us, continually lowering our taxes, telling us about green energy initiatives, and promising Nirvana within our lifetime. It’s a relief that there are some things it is firm about.

They might have used the cheerful uplift approach: "Statistics Canada needs your assistance in providing the information needed to serve our growing population better."

But we already have too much cheerful uplift; just a hint of jackboot is necessary to make ordinary law-abiding citizens toe the line. Those who are not usually law-abiding will also be duly impressed. There is nothing like the warning on a census envelope to put the fear of Statistics Canada into the most hardened drug dealer, and the most determined of bank robbers, tax cheats, and petty thieves.

We duly went online, and filled out the forms. We retained, as is prudent, the confirmation number which proved that we were jackboot-amenable.

A few days later, we received "reminder" envelopes in the mail. They contained actual forms – just like the one at Wind-in-the-Pines. One of them was a long form census – not like the short form we had already filled out.

The reminder envelopes repeated the warning:

Complete the census – it’s the law.

Evidently the nice people at Statistics Canada had not been at their computers to receive our online forms. They had issued confirmation numbers, and had then forgotten about them.

Fearful of the jackboot, we have sent off the new forms, uncompleted. We included a brief note containing our confirmation numbers, and a few words of appreciation for the competence of Statistics Canada.

Almost as an afterthought, we included an exclamation of congratulations on their stalwart efforts in collecting the information so necessary -- so needed and helpful in assisting the government in providing for the needs of our growing population.

 

 

 

Some Difficulties of the Human Condition           (March 31, 2016)
 

We saw last evening the PBS program Frontline, which dealt with the process of change in Saudi Arabia.

Just as the prevalence of cell phone videos has made us aware of things formerly hidden in our own society – so in Saudi Arabia, hidden cameras are able to portray the realities that the government would not be excessively eager to display. Much of the program depended on events surreptitiously recorded.

We found the program to be exceedingly depressing, although nothing that we learned could be described as unexpected.

The nature of human nature is such that it is not designed to produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Rather, it is based on the competitive roots of our species: the strongest will survive, and having survived, will attempt to retain their power by whatever means is available.

One has only to look at a tribe of chimpanzees – and the way the leader seeks to protect his territory and dominance -- to understand this essential truth.

Thus, in Saudia Arabia, there is a long established monarchy – a royal family. Their wealth is obtained with relatively little effort by taking oil from the ground and selling it. There is not much need to engage the population in commercial enterprise and trade.

Thus, the issue becomes – how can a population – no doubt increasingly aware of the freedoms enjoyed in other parts of the world – be kept content.

One means is through extensive social programs – the purchase of passivity with bread and cake. It is worth noting that such programs have become less feasible with the current low price of oil.

The second means is by repression – the stifling of all dissent.

Thus, recently,* a Shia cleric, Nimr Baqir al_Nimr, was executed, essentially for calling for free elections and for his criticism of the government.

 

Similarly, there is the well- publicized case of Raif Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 on a charge of "insulting Islam through electronic channels," and apostasy.

In 2013 he was convicted on several charges and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In 2014 his sentence was increased to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes, and a fine. (Wikipedia)

One of the aids to political repression is, of course, religion. We are reminded of the statement by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 5 B.C. -- 65 A.D.: "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."

In Saudi Arabia, Sharia Law is useful in oppressing the population. The religious police intimidate the populace over such matters as dress, and the playing of music. It is well-known that Saudi women are not permitted to drive automobiles.

More importantly, Sharia Law provides for the death penalty for "murder, apostasy, blasphemy, idolatry, homosexuality, sedition, witchcraft and sorcery, adultery (sexual relations with another person while married) drug use/trafficking." (Wikipedia)

Execution may be by public beheading or stoning.

In other words, Saudi Arabia represents the primitive, barbaric, and oppressive values of the Dark Ages.

More civilized societies do not come easily. The great advantage of democracy is that it serves as a counterweight to the natural tendency for those in power to hang on to it at any cost. Every few years, the people get the chance to throw the rascals out. It is a useful guard against the human lust for power.

The program has reinforced our view that multiculturalism is a very bad idea. Cultures are not equal, and the idealistic pretence that they are is foolish and destructive. Western societies should not accept immigrants without very powerful programs to counteract the effects of primitive thinking, and cruel, barbarous religions.
 

*January, 2016

 

 

The Ghomeshi Trial           (March 26, 2016)

In the hotel of the human psyche, emotion owns and manages the building; science and reason are occasional guests. (Observation # 560)

The scientific method – with its annoying emphasis on evidence – finds neither a warm welcome nor a comfortable lodging in the human mind. That is because an agreeable concept can often be reassuringly maintained through the judicious selection of complementary evidence. Starting with a dispassionate look at the evidence too often leads to conclusions either inconsiderately impertinent or thoroughly disagreeable. (Observation # 501)

Certainty is most passionate in the absence of evidence. (Observation # 462)

We note that Jian Ghomeshi has been acquitted of charges of abuse claimed by three women.

There has been a significant reaction to the verdict. According to an article in the National Post, a poll has revealed that 46% of women and 30% of men claimed that their confidence in the system of justice had decreased. (National Post, March 26, 2016)

Indeed, we have seen, on television, large crowds of women expressing their disagreement with the verdict, and articulating their approval of the principle that "survivors" should be believed.

The great difficulty, of course, is that Mr. Ghomeshi was acquitted precisely because the testimony of the plaintiffs was not credible: there was sufficient evidence of "economy" with the truth, that their integrity of motive could not be assumed.

While there is little doubt that acts of violence did, indeed, take place, the claim of severity was belied by subsequent actions of the accusers – actions which they chose not to reveal.

One cannot have a system of justice which makes a decision to accept some evidence as truthful -- but reject contrary evidence of untruthfulness -- based simply on a preconceived notion of the judge or jurors. In other words, judgment cannot be rendered on the basis of emotional bias rather than evidence.

It appears that those objecting to the acquittal are driven primarily by emotion. They know bad things happened, and are convinced that Mr. Ghomeshi should pay the price for them.

 

It was ever thus.

The human brain has great difficulty in dealing with the requirement of evidence. The scientific method is admirable in theory – but less found in practice than is comforting. One has only to think of the claim by climate alarmists that "the science is settled" – a statement which represents the very antithesis of scientific thinking – to realize how much more importance is given to the "preferred narrative," than to facts.

In many other areas of society, emotion takes unseemly precedence over the need to examine facts. It is interesting that, at universities, left-wing thinking has assumed the mantle of religious dogma. Ideas that are contrary to the assumptions of the left are barred from expression on campus. If right-wing speakers are allowed, there is much anguish expressed over the "pain" and "suffering" that the unwelcome ideas have caused. "Grief" counsellors are called in to deal with a response that is not intellectual, but emotional.

Religion is a prime example of belief based on emotional needs and preferences; evidence is either completely lacking, or so flimsy and contrived that, if it had to do with any other matter, it would be laughed off the stage by an audience of ten-year-olds.

Political correctness, the modern religion, is based on the idea that all people, ideas, cultures and religions are equal. There is not a wisp of evidence for this belief. Indeed, all the evidence suggests the contrary: that the world we see is a result of competitive striving among unequal elements, with winners and losers -- not equals -- as the inevitable result.

Even at the political level, we see Mr. Trudeau guided by a belief in "sunny ways" which denies the seriousness of the threat of a pernicious ideology. Like Mr. Obama, he makes appropriately condemnatory public statements of Islamist attacks abroad, but without any suggestion that he is aware of the threat posed at home by religious believers with views quite antithetical to those of western societies.

Europe has allowed the growth of enclaves of communities based on the philosophy of Islam, based on the belief – not the evidence – that all cultures are equal.

The great difficulty of evidence is that it is often not consistent with what our emotions have concluded – or would like to conclude. We are, essentially, creatures not of reason, but of emotion.

 

 

 

The Commercial that Bugs Us         (March 23, 2016)
 

We are sufficiently inured to television commercials that few draw our attention – whether to engage us with delight or annoy us to the point of antipathy.

However, we have become vaguely aware of our growing dislike for a commercial currently being aired to promote the services of a large Canadian bank.

The advertisement shows a middle-aged couple, each swathed in a hijab-inclusive white cotton garment, lying face down on tables on a beach. They are receiving simultaneous massages.

In accord with modern protocol -- although they are on holiday – no doubt escaping the cruelties of a Canadian winter -- they are instantly accessible through their smart phone.

The phone rings, and their student son appears on the screen. Somewhat tentatively, he asks for "a few bucks" for textbooks.

No problem.

With a few taps on the phone, the money is instantly sent. The occasion is a wonderful tribute to the capacity for remote transactions provided by the Canadian Bank.

What is it that bugs us about this little scene?

We have no objection to people escaping the cruelties of a Canadian winter on a beach. We have had occasion to do the very same thing ourselves. And although we, ourselves, do not claim ownership of a smart phone – we are too insecure to allow a telephone demonstrate its intellectual capacities vastly superior to our own – we do not object to those who deem themselves unafraid of that potentially humiliating competition.

Even the matter of the professional massage on the beach – while quite outside the realm of anything allowed by our personal puritan sensibilities – no doubt a genetic heritage traceable to our Quaker ancestry – seems well within the realm of "ordinary life."

 

No. What strikes us as extraordinary is the request for "a few bucks" for textbooks.

First of all, it is our understanding that modern textbooks are rarely available for $19.95. They can often cost well over a hundred dollars. But even a "few" moderately priced textbooks would seem likely to cost in excess of two hundred dollars.

Now – why would the student son be so vague? If he actually needs specific textbooks, they would come – surely --with specific price tags. Surely he should be asking for three hundred and twenty-two dollars and seventy-nine cents to cover the cost of "The Erosion of Sanity in American Society," "Adam Smith Reconsidered – a Compendium," and Peter Thistlethwaite’s "From Rome to the Present: Why Civilizations Decline."

And why does he require textbooks in the middle of the term anyway? Shouldn’t that have been all sorted out before his parents went on holiday?

And, of course, the second thing that doesn’t add up – so to speak – is this: if the request for money was so non-specific – how did the parents determine how much to send? Did they just send him a thousand bucks with the thought: "That should probably cover it."

We are led to the inevitable conclusion that these parents are idiots. They are portrayed, of course, as reasonably well-off and self-indulgent – the holiday and the professional massage do that. But are they really so mindless as to send gobs of money without question?

How different from the bad old days of our own youth. In those periods of cruelty and suspicion, the father, in considerable agitation, would have got up from his massage table and said "You need how much?" and "For what!" And then: "Can’t you get them used?’

No. This commercial bugs us – for either one of two reasons. First it is totally unrealistic. No son asks for an unspecified amount of money for textbooks, and no parent sends an amount of money without getting the details: what are the textbooks, and what do they cost?

If this scenario is not totally unrealistic, it suggests the imminent collapse of civilization as we have known it -- arising from the pernicious onset of terminal stupidity.

 

 

 

Trudeau’s World          (February 26, 2016)

All the world’s a stage
And all the politicians merely players;
They craft their exits and their entrances
And play each part their reputations to enlarge --
Then bear the prize -- the commoners’ applause.
 

Pie-itis: Disease affecting cognition and perception. Characterized by specific hallucinations concerning edible desserts (they are usually round, and crusted) navigating in the earth’s atmosphere. (Observation # 555)

 

It is perhaps not surprising that the new Liberal government reflects – in some degree – the background of its new Leader.

It is our understanding that Mr. Trudeau has had no success in the law, in other professions, in running a business, or, indeed, in managing any enterprise in which funds are received, and expenditures are recorded, with some necessary balance between the two.

Instead, Mr. Trudeau has had experience in teaching drama.

It is little surprise, then that our present government seems to be engaged in exercises – or should we say gestures – of high drama.

First there was the dramatic gesture of withdrawing our planes from the fight against ISIS. The motivation seems to have been largely symbolic: Canada is a quiet, modest, peace-loving country. It eschews violence and unpleasantness of any sort. Thus, to preserve its purity of reputation, actual combat must be avoided at all costs.

Mr. Trudeau’s original idea was that the CF 18's were an unseemly symbol of masculine aggression. He proposed, instead a more nurturing rτle. Rather than attempting to prevent aggression in the first place, Canada would provide warm blankets – quite possibly with cups of chicken soup attached – to those displaced into inhospitable mountainous regions.

 

Next there was the feel-good proposal of ten billion dollar deficits for infrastructure – with a happy ending of a balanced budget shortly thereafter. But ten billion, in the face of a suddenly proposed looming recession, seems entirely inadequate. If a ten billion dollar deficit is good, it follows as the night the day that eighteen billion will be even better. Indeed, why not thirty? These are, after all, only numbers.

There are other gestures, too. An inquiry will be held into missing and murdered aboriginal women. Women in general will not be considered. Nor will missing and murdered aboriginal men. Don’t even mention non-aboriginal men. You see – there’s something dramatic and appealing in the notion of defenceless aboriginal women being preyed upon – not by aboriginal men – but by an uncaring society at large.

The results of this inquiry we can easily predict in advance. The fault – the root cause, shall we say – will be found in social policies and practices which have led to the inability of aboriginal cultures to function in the way God intended – living in harmony with nature just as they did before the arrival of the Europeans.

There are doubtless other such gestures which speak to our general thesis.

But finally, we must consider the grand gesture of admitting twenty-five thousand Syrian refugees, in a dramatically short period of time. Of course, the actual completion date for the project  has had to be revised. The "end of the year" was only a dramatic gesture, after all.

But we have now learned that the notion that we are helping those actually fleeing and oppressed is also something of an exaggeration.

According to The Rebel Media (Ezra Levant, February 19th) the rescued Syrians do not even come from refugee camps. He cites Martin Bolduc of the Canadian Border Services Agency -- who, in an appearance before a Parliamentary Committee – states that almost all of the refugees have been living in apartments in cities such as Beirut and Amman "for years."

No wonder we have heard they have complained about being warehoused in hotels.

Indeed, it seems more than likely that they will be disillusioned by the realities of attempting to live in the frigidity of Canada, coping with a foreign language, and having uncertain prospects for employment.

We have much confidence in our prediction that the "grand gesture" – followed by some gradually emerging unhappy realities -- will become the hallmark of our new government.

 

 

 

 

The Second Time Around                (January 18, 2016)


We attended yesterday a "private screening" of a new Canadian film, "The Second Time Around."

A descriptive blurb prepared us for the mawkishly sentimental:

In this heart-warming story full of hope, dreams and second chances, two
seniors meet and discover that it’s never too late to fall in love again.
Katherine Mitchell wasn’t looking for love a second time, not at her age,
and certainly not with cranky Isaac Shapiro. Despite the nosey bunch of
seniors in the residence where Katherine convalesces after breaking her
hip, she and Isaac warm to each other over their shared love of music. But
family problems and unforeseen illness threaten both their blossoming
relationship and Katherine’s lifelong dream of going to the opera in Milan.

Our own particular heart is kept – by design, with a sophisticated set of compressors – at the approximate temperature of frozen nitrogen dioxide. The chances of it being warmed during one hundred and seven minutes of a cinematic love story set in a retirement home are as remote as the Big Bang.

However, our worst fears were not realized.

The film is not really a film, but an opera. Opera is noted for its creaky, unrealistic plots. Nobody goes to the opera for realism. They go to opera for the music – for the presentation of human emotion through music.

The operatic note is struck at the beginning – Katherine is at the opera, mouthing the words. She is entranced by the world of stylized emotion. Reality intrudes when she breaks her hip, and is shunted off to a retirement residence by her daughter, whose patience has already begun to stretch at the seams. She simply has no time to provide the additional care now required.

The retirement residence is hardly realistic. Despite some requisite tokens – the residents are far too fit – cognitively and physically. The attraction between the opera-loving Katherine, and the Jewish tailor, Isaac, is unlikely. But don’t forget – this is opera – and Isaac has some background in singing.

There are some interesting symbolic touches in the film.

Katherine’s dream is to visit La Scala in Milan – but La Scala is just a picture – presented to her by Katherine’s granddaughter – a symbol hung upon the wall.

 

Some of the men at the residence pass their time playing cards – a symbol of life’s lottery.

One of the men is "losing it" – his mind is gradually fading – he gives up his hand – forcing a redistribution of the cards. Later, he commits suicide.

Isaac is a tailor. He repairs Katherine’s dress, and makes a suit to give a fitting appearance to the Alzheimer’s patient, who committed suicide by stepping in front of a car. He provides Katherine with the red dress which magically allows her to dance. He himself, is the alchemist who transmutes Katherine’s golden dreams to something less golden, but more real, and, oddly, more comforting.

At first, Katherine determines that, together, they will realize her dream – the dream of visiting the opera house in Milan. But Isaac is diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The prognosis – as with life itself – is ultimately certain – but subject to variability.

La Scala remains a picture on the wall. The reality is not a dream – but it can be faced better by two rather than one. The narrative, as Conrad said of Heart of Darkness, "is not gloomy."

The backbone of the film is the music. Famous operatic arias link the scenes of narrative and underscore the truth of the human emotions of the human journey.*

The ending of the film is unusual. It is, in effect, a curtain call. All the characters appear in a festive scene, which is not realistic, but symbolic. What it says is that we have, indeed, been watching an opera, which is to be appreciated, not for its realism, but for its emotional truth. It is the director’s "Prospero" moment:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air...
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
 

*We suspect that the music has been chosen for its relevance to particular scenes; however, we cannot elaborate since our knowledge of opera is non-existent.

 

 

 

Some further Notes on Tribalism      (January 12, 2016)
 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...

(John Donne, 1572 -1631)

Ever since we saw the documentary on E.O. Wilson -- Of Ants and Men -- last September,* we have been more acutely aware of the importance of tribalism.

Professor Wilson argues that tribalism is instinctive – it is something which has evolved as part of our being. It accounts for our exceptional success – because it involves co-operation to accomplish great tasks. It accounts for our weakness – the very co-operation which enables the tribe to function as a cohesive unit requires a hierarchical system in which there are few leaders, many followers, and much conformity.

If we look at society, we see how natural it is for people to form groups. Men are not islands -- they are always looking for continents to be part of. Families are little tribal units, as are high school cliques, street gangs, sports teams and political parties. There are cultural and national tribes, as well as religious ones.

Tribes are necessary and comforting.

But they come with baggage.

As Charles Mackay noted in "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds," men think in herds – and go mad in herds. Once an idea reaches a certain level of popularity, regardless of its validity, it becomes almost impossible to dislodge. Recent examples are the theories which condemn saturated fats, and blame human beings for climate change. In neither case has there been adequate evidence – but that has been no bar to general popular acceptance.

This tendency to hop on bandwagons also explains why the scientific method does not find a warm welcome in the human mind. Slogging through evidence to discover something which may not be comforting pales besides the immediate adoption of grand and intuitive notions. It is interesting that those notions do not have to be grand and flattering -- although it probably helps. Guilt and fear have a surprisingly popular appeal. It is as if, deep down, human beings think they are probably getting away with something, and shouldn’t. The notion of human sacrifice – whether it is throwing youths and maidens into the pit – or living in a cave instead of a house – seems to have perennial popularity.

It may have been Pavlov (1849 - 1936) who discovered conditioned reflexes and "brainwashing" – but tribes have always shown the same knowledge intuitively. When the human mind is sufficiently confused and troubled, it is ripe for new suggestions. It will follow the path away from turmoil, and towards brotherhood.

Thus cultural tribes always seem to have rituals and initiation rites which present an ordeal to be endured. Religions present the fear of hellfire in order to convince potential dissenters. The relics are found in fraternity or freshman or sports team hazings. It is interesting that even doctors are initially required to work absurdly punishing hours. If brotherhood comes too cheap, it has a lesser cohesive force.

We find ourselves ambivalent with respect to tribalism.

On the one hand – with respect to unthinking conformity – we think opinion should be guided by evidence.

On the other hand, in our attempts to be non-conformist and be guided by evidence, we find ourselves in opposition to those idealists who claim that tribalism can be ignored. They believe – as we would like to – that every man can be strong, free, and independent. But that leads them to multiculturalism – the belief that tribal differences are insufficiently significant to be a barrier to a happy equality of singing comforting songs around the campfire.

We are skeptical. Or practical.

It will be interesting to see how the mass immigration of culturally different tribes into Germany works out. Especially if there are no initiation rituals.

Thus, we will continue to reject the popular tribalism which embraces the theory of anthropogenic climate change. The evidence is not there.

But the evidence that cultures are equal is not there either.

Thus, in attempting to be scientific and non tribal – we can claim only a partial victory.

By rejecting multiculturalism, we must appear to be tribal. We think that separation of church and state, freedom of speech, gender equality and democratic institutions are better that their opposites. We do not think that tribes with radically different values can live in harmony. As the world becomes more of a "global village" – tribal differences may lessen.

We think that that may take some time.

 

*See Drivel, October 12, 2015

 

 

Some more Observations on Science and Orthodoxy: How can one recognize an alien?       (January 11, 2016)

 

...nothing that you will earn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life -- save only this -- that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education. (John Alexander Smith, 1863  - 1939)

In the science fiction movies – this is always the tricky bit – how can you tell whether Miss Smithers, the town librarian, is who she claims to be? How do you know that she is not an alien, carefully constructed to appear like an ordinary human being?

In real life, the difficulty is similar: how can you tell whether a statement is based on real science – or whether it is politics – of some kind or other – tricked out to look just like science? Is that really Grandma Science – or a wolf wearing her labcoat?

The answer is -- it is not very easy. The unfortunate fact is that very very few people have the expertise to assess a scientific experiment. How many people can assess the validity of the assumptions, the appropriateness of the method, or pinpoint areas of potential error?

Obviously, only other scientists in the field – and it seems to be true that scientists are not immune to bandwagon hopping.

Our little foray into a commentary on the efficacy of statin drugs the other day* drew a sharp rebuke from someone who accused us of being unable to distinguish between "evidence" and "bias." The claim was that, with certain indications, statins are "life-saving" drugs.

If it were only that easy!

We responded with a quotation from 2007 which appeared in an article in the National Post:

In a brief article published in the most recent issue of The Lancet, Dr. Wright and co-author Dr. John Abramson of Harvard Medical School pooled data from eight randomized trials comparing statins with a placebo in people at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The statins did not reduce total deaths. And, when they looked at women alone, they found no benefit.

                   Overall, statins reduced the risk of heart attack or stroke.

But the absolute risk reduction of 1.5% ‘is small [and] means that 67 people have to be treated for five years to prevent one such event...’

The first thing we have to say is that – although we have quoted this conclusion – we have absolutely no way of assessing it on scientific grounds. We know nothing of the methodology, or how the methodology was applied.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that this statement is accurate. What it says is:

(a) statins do not reduce total mortality

(b) in some cases they do reduce the risk of heart or stroke

(c) the reduction in risk is small

If these things are true, then it would seem that doctors would be best advised to put the facts in front of patients – together with some indications about the potential side-effects of stain drugs – and let the patient make the choice.

Since total mortality does not appear to be an issue, it seems to be a choice between some slight reduction in getting a heart attack or stroke, and the risk of side-effects, which can sometimes be severe.

Since doctors do not present that choice – are they being "scientists" – or something quite different?

Let us leave the quotation aside for the moment -- and return to the issue of how to assess "scientific" claims.

Only by indirections, may directions be found out.

Essentially, one has to apply one’s "education" – one’s knowledge of how the world works. There is no simple, easy formula. Nor is there any sure way of knowing whether one’s conclusion is correct.

That, unfortunately, is life.

Because there is no easy formula, let us try to suggest an approach by using specific examples.

With respect to the efficacy of statin drugs, it seems reasonable to ask: "cui bono?" Is it the patient -- or the drug company?

Pharmaceutical companies make huge amounts of money from statin drugs. They have a powerful motivation to reinforce the theory that their drugs really work. Money can be dangerous: " Money is like water: in sufficient volume, it erodes the bedrock of principle, and cuts its own channel." (Observation #96)

 

 

 

The second question is, then – how ethical are drug companies? Here we bring to bear some personal knowledge. We know someone who has been a frequent "guinea pig" in early clinical trials. We have learned that no one in his right mind reports side effects in such trials – because such reporting is not what those conducting the study wish to hear. If a subject reports too many side effects on multiple occasions, it is gently suggested that he or she is not really suited to the rτle of guinea pig. The loss of that rτle means a loss of income.

Oh, you didn’t know?

Those "guinea pigs" are not motivated by an altruistic desire to aid mankind. While that may be a factor – they are in it for the money – just like the bank teller, the baker, and the accountant.**

Another little of snippet of inside information – subjects are pre-selected!

In one study, sixty subjects were enrolled, and given test pills on two subsequent weekends. After an extensive analysis of their reactions, thirty-six were chosen. The others had revealed an excessive "sensitivity" to the drug. What is the point of conducting a study on people whom you know are going to react badly? Let’s use a little common sense here!

Now perhaps you begin to understand why some drugs are approved with "flying colours" – only to be shown, later, to have serious or even deadly consequences.

Then – let’s take a look at the bandwagon effect. Once an idea reaches a certain level of acceptance, it becomes very difficult to oppose it. Of a sudden, one’s career and the good opinion of one’s colleagues become significant factors. Bandwagons are almost irresistible to human nature.

We seem to remember, at some point, a "scientist" suggesting that statin drugs should be put in the water supply. When bandwagons reach "nutbar" speed – you know that there will eventually be a crash.

Then -- let’s take a look at your doctor. Is he really a "scientist?" He may speak for science – but is he any better able to assess the conclusions of clinical studies? Does he have the time for such activity? Are his opinions influenced by the friendly pharmaceutical representative who is always dropping off free samples? Does he attend conferences in Hawaii and the South of Spain sponsored by the Nostrum, Pill, and Quack Corporation? If he were to come to a conclusion contrary to accepted opinion, would he be able to express it to a patient?

We hope you see what we are dealing with.

Again – there is the matter of likelihood. Cholesterol is very important -- indeed, essential --in the functioning of the human body. Is it likely that something that important should be lowered dramatically to prevent a disease? Why is it that some people with high cholesterol do not develop heart disease, while others, with low cholesterol, do? And wasn’t there a study of the elderly in Japan that showed that those with high cholesterol lived longer than those with lower levels?

Has there been a suggestion that what limited efficacy statin drugs may possess derives, not from their effect on cholesterol, but from some imperfectly understood anti-inflammatory mechanism?

Does anyone really know what he is talking about?

Oh -- and by the way -- while we are talking about confusion -- within a six-month period in 2006, three different cardiologists gave us prescriptions for 20, 40, and 10 mg. of Lipitor. We suppose that that is the "art" of medicine. Perhaps the amount also varies according to the time of day.

Finally – there are other little snippets of information. Anecdotal accounts of people – including friends – who have suffered side effects. One’s own experience of peripheral neuropathy. Can a drug with such side effects seriously be proposed for the water supply?

No these considerations are are not "scientific" – but as we have said – we are not really in a position to make assessments of the "science."

We have to use what we can.

Our bias is towards skepticism. Thus, we tend to believe the article quoted above from the National Post. It seems reasonable. We are less inclined to believe a doctor who threatens us into taking a drug with the prospect of being a human vegetable for non-compliance.

We tend to believe those who have no personal financial stake, and have no career reputation involved in an issue. We are suspicious of the currently popular. If something gives us the uneasy sense that Miss Smithers has been replaced with a clever alien copy, we think it advisable to stay clear of the library.

We had intended to go on to discuss the matter of anthropogenic global warming, but we have really covered the matter in our Drivel of August 15, 2014: How can the average man -- or woman -- asses the opposing views of climate change?
Also relevant: Drivel, July 26,  2015: The Problem of Climate Predictions, and Drivel, January 28, 2015: Dangerous Words.
 

*See Drivel, January 10 below. 

**We, on the other hand write these blogs simply because we like hearing the sound of our own voice. (It's called psychic income.)

 

 

 

Some Observations on Orthodoxy         January 10, 2016

 

The great virtue of tribalism -- co-operation  -- contains the seed of its great vice --unthinking conformity. (Observation #482)

On January 8, the Financial Post published an article on one of our favourite topics: the decades-long obsession with cholesterol and saturated fat. The article is entitled: Cholesterol: How a discredited diet theory became a national mania.

It all started in the 1950's with Dr. Ancel Keys, who had a theory that heart disease was related to dietary saturated fat. He did a wonderfully convincing study of countries which showed that those nations which showed high saturated fat intake, also had high rates of heart disease.

The unfortunate flaw in the study was that it dealt with only seven of a much larger number of countries considered. Had Dr. Keys chosen seven different countries, his hypothesis would not have been proven.

However, for decades it has been the accepted wisdom that saturated fat is bad for you, and high levels of cholesterol cause heart disease. It is only in recent years that the public has gradually become aware that this information was not brought down from the mountain by Moses – inscribed on stone tablets – as an divine appendix to the Ten Commandments.

It may even happen – some decades in the future, no doubt – that doctors will stop prescribing drugs in order to lower levels of cholesterol.

We made a contribution to the commentary thread following the article, which suggested that the "mania" with respect to saturated fat bears a similarity to the current obsession with man-made global warming. Despite the fact that climate "science" has been startlingly unable to make accurate predictions of global temperatures – and their effects – for many decades – it seems to be the accepted wisdom that anthropogenic warming is a fact, and that human beings have it within their power to lower the global temperature some eighty years hence.

There has even been a conference of nations in Paris, recently, which has made a solemn resolution to keep the temperature from rising more than a couple of degrees by the end of the century.

Are they mad?

When "scientists" are unable to predict the weather for next week, and have never shown that their grasp of the causes of global temperature is sufficient to make any accurate prediction, why would anyone believe that they are capable of predicting – much less affecting -- the temperature in eighty years’ time?

Good question.

In our commentary post, we noted that, in spite of the supposed scientific sophistication of the age – human beings seem to have remained pretty much as gullible as they always have been.

In 1841, Charles Mackay wrote a book called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. One of his wonderful observations is this: "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one."

Things have obviously not changed much.

In our comment, we posed the question: "We wonder whether it would do any good if skepticism were taught in schools?"

Having given some thought to this question, we think the answer is: "Probably not."

 

We go back to the idea of E.O. Wilson – that tribalism is instinctive in the human species. It makes sense that tribalism can only be successful – and it certainly seems to be – if there are relatively few leaders and a great number of followers. It seems likely that the vast majority of human beings are programmed to prefer the comfort and security of conformity to the challenge and isolation involved in skepticism. The great orthodoxy – is orthodoxy itself.

This explains why "science" is so often infected with "politics." "Science" – in theory – looks to evidence as the support for conclusions. In theory – it should be constantly skeptical – welcoming contrary opinions based on evidence.*

In fact, "science" is quite vulnerable to orthodoxy. In the battle between science and tribalism, tribalism is likely to win – perhaps not in the very long term – but for surprisingly long stretches.

We do not know why Dr. Keys’ theory was not challenged by other scientists – but we can guess.

Dr. Keys’ theory was taken up by a prominent American cardiologist, Dr. Paul Dudley White.

When tribal leaders speak, the mass of followers tends to listen.

In addition, some ideas are naturally more attractive than others. The idea that rich nations have rich diets and suffer from heart disease appeals to both the egalitarian and Puritan instincts.** The media leaped enthusiastically aboard, the vegetable oil manufacturers pointed to the sinfulness of butter – and the bandwagon began to roll downhill.

Once an idea has become accepted – once it is woven into the fabric of institutions, and has achieved the status of common wisdom – it becomes very difficult to dislodge.

Back in 2006, we refused to take a statin drug, because our research had revealed a number of skeptics whom we found very convincing. They rejected the cholesterol theory of heart disease. Our doctor – it is hardly necessary to mention – was not very impressed. He warned us of the wards upon wards of human vegetables -- former skeptics --who had refused to take statin drugs, and had succumbed to heart disease and strokes.

We must give him credit, however, for the following statement: "I am not saying I am right, but this is the ‘standard of care.’"

Ah. The "standard of care." Does that not say it all? Even if our doctor had been convinced by our research – his hands were tied. He could not possibly go against the orthodoxy – the "standard of care." He would risk lawsuits and being struck from the list of tribal physicians.

Consider – you are a young climate scientist, teaching at Tornado University. Your Department Head, Dr. Armageddon Al, has published a number of well-received papers outlining the Course of Ice-Cap Melting, the rise of the Arctic Sun Spa industry, and the Flooding of Manhattan – including some of his favourite restaurants – over the next twenty years.

Are you going to suggest that caution is in order – note that the prediction record of alarmists is abysmal, and the roles of the sun and geothermal variation are being given inadequate consideration?

Certainly not!

You will buy a piece of Arctic tundra, and get a permit to build a sun spa. You will show him the deed, and the building permit. You will also give him a list of preferred restaurants somewhat further inland – Chicago sounds about right.

No. Tribalism is a potent force. Science may win in the end, but it loses many significant battles along the way.

Orthodoxy is here to stay.


*Consider the absurdity of the Climate Alarmist mantra: "The science is settled."

**One of the great attractions of the Climageddon theory is puritanical in nature -- salvation may be obtained by refraining from self-indulgent, sinfully attractive behaviour.

 

 


 


 

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