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Drivel, 2019

Archives:  Drivel, 2018
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                  Drivel, July - December, 2015
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                  Drivel, January - June, 2014
                  Drivel July-December, 2013

                  Drivel January - June, 2013
                  Drivel July - December, 2012  
                  Drivel January -June, 2012
                  Drivel July-December, 2011
                
 Drivel January-June, 2011
                  Drivel 2009-2010

Equality   (February 4, 2019)

The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. (Aristotle)

 

It seems as though madness of one sort or another is a necessity of the human condition.

We have seen some progress towards the rejection of the madness of religion. Western societies have become largely secular, as ideas about divinity have been seen, increasingly, as hypotheses lacking evidence. The days of the Inquisition and the burning of witches seem definitively over; church and state are seen as separate, rather than intertwined.

But the new secular religion – political correctness – is taking its place. It is as if the human psyche abhors a vacuum: some degree of irrationality is essential to its function.

The essence of political correctness is a sentimental belief in equality. It is thought that "equality" is the true natural state of humankind. There should be equality of all groups in every field of endeavour. Thus the numbers of women in corporate boardrooms, in the fields of theoretical physics, or automobile repair,* should represent a wonderful parity of genders. The numbers of aboriginals in jail or in the field of neurosurgery should reflect exactly their proportion in the population as a whole. Dentists or janitors* – regarded through the lens of equality -- should be found with exactly the same mix of race or ethnicity that the population would suggest.

The latest example of this absurd type of thinking comes from the Government of the United Kingdom. It has determined that in British universities, there is a regrettable lack of ethnic balance:

 

 

The latest figures show that 79 percent of white students received a first-class or upper second-class (2:1) degree in 2015/26, compared to 72 percent of Chinese students, 71 percent of Indian students, 62 percent of Pakistani students, and 51 percent of "Black Other" students. (Breitbart News, February 3)

The fact that the Government has bothered to discover this information shows a preoccupation with seeing things through an ethnic lens. In the world of political correctness, these disparities are an affront to the presumed natural order of things.

The fact that Chinese students might suffer from a language barrier, or that there might be a difference in the importance of academic excellence in the Chinese and Pakistani cultures, is of no import.

The lack of "equality" is seen as an indictment of the educational system. Accordingly, the Government has ordered British Universities to achieve an quality of outcome among ethnic groups. Sanctions are threatened for Universities which fail to make "good progress" towards the goal.

There is, apparently an "Equality Challenge Unit" concerned with such matters. This august body has called for an examination of curricula – the idea being that changing what is studied might be a way of achieving "equality."

The obsession with "equality" rather than merit and achievement suggests the beginning of a significant decline in progress.

As we have often observed: When equality is the aim, mediocrity is the result; when excellence is the aim, equality will find its true place.

The society which focuses on equality will lose in the competitive race which is reality. Political correctness has a pretty face – but its effects are far-reaching and subversive.

*In fact, of course -- no one cares whether there are proportional numbers of female auto mechanics -- or Austrolovenian janitors -- it is only when high-paying or prestigious positions are involved that "equality" becomes an issue.

 

 

 


 

The Dream Postponed    (January 26, 2019)

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. (Martin Luther King)

Martin Luther King expressed his dream in 1963; it is hard to see that much progress has been made towards its fulfilment. People are still judged on the colour of their skin: anyone who has white skin is immediately assumed to be suffering from an irreversible malaise – an infection of the "white privilege" virus, which removes his legitimacy of opinion, and renders him unsuitable -- or to be legitimately discounted -- in many areas of employment.

We are not, of course, equating the discrimination often voiced against white Americans with that historically experienced by black Americans. We are simply pointing out that there is a tendency to generalize on the basis of membership in a group.

There is very little appetite for judging people on their "character." It is far more convenient not to see people as individuals at all -- but, rather, as representatives of certain groups. People are perceived and treated according to the current "status" of their group. Anyone belonging to a group "historically marginalized" is to be given special compensatory respect and consideration. Similarly, virtue varies in direct proportion to misfortune: moral superiority is ascribed to those claiming any degree of victimhood. Wealth and success are certain indicators of moral turpitude. The landlord is always heartless and evil; the tenant is incapable of deception. The demands of the immigrant to protect his religion from criticism is put above the rights -- enjoyed by generations of prior citizens -- to freedom of speech. In matters of sexual assault, women are to be believed without question; a man’s testimony is worth about fifty cents on the dollar – and that is on a good day of favourable exchange rates.

 

 

In general, it may be said that our society is determined to create some approximation of "equality," by ascribing compensatory moral virtue to those according to their success in painting themselves as victims of current or historical misfortune.

All this accounts, of course, for the immediate response to the "Covington" incident we discussed yesterday. It was immediately assumed that the white student, Nicholas Sandmann, was guilty, and the aboriginal protester, Nathan Phillips, was the virtuous victim of profound evil.

It is worth noting that Mr. Sandmann and his family have now engaged an attorney, L. Lin Wood, who specializes in suing the media for libel and slander.

We wish Mr. Sandmann every success – no so much for his victimhood – but because we think there is far too much reckless rushing to the signalling of "virtue." Mankind’s impulse to lynching first -- and worrying about facts later -- remains unchanged. There should be some onus on those reporting the news to discover the facts of a case before playing to prejudice.* Perhaps a successful lawsuit will encourage a prudent concern for the truth.

 

* P.S. We find it fascinating that the Bishop of Covington, Roger J. Foys, has apologized for his own precipitous leap to judgment: "I especially apologize to Nicholas Sandmann and his family as well as to all CovCath families who have felt abandoned during this ordeal. Nicholas unfortunately has become the face of these allegations based on video clips." The apology came after the announcement of pending legal action. (Breitbart, January 25)

 

 

The Determination of the Utopians

 

The theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God's children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil. ( H. L. Mencken, 1880-1956)

We are living in a time in which "preferred narratives" are in conflict with the real world.

The preferred narratives – pretty much – all have to do with the idea of equality. There is a desperate attempt to "equalize" the lots of disparate elements of mankind. As we noted in Troubles with the Tribal Impulse, a few days ago, certain tribes are seen in need of being raised up – others in need of being pushed down. As with all preferred narratives – facts are used, selectively, according to their usefulness.

No clearer evidence can be presented than that of the incident involving Covington Catholic High School students at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on January 18.

There was a "confrontation" between Nick Sandmann, a student, and Nathaniel Phillips, a native American protestor claiming to be a Vietnam war veteran. A much published picture showed Mr. Sandmann wearing a "MAGA" cap, smiling at Mr. Phillips.

With such a picture, there is no need to examine the facts in order to signal virtue. On the one hand, there is Mr. Phillips, a native American claiming military service on behalf of his country. His group identity – aboriginal – immediately places him in the choir angels. Once you add military service, he may claim a rightful position just edging out Jesus on the right hand side of God.

On the other side, is Mr. Sandmann – easily seen as the Devil incarnate. First of all, his skin is white. That alone ensures that he is chock full of the arrogance of "white privilege." As a white person, he is hardly able to smile. The only thing of which he could possibly be capable is the supercilious, scurrilous sneer of a white supremacist.

If there could be any faint fog of doubt, any half-scintilla of hesitation about passing such judgment, it is immediately dispelled by his MAGA hat.

Such a hat is the symbol of everything which the left detests. First of all – it repeats a slogan of Mr. Trump – the agreed anti-Christ of our times – who – through some extraordinary machinations of multiple forces of evil, stole the election from Mrs. Clinton.

 

 

But the slogan itself is anathema. Mr. Obama worked tirelessly for eight years to proclaim the ordinariness of the American ethos, to renounce the entrepreneurial spirit which is the hallmark of American genius, and to reduce, in whatever way possible, the stature of the United States on the world stage. This is all very much in accord with the notion of "equality:" facts be damned; no culture is any better than any other.

And then there is Mr. Trump – having the temerity to assume that America was once "great" – and might become so again. Speak of apostasy! In the world of fortunate equality, nothing can be "great" – no one thing can ever be "better" than another! Unless – of course it is a discreditable, disgraceful idea – which denies "equality" as the best and most laudable goal for the human race.

The preferred narrative – that a group of white supremacist students had jeered at a noble indigenous war veteran was picked up and repeated by the usual media. Even those who might be expected to show a modicum of restraint were unable to resist the call to righteous moral outrage. A professor of English at Dartmouth College, Jeff Sharlet, tweeted: "I’ll have no problem with someone doxxing these boys. "(Breitbat news, January 23) ("Doxxing" refers to the publication of personal information.)

In short, the Covington incident reveals, once again, what we have observed before: those anxious to signal their "virtue" are so enthusiastic about their cause, so eager to proclaim their special place on the side of the angels, that they do not bother to find out where, in fact, virtue lies. Often the facts turn out to be at variance with the "virtuous" assumptions.

And in this case, it appears that conclusions were reached prematurely. The students themselves had been verbally harassed by a group of "Black Hebrew Israelites." According to Mr. Sandmann, the students had responded with school chants. Mr. Phillips had then approached the students, oddly conceiving of them as a threat.

The claim of Mr. Phillips that he heard chants of "Build that wall" have not been verified. His credibility is not impressive: it has been shown that he did not serve as a soldier – but as a refrigerator mechanic. He also has a criminal record.

The narrative, then, is not exactly as it was presented.*

We take this incident as simply more proof of the devotion of those on the Left to their preferred narrative, and their determination to signal their "virtue." They are not interested in facts, but in twisting them in accordance with the world as they wish to see it. 

 

*A detailed account if the timeline may be found at: https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2019/01/24/timeline-how-the-covington-hate-hoax-spread-on-social-media-and-who-blew-up-the-misleading-video/

 

 

 

 

Islam: Propaganda vs. Reality        (January 21, 2019)

It is the fashion to pretend – especially in Canada – that Islam is a perfectly benign religion. Islamic terrorist attacks, it is claimed, are aberrations – the violent evil of a madness that has nothing to do with the religion of Islam.

We acknowledge that there are many secular Muslims, and Muslims whose understanding of their religion excludes violence. The problem remains that there are passages in the Koran which advocate death for unbelievers. While many may argue that such passages are "taken out of context" – they still remain. If they simply remained as quaint relics of now irrelevant historical contexts  – we might be unconcerned. But the fact is that there are groups of Muslims who do not care about the niceties of context, and take the texts at face value.

Most people are familiar with the fates of Salman Rushdie, and the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo. Everyone over 30 will, surely, remember the violent response to the publication of the Danish cartoons in 2005. These events cannot be wished away by referring to unfortunate misinterpretations of Islamic texts.

Similarly, the religion does not look kindly on apostasy. Rather than look at texts which might be claimed as "misinterpreted" it might be more instructive to look at events. From Wikipedia:

In the years 1985-2006, three governments executed four individuals for apostasy from Islam: "one in Sudan in 1985; two in Iran, in 1989 and 1998; and one in Saudi Arabia in 1992." Twenty-three Muslim-majority countries, as of 2013, additionally covered apostasy from Islam through their criminal laws.

We should also note that Pakistan has laws which provide for the death penalty for blasphemy. The case of Asia Bibi* is a recent example of the injustices which are common in that wretched, backward country.

 

We think that the reality – as opposed to benign theory – should be constantly kept before the public. That is because seeing the world as we wish it to be – rather than as it is – makes us vulnerable. As we have said elsewhere – a failure to face reality allows it to stab you in the back.

That is why we think it is important not to overlook the case of "Haroon Masih" (Not his real name – it has been altered to protect him. )

Mr. Masih is a former Imam from Pakistan who immigrated to Germany. After encountering a Christian couple in Greece, he began his conversion to Christianity. (Breitbart News, January 20)

After his conversion, he moved back to Pakistan where he founded an underground Church. When this was discovered, he was beaten "half to death" by those who included members of his own family. On his return to Germany, he claimed to have been stabbed by two men speaking the main language of Pakistan -- Urdu.

We continue to see the attempt to condemn "Islamophobia" as utterly misguided. It is hard to imagine a religion more justly to be feared. Clever arguments about historical contexts are exactly that: it is important to see how the religion functions in the real world.

Those whose interpretation is benign, cannot, on the account of their own virtue, claim that the religion should not be criticized. Rather, they should raise their voices in condemnation of the many ways their religion is a force for evil in the world.

When they fail to do so, they retard, rather than advance their own cause.

 

*See Drivel, November 2, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Trouble with the Tribal Impulse      (January 20)
 

Human beings have prospered by banding together in tribes. Tribes have prospered by defeating other tribes. But the costs of tribal warfare – as shown by the wars of the last century – have become prohibitive. We are now engaged in an interesting experiment – attempting to reduce conflict by showing that no tribe is superior to any other.

Because some societies have achieved more that others – in terms of wealth, freedom, longevity, and general attractiveness – the challenge is that of squaring the idealistic dream with the obdurate reality.

The policy of multiculturalism is one such effort. It is assumed – by some -- that open borders and unlimited migration represent the path to Nirvana. The fact that some cultural values are directly antithetical and quite incompatible is conveniently ignored.

At a different level – within most western societies – pains are taken to suggest that those from all cultural backgrounds are deserving of equal cultural self-esteem. What this involves, in practical terms, is ensuring that no member of any cultural group should feel slighted in any way.

If you embrace the faith of Islam, which is a highly intolerant religion, your request that Islam never be criticized will be supported – as recent experience in Canada suggests -- by a parliamentary motion.

If you are an aboriginal, caught in a cycle of despair and misery as you attempt to defy the forces of industrialization, your desire to block roads and stop trains will be met with significant acquiescence. Letters will be written to the editor, lamenting past injustices, and implying that, in a just world, the conquering races would be required to return – preferably in leaky rowboats with insufficient food supplies – to their countries of origin.

If you have any cultural background which differs from the dominant and successful one, the wearing of any symbols of your culture will be considered "cultural appropriation." Perpetrators of such insult will be figuratively hung, drawn, and quartered. Should there be an attempt, in any literary endeavour, to assume the "voice" of a member of an  "oppressed" culture – a figurative burning at the stake will be considered appropriate.

Knowing all this, it is hardly surprising that a "white" comedian, Zach Poitras. has been banned from two comedy nights to be held a bar in Montreal. Apparently Mr. Poitras styles his hair in dreadlocks. The organizers have declared:

We will not tolerate any discrimination or harassment within our spaces...[such as when] someone from a dominant culture appropriates symbols, clothing or hairstyles that come from historically dominated cultures. (Breitbart News, January 17)

The hairstyle – it is claimed – acts as a "vehicle" for racism.*

We must suppose the battle between the ideal and the real is central to our modern age. It will be fascinating to see, at what point, ideal notions will be required to pay some deference to reality.

Let us consider some of the pitfalls of the current course.

1. By protecting some cultures but not others – a clear message is sent: some cultures are not as good as others. Some require protection; others have the strength to stand on their own. The aim of bolstering an oppressed culture is  compromised from the beginning -- attention is inevitably drawn to very inequality in need of alleviation. Behold our unexpected friend – the law of unintended consequences.

2. Unwavering tolerance and kindness will suppress valid criticisms. If a cultural attitude or practice is itself inconsistent with tolerance, then "tolerance" becomes self-defeating. For example, if Islam is to be given what it asks – protection from mockery and criticism -- two things follow. First, freedom of speech is curtailed, and second, the way is paved for further unreasonable demands – why not Sharia Law, or alterations in the criminal code to create penalties for blasphemy?  

3. Excessive coddling of a culture encourages not strength, but weakness. If a culture will wither under cultural appropriation, cannot survive criticism, and finds success only in taking offense, what chance does it have of ever growing up? If success is found only victimhood and complaint – do those elements not become a constriction – a limited way of being in the world? When "success" is measured not in terms of improvement – but in terms of complaint, is there not a constant need for the discovery of new complaints – complaints of ever-diminishing validity? When the present can be viewed only through the prism of ancient grievance – does this not draw focus away from viable opportunities for a better future?

The Darwinian message to all cultures is simple: "adapt, or die." The laws of nature can be fudged, temporarily, but not broken.

4. A certain amount of pretence, perhaps, helps make the world go around. The machinery of social interaction is always greased with small dollops of humbug. But danger lurks. The more humbug that is required, the more evident is the gap between the ideal and the real. When the amounts of humbug required become, finally, absurd, there is a risk of an about-face from coddling to animosity.

5. The cost of constant lying – the elaborate and exaggerated pretense that some cultures require constant coddling -- must eventually take its toll. The requirement to lie is, in itself, oppressive. The freedom to express any critical opinion is lost. Soon we will be living in a world where everybody is saying one thing but meaning another. The truth – and the freedom to state it -- become lost in all public, and much private discourse.

6. Laughter is a very human response to the sudden, triumphant perception of inconsistency. Indeed, mockery, as we have said elsewhere – while not appropriate in every venue and on every occasion -- is the guardian of reason, the enemy of pretension, and the mirror to folly. It is remarkably associated with freedom. But laughter becomes increasingly rare in a society where many groups of citizens have, as their raison d’κtre – the taking of offense. That is why political correctness – which is primarily concerned with offenses to feelings – and has minimal interest in truth -- is so grim and humourless. The comedy festival which forbids the wearing of dreadlocks is, symbolically, preparing the cup of hemlock for all participants -- to be served on opening night.

7. Perspective is important. There is little room for laughter in matters of great human tragedy and moral evil -- like the Inquisition or the  Holocaust. But finding mortal insult in criticism of religion or "cultural appropriation" is not sustainable in a free society. Making sacred mountains out of ordinary molehills -- like all pretentiousness -- invites ridicule.

8. We return, in our last point – to our first: the law of unintended consequences. In the grim, humourless world of political correctness, when so many are determined to find offense, society must be driven by fear and be focussed on constant appeasement. The ultimate end is not happy tolerance, but increasing animosity and distrust. The determined pursuit of virtue – as is so often the case – ends in vice. In this case it is the same vice – cultural disharmony -- that the idealists claim to be working so diligently to avoid.

We are not suggesting that social harmony will be enhanced by deliberate malicious insult; we simply see the deliberate attempt to find or manufacture insult in order to create -- and perpetuate -- the "success" of victimhood is without merit. The fruit of unreasonable expectations is always bitter and inedible. 
 

*Of course it could also be the sincerest form of flattery -- but those determined to find racism will find it, wherever they need to. Finding something which -- by some elasticity of the imagination -- might be termed "racism" is like discovering a well-travelled broomstick in the garden shed. A gleeful dance of moral triumph around the ritual bonfire is assured. #1243

 

The Future of Globalization     (January 8, 2019)
 

Mr. Macron, the President of France, recently decried "nationalism" as "treasonous." * He is, of course, an idealist who sees the world, not as it is, but as he conceives it should be. It is significant that he praised the League of Nations for envisioning the "dismantling empires" – and approves of the United Nations, and the European Union – both unsuccessful projects claiming moral superiority – but based on a defiance of ordinary common sense.

He has recently encountered some resistance from the "yellow vests" who feel that more concern is given to theoretical policies of globalization than to the well-being of citizens. They have protested against fuel taxes and the high cost of living.

Globalization, as we understand it, involves not only the beneficial effects of increased trade, but the weakening of nationalism, democracy, and control over immigration.

It is apparently believed that nationalism is a flawed theoretical construct which can be wished away: the true virtuous destiny of mankind is as a single colony of carefully programmed ants, working contentedly under the direction of a queen ant – a cabal of unelected expert bureaucrats.

Indeed, we see such high-sounding theories and virtuous ideals as representing a grave misunderstanding of the human condition.

As a species, we did not reach our present state in the absence of tribalism. As with most things, tribalism has good aspects and bad. The advantage is that individuals band together – giving up some autonomy in favour of group actions and security. A certain degree of uniformity is involved. A tribe without some common ethos is likely to succumb to a tribe more focussed and determined.

The unfortunate aspect is that tribal rivalry involves wars. The more efficient culture arises from a competitive clash of aspirants. One civilization rises as another falls. The essence of life has always been the struggle for unequal outcomes.

 

In the last century, it became clear that nationalist wars have become unthinkably destructive. Globalization – and multiculturalism -- are the understandable reactive responses. But we do not think they provide a viable solution to the taming of our instinctive territorial and tribal impulses.

Evolution trumps revolution. You cannot change the nature of human nature in a generation.

That is why globalization – the attempt to destroy nations, borders, and political accountability to local populations -- will fail.

The most reasonable – but still somewhat idealistic solution – is to recognize our instinctive tribalism – but tame rather than destroy it. Nations should retain their borders and cultures – and continue to compete to create societies most suited to our species. Our vague prescription is that the best society is that which allows the greatest liberty for citizens that is consistent with the prospering of the whole.

We saw last evening, a documentary concerning Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees. Her project was initiated by the paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, who thought that study might give some insights into human behaviour.

What we found most interesting in the program was that – upon the death of a matriarch – a tribe of chimpanzees split up – and a faction moved to a territory further south. Tribal rivalry ensued, and the faction was destroyed by the main group.

Ms. Goodall concluded that human tribal warfare has ancient genetic roots.

Changing the nature of human nature is not a project to be undertaken lightly.

Ideals, as we have noted elsewhere, are often like the Sirens of mythology – they are a seductively attractive lure to shipwreck.
 

* See Diary, November 26, 2018

 

 

 

A Squint into the Future     (January 6, 2019)


Anthropogenic global warming: Take a political idea, characterize it as a mythic, uncertain quest for survival against daunting odds, give it the religious overtones of sin, expiation, and salvation, and then label the whole concoction as "science." The people will be fooled for decades -- until, finally, the facts become too obvious to ignore.
(Observation # 1531)

We would like to engage in a little thought experiment.

We would like to assume that – in ten years – or perhaps a bit more – it has become clear that greenhouse gasses are not "pollution" and are not the chief factor in global temperatures. It has been discovered that the sun is more important. The alarmist climate models have, finally, been proved mere hypotheses, unsubstantiated by facts. Mountains of moral posturing, avalanches of fear and angst, and gargantuan gobs of government meddling – all based on flawed theory and unsubstantiated speculations – have been shown to have been entirely unnecessary and counter-productive. The new solar grand minimum -- the cooling -- will have clearly begun.

What then?

What will have been revealed about science and its place in the tribal context?

In fact – nothing much that is new.

 

 

All societies require a high degree of conformity. People are less concerned with being correct, than with being part of the herd – with being seen to be correct. Charles Mackay observed the phenomenon in 1841 in his book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

We seem to be programmed – not for science – not for careful concern with the truth – but for the unthinking acceptance of what our "leaders" tell us. Doubtless this has been an important factor in tribal survival.

Another recent example of delusion -- we have seen – for decades – a belief that saturated fat causes heart disease. It was all based on a flawed study in the 1950's by Ancel Keys. Somehow, the idea was adopted by the medical community. Those holding skeptical opinions were ignored or silenced. Once an idea has acquired a certain currency – it is a coin minted in gold – no other will be accepted.

We suspect – along the same lines – that the theory of the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease – and consequently the advisability of statin medication – will be found wanting. There is some evidence of this already.

It would be pleasing to think that – when the theory of anthropogenic global warming has finally been exploded by the facts – that serious consideration will be given to the prevention of similar errors. We imagine an august body of skeptics – The International Scientific Skeptical Commission – whose task it is to investigate extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds – and to make some judgment on the validity – possible, probable, or pretty good – of the latest "scientific" idea.

But we suspect they would not wish to risk unpopularity by too close a consideration of the facts.

 

 

 

 

 

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