Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017 in Review

Two thousand and seventeen will be remembered as the Year of Trump. The yellow-haired one became president on January 20th, 2017, and despite predictions of doom, America seems to be still functioning about as well, or as poorly, as it has under previous presidents. He hasn't been impeached yet and the investigation into his team's collusion with the Russians seems to be going nowhere, with the only indictments being for lying to the investigators, which is not a crime in most countries and demonstrates prosecutorial desperation.

Hillary Clinton set a world record for sour grapes when she spent most of the year touring the United States and the world promoting her book What the Fuck?, a 500-page screed of excuses and blame mongering for her election loss to Trump. Of course her own name only appears on the cover.

The social justice wars heated up with wealthy white kids with iPhones and college funds violently opposing anyone with views that might differ from their post-modernist, neo-Marxist worldview. We were supposed to regard the enemies of these wealthy white kids as Nazis, but the black-uniformed and masked protestors looked more like SS enforcers to me than anyone they opposed.

Talking about intolerance, a guy at Google was sacked for circulating a critique of his company's gender equality policies, and a teaching assistant at a university in Canada was subject to a Maoist struggle session for playing her students an excerpt from a Canadian public television debate about the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

It was the year of 'Me Too', a phenomenon in which famous men were exposed for their sexual harassment of women. Weasels like Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein certainly deserved to be shamed but by the end of the year it had turned into something of a witch hunt with accusations being equated with guilt and trivial trangressions such as making inappropriate comments being treated as if they were sexual assault.

Here in New Zealand an unholy alliance of lefties, greenies and nationalists formed our new government, despite the fact than none of them could muster so much as a plurality of votes. The new prime minister set the tone for her reign with claims that capitalism has failed, although she wasn't too specific on what she planned to replace it with. Perhaps we will see Maoist struggle sessions here too.

It wasn't a year of big discoveries in science, with the most significant being proof of the existence of gravitational waves, substantiating another of Einstein's predictions and adding to our knowledge of what happened at the birth the universe. We also detected the first interstellar visitor to our solar system, an cigar-shaped rock called Oumuamua that some think is an alien spaceship in disguise. Science continued to be politicised, with the once-respected journal Nature listing Trump's presidency and 'separation anxiety' over Brexit amongst their list of significant scientific events of 2017 (really!).

Some famous people left us in 2017 including musicians Tom Petty, Glen Campbell, David Cassidy, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino; actors Roger Moore, Mary Tyler Moore and John Hurt; Playboy founder Hugh Hefner; Irish republican Martin McGuiness; and notorious murderers Ian Brady and Charles Manson. New Zealanders who died included cartoonist Murray Ball, businessman Doug Myers, the great All Black Colin Meads and the incomparable comedian John Clarke.

In concluding this review of another good year, I would like to thank you for reading my blog posts in 2017. I should stress that while I may express some concerns about the state of the world in these posts, I know that we live in the greatest time in human history and that our lives continue to improve exponentially due to greater individual freedom and the growth of capitalism throughout the world.

So, I will sign off for 2017 by leaving you with one of John Clarke's videos as the legendary farmer Fred Dagg addressing the United Nations on how fortunate we are here in New Zealand. May you have a very happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous 2018.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Language, Gender Pronouns and Free Speech

You may have heard about the case of Lindsay Shepherd, a young teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, who was interrogated and censured by a disciplinary panel for showing a video of a television current affairs show debate to her class. The panel consisted of Shepherd's supervising professor, a second professor and a university official. The ostensible reason for the hearing, which Shepherd recorded (and which you can hear here), was that by showing the video of the debate, Shepherd caused 'harm and violence' to her students. You could imagine that appearing before such a panel was pretty intimidating and going by the fact that the interrogation reduced Shepherd to tears, it could be said that she was subject to harm herself.

The video clip (which you can watch here) was of a debate between Professors Jordan Peterson of University of Toronto and Nicholas Matte of University of Waterloo, and others, about the use of gender-neutral pronouns such a 'ze' and 'hir' for people who identify as transgender. The issue has become particularly contentious in Canada since its parliament passed an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act known as Bill C-16, which criminalises the use of pronouns other than that which the person prefers. It puts the use of the wrong pronoun into the same category of crime as, say, advocating for genocide. Professor Peterson objects to the law compelling the use of such pronouns, whereas Professor Matte, who believes that there is no such thing as biological sex, agrees that the law should force people to address transgender people by whichever pronoun they prefer - no matter how many and varied are such pronouns. I have written before about Peterson's stance on this issue and how I believe the use of pronouns should be a matter of manners, not law.

The televised debate was civilised and respectful, if a little heated at times, and most reasonable people would agree that there are valid views on both sides. Leaving aside the merits of the arguments (and believe me, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who identify as transgender), it is symptomatic of a broader issue in Western countries - that of equating certain political and social views with violence in order to abrogate the right to free speech. The motivation of those who promote this equivalence is literally to delegitimise any views they disagree with. Unfortunately this call to ban any dissenting viewpoint is far too common today and is particularly characteristic of those on the political left who call themselves 'social justice warriors'.

A liberal society is one with heterogeneous views that can be debated openly. It necessarily means that some people will be offended and even emotionally hurt by opinions with which they do not agree. I believe there is a large degree of psychological hypochondria amongst those who claim to suffer harm from different views and that, in any event, emotional harm is no reason to compromise what is the most critical prerequisite to a free society - free speech. There is a world of difference between physical assault and having to hear opinions with which you disagree. Equating the two diminishes and legitimises physical violence, but of course that may be the real intention of those who do so. The fact that they they label themselves 'warriors' is in itself revealing.

The paradoxical thing about the transgender language issue is the premise that gender is purely a social construct, which is the view that Professor Matte expresses in the debate. This is the diametrically opposite position to that which gay activists have taken in respect of sexuality. We have come to accept that sexuality is largely inherent and yet we are expected to believe that gender is not inherent at all, despite the fact that sexuality and gender identity are closely linked (which is something that even gender activists would accept). The science is still evolving and we don't begin to understand all the linkages between physical biology and psychological traits such as gender identity, and the idea that the law should be used to be force people to use language that legitimises a particular philosophical viewpoint and to close down any debate - including on the science - is very dangerous. This is precisely Professor Peterson's objection.

It is the same tactic used by the those who advocate for draconian legal responses to climate change. In that case too, the science is far from settled (at least in respect of mankind's carbon emissions causing catastrophic global warming), but any view other than the orthodoxy is equated with Holocaust denial, no matter how scientifically sound is the scepticism. Lindsay Shepherd described her inquisitory hearing as Maoist, and it certainly was. Mao's Red Guards were never satisfied with silence - you had to profess the beliefs you objected to as vehemently as they did or they would persecute you to the death.

The prospect of being hauled before a tribunal for expressing a belief contrary to the consensus is perhaps the most ominous sign that liberal democracy is under real threat. We should all be a little frightened at where this is going.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Secret deal confirms new government's illegitimacy

New Zealand has suffered a non-violent coup d'├ętat. What else would you call the seizure of political power by a bunch of parties, none of whom got anything like a plurality of votes let alone a majority, through a secret agreement that they are not prepared to disclose to the voters? It is certainly not democracy. National Party leader Bill English has called for the release of the secret agreement but new prime minister Jacinda Ardern has refused, despite claiming her government would be more open and transparent.

These people work for us, or at least that is meant to be the case in a liberal democracy. How dare they negotiate a secret agreement to hold power without disclosing to us what is in it? It is bad enough that our MMP electoral system allows power-hungry minority party politicians to hold us all to ransom without them doing secret deals over our how our country is governed. 

I have written before about how this mongrel coalition has no legitimacy and this secret agreement only adds to its bastardy. Readers will know that I am no fan of the National Party, but it is the party with the most right to govern in this country because it got a plurality of support in the election. Bill English should go further than his call for the release of the secret agreement and commit his party to do its utmost to bring this government down as soon as possible.