18 January 2022

Should universities be teaching a common ideological line?

 Arif Ahmed in Unherd writes:

Now imagine being a clever, white 18-year old, not at all racist and not at all privileged either, away from home for the first time, in a lecture or class in (say) sociology, or politics, or philosophy, where a lecturer asserts, perhaps quite aggressively, that white people are inherently racist. Your own experience screams that this is wrong. But do you challenge it? Of course not – after all, it may have, and could certainly be presented as having, the effect of “marginalising minority groups”; and your own institution has told you, through formal training and via its website, that this is racism and we must all stand up to it.

So you keep quiet. So does everyone else; and the lie spreads. Repeat for white privilege, or immigration, or religion; perhaps also, given similar training and encouragement, for abortion, or the trans debate, or… Repeat for a thousand students a day, every day, for the whole term. There is in Shia Islam the most useful concept of Ketman. It is the practice of concealing or denying your true beliefs in the face of religious persecution. At best our hypothetical student spends her university career – possibly, the way things are going, the rest of her life – practising a secular form of Ketman. Or worse: habitual self-censorship of her outer voice suffocates the inner one too; she starts to believe what she is parroting; she denounces others as racists, or transphobes or whatever; and then after three or four years, starts working for a publisher, or a media outlet, or a big corporation...

Ahmed is a Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge and as you might assume from his name, is hardly claiming Britain is without racism given his own experience...

Genuine racism and racial discrimination do exist – there is less now than 30 years ago, but you still notice it. You notice or hear about slurs, pointed comments, racist graffiti or physical violence; you notice being overlooked.

I remember looking for a room to rent when I first started working in London. All my white friends had found one pretty quickly. But for some reason, whenever I showed up to see one it had “just been taken”. I’ll never know how much of this was racism in my own case; but I do hear, and I have no reason to doubt, that similar things happen today.

And hardly anyone thinks this is "ok" or rational or moral. It continues to shock me when I hear of racism because I almost never experience it myself. However, simply expressing vehement opposition to racism and wanting people to be treated as individual, on their merits, is regarded by the post-modernist collectivist anti-racist lobby as being "racist". There is only one way to tackle racism, and that is to buy into the whole post-modernist structuralist philosophy that analyses the world into competing, zero-sum intersecting groups of people, with the dominant powerful group being the "white heterosexual CIS-gendered men" who have laws, organisations, institutions, beliefs, structures and systems designed to privilege them over people of different races, gender, sexuality etc.  Structuralism states that power seeks to replicate and sustain itself, so racism exists because that powerful group, of oppressors, needs racism to exist.  Of course capitalism is seen as being a part of this, as is liberal democracy, as is every single philosophy that counters structuralism, because naturally, the inherent characteristic of humanity is that people with power, hold onto it, and try to exclude others, because they fear the loss of power.

To the post-modernist structuralists (of which Critical Theory is a subset), "anti-racism" cannot mean a classical liberal or libertarian view, such as Ayn Rand's description of racism as the "lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism".

That position is, with direct parallels to the Marxist-Leninist position around class, that who is expressing opinions is almost more important than what opinion is being expressed.

Marxist Leninists regarded that if one of your parents had owned a business or land, then you were obviously not of the working class, so your opinions not only did not count, but were by definition tainted by not having enough "class consciousness". Your life was one inherited from an oppressor, so you not only could not be allowed to be near power, but you needed to atone for your inherited privilege, so regardless of your skills, merit or capability, you had to be at best demoted (USSR), at worst silenced or eliminated (Democratic Kampuchea).  Post-modernist "anti-racists" use exactly the same philosophical stereotyping based on race.  If you are "white", your opinions are automatically to be thought of as suspect as best, you are deemed to be privileged and it's probably best if you just keep quiet, because when you DO express an opinion, it is assumed you want to assert your privilege, and you want to silent the truly race conscious.  

Note also both Marxist-Leninists and post-modernist "anti-racists" give only a cursory pass to those of the preferred groups (working class or ethnic minorities) as long as they tout the "correct line".  Working class people questioning Marxism-Leninism are at best misguided and needing re-education, at worst traitors working alongside class enemies. Similarly, racial minorities questioning "anti-racism" either need re-education, or are treated as "Uncle Toms". 

Of course Marxism-Leninism saw a few versions of its implementation, from Tito's relatively liberal approach (which allowed some civil society and localised debate and engagement) through to Pol Pot's absolutist totalitarian eliminationism (whereby anyone deemed to potentially be risking ideological dissent was eliminated). The stage of post-modernist anti-racism is not quite there yet, as white people (don't forget they are all treated as uniform, although the experiences of just about any white migrants from non-Anglophone backgrounds are hardly without racism) can be re-educated to have race consciousness and be aware of their privilege (which absolutely exists in certain contexts, but is far from universal and far from as simplistic as is touted), and learn to keep quiet and not oppose the now predominant academic and increasing dominant media and corporate ideology.

Ahmed notes that for all of the prioritisation of opposition to racism, universities are remarkably silent on a whole host of other worthy causes to oppose but why?

Racism is bad, but so is much else. And yet our soi-disant “anti-racist” universities rarely if ever call themselves “anti-genocide” or “anti-corruption” or “anti-censorship” or (for that matter) “anti-corporate-bullshit”. In summer 2020, you could hardly move for universities making fatuous assertions of “solidarity” with victims of racism. But you won’t find similarly prominent (and probably not any) support, from the same sources, for free speech in Hong Kong or for the non-extermination of the Uyghurs. But then upsetting China might affect your bottom line.

Of course Ahmed is writing from the UK, which statistically sees the worst performing group being white working class boys (three identities there) and the best performing being Chinese boys and girls, followed by ethnic Indians. The idea that institutional racism is the number one cause hindering social mobility in the UK seems questionable at least. In the US, the shadow of legally mandated discrimination towards African-Americans continues to be large, but it's far from clear that university mandated ideological uniformity assists in addressing this. Similarly in NZ, there is an obvious gap in outcomes between Māori and non-Māori education, health and incomes, which clearly is in part a legacy of past discrimination, but again if there is a goal to address issues that particularly affect people from some communities, then how does ideological conformity help address that?

Ahmed believes that there needs to be an ideological purging of universities engaging in ideological training. 

The obvious solution is the immediate and permanent scrapping of any kind of politically or ideologically oriented training or induction. It has no place in a university.

Then, enforce explicit institutional neutrality. In February 1967, the President of Chicago University appointed law professor Harry Kalven Jr to chair a committee tasked with preparing a “statement on the University’s role in political and social action”. The upshot was the Kalven Report, which stated in the clearest possible terms both the essential function of the University and the essential requirement for political neutrality that followed:

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society… A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community… It cannot insist that all of its members favour a given view of social policy.

These words should be installed in 10-foot high neon in the office of every Vice-Chancellor in the country. And their universities should commit, publicly and non-negotiably, never to take a corporate stance, in any direction, on any political or social question. 

It's become de riguer among most leftwing/social activist circles to treat phrases like "diversity of views" as "providing a platform for Nazis", which is a red herring specifically designed to shut down debate or inquiry. After all, if there were only two points of views, the "correct" one and "being a Nazi", it isn't hard to see most people thinking it's best to avoid the latter, but it's dishonest, disingenuous and repugnant to treat queries of an ideological position as being akin to genocidal racial supremacy. However, post-modernist "anti-racists" continue to play the game of the Orwellian Marxist-Leninists who treated every opponent as if they were the worst possible people in the world, when in fact that was exactly what they were.

Te Pāti Māori list MP Debbie Ngarewa-Packer's line that you're either Tangata Whenua, Tangata Tiriti or a racist is a reflection of this. You're either racially (and ideologically) correct, ideologically correct or you're irredeemable. 

This reductive approach suits ideological tyrants who don't want to debate or discuss the merits of their position, which they see as philosophically moral and just, and any derogation from that line as being immoral or unjust. Why debate and discuss what is obviously right and just, unless the person debating is at best wrong, or at worst just wanting to oppress people?

It's an authoritarian philosophy that tolerates no dissent, it may tolerate questions for clarification, but anything beyond that is a leap from the just and righteous into the unjust and intolerable.  

Universities should let a "thousand-flowers" bloom, and should promote robust and resilient discussion and debate. If not, then they really are just sheep factories, like the universities seen in totalitarian countries, whereby ideology comes before inquiry. Universities should be places where people who are radical activists across the political spectrum, whether by identity, class, liberalism, the many strands of Marxism, but also religiously based philosophies, can speak, can collaborate and express themselves, and also be ready for responses to their beliefs and positions. 

The big question is who politically will stand up for universities being universal for the sake of students and the public, who own them? 

05 January 2022

NZ political parties: Having low expectations in 2022

Given I have been in a summery mood to write, I thought I'd pontificate on NZ political parties for 2022, across their past performance and future prospects.

Labour: Labour has "kept us safe" (it says), has propped up the economy through massive borrowing and embarked on a radical programme for change, albeit not one ambitious enough for the leftwing Twitterati.Whether it be replacing the RMA with similarly planner oriented legislation, de-facto taking water out of territorial authority control into a part-Iwi governed quango, merging RNZ with TVNZ, radical interventionism for climate change whilst mostly ignoring the ETS, embracing critical race theory in social policy, introducing a de-facto capital gains tax for investment properties, growing the welfare state and dramatically growing a client-state of artists, writers and other creatives (which the Taxpayers Union has been gratefully Tweeting on).  

This keeps the base happy, makes the Greens look irrelevant (they are), and proves above all that Labour IS the party of change and reform in NZ.  

Labour MPs don't waste their time in power, they use it turn the country left, towards more government, more taxes, more spending, more regulation, more public servants, greater embrace of identity not individual based policies, and to further cement the dominance of the professional provider unions in education and healthcare. 

Labour's greatest asset remains Jacinda Ardern. Women love her in quantities that are difficult for other parties to counter, and as long as she commands that demographic, Labour will be able to scrape together a third term, albeit never again on its own. 

The biggest risk is non-performance. Housing is a disaster that may only stabilise at best, and then again only if immigration remains zero and construction continues to surge on. Inflation may or may not get out of control, and if it does, expect high interest rates to decimate some businesses, farms and mortgage holders. However, Labour has one main trick to play - smear the other side as "nasty mean people who don't want to give out as much money as we do, and be kind".  After all, the narrative that National would have "literally" killed thousands because of it questioning Covid policies, will play well for many, but only so much smiling and nice words can be a response to giving preferences for a foreign DJ to enter NZ three times in a year for "economic reasons".  

With performance on most measures beyond Covid and propping up the economy through borrowing looking poor, the other risk for Labour is looking out-of-touch and elitist. It looks like a Government that grants favours to favoured groups and individuals, because it IS. The party for the working people that is more looking like the party for its friends in entertainment, sports and media, professional elites (through unions) and civil servants. However, to lose, people have to believe in a viable alternative...

National: After a year of self-evisceration and internal soul searching, along with some poorly drafted attempts at steering politics in various directions, it has a new leader and a fresh start.  Luxon is an asset because he isn't tainted with past government performance, but what can National offer a tired public? Despite his valiant and indefatigable efforts, Chris Bishop is unlikely to convince enough people that the Government has performed poorly on Covid, although he certainly can grab the constituency of those stuck abroad whilst Labour grants MIQ spots to minstrels and thespians. 

National can play tales around government waste, and there is plenty of it about, with concern over the cost of living and inflation. It can try to argue that educational standards and dropping or the old right wing favourite of being "tough" on crime. It has chosen to take the side of local government on Three Waters as it hasn't the spine to argue for a better model than a modified status quo, and its arguments over Māori issues are woeful for their lack of clarity, when much of the public is crying out for a reassertion of belief that liberal democracy should be one person one vote, rather than Iwi co-governance.  It has shown little interest in arguing that the climate change agenda of the government will not only harm agriculture but inflate the cost of living.

National's instincts are, like most conservative parties, to argue that Labour is changing things the wrong way and National will reverse that. National rarely offers contrary agendas to turn back the tide towards more government and more regulation, because it is too desperate for power and too scared of principles to rebut Labour on not just the means, but the ends.  An example is its opposition to the light rail project in Auckland, but the criticism is that "nothing has been done about it, but reports". By what intellectual contortion can you both oppose a project AND oppose it having not been advanced?

Competence with the economy, competence with healthcare, addressing crime and cutting waste are themes National might take on, as well as brushing aside Labour's obsession with identity politics. It would be nice if National actually stood for reversing some of Labour's policies, wouldn't it? 

Greens:  The Greens are part of the government, but really rather invisible. Which may be for the best.  Labour has embraced the Greens on environmental policy and identity politics, with the Greens basically standing for MORE spending, MORE taxes and MORE bans of stuff they don't like.  The Greens want a wealth tax, so they can spend more on stuff they like (like higher benefits, trains and high-status trendy "new Green" businesses), and want a much more enveloping big mother state. James Shaw is the reasonable face of a group that includes outspoken and out-of-touch far left radicals like Ricardo Menendez-March the Marxist Mexican and Israel hater/defender of genocidal rabble rousers Golriz Gharaman.  The more they speak the more votes the Greens lose, but for now, the Greens have a core leftwing base, and with Chloe Swarbrick as an electorate MP, will feel more secure than before electorally. What's hard is selling what the point of the Greens are, when Labour embraces so much of its agenda? However what's easy is that most of the media give the Greens a very easy ride, and don't confront what is a radical socialist identitarian agenda that wants a big state in terms of spending, regulation and interference in people's lives and businesses.

ACT: Paradoxically, in policy terms ACT has never be LESS libertarian, but with its most libertarian leader (it's all relative though). ACT hasn't put much of a foot wrong, so the key is to remain outspoken on the issues the Nats wont deal with.  Confronting identity politics and being tougher on crime, along with government waste ought to be a core mix of libertarian and conservative values, with Labour's attempts to weaken freedom of speech being front and centre. Given National almost always is unwilling to take on Labour on principle and present radical policy ideas, ACT should take this role.  Three Waters?  Just say no to the status quo, and require councils to commercialise water, invoice consumers and cut rates proportionately, and put shares in the hands of ratepayers directly. Education? Let charter schools expand, and convert public school governance into a fully devolved model to fund all costs, including teachers.  Healthcare? Tax deductible private insurance to relieve the public sector, and focus the public sector on emergency and chronic condition care. Forget poorly targeted stunts like sharing a code for Māori to obtain vaccinations, and instead sponsor useful research into addressing social issues based on cause and need. ACT should be the party that says what National is afraid of saying, that free enterprise works, that personal responsibility is critical to a healthy functioning society, and that treating everyone as individuals with dignity is better than the identitarian view of people as either oppressed or oppressors.

Te Pāti Māori: Radical ethno-nationalists that have done well to promote their vision that the New Zealand Government is a racist white supremacist project that continues to engage in genocide against Māori, and unless it dismantles liberal democracy and institutes a Parliament whereby Māori have half of the seats and Pākeha the remainder (and which dismantles other white supremacist institutions like property rights), then Māori will always be "colonised".  It would be laughable if it didn't get people elected to positions of power. Labour might need Te Pāti Māori after the next election, so don't laugh too much, but the absurd positions stated by its two MPs from time to time need to be highlighted and laughed at.  

01 January 2022

Four essays worth reading in 2022: thanks to Bari Weiss - a journalist head, shoulders, torso, feet and toes above Patrick Gower

One of the greatest costs of the Covid19 pandemic has been the absolute shutdown of opportunity for international travel, for New Zealanders. You can be grateful that the pandemic has resulted in so few New Zealanders getting seriously ill and killed by Covid 19, but also acknowledge the cost of this, and it's a cost that isn't directly fiscal, or is even noted by the emotional toll of separated loved ones. It's the cost of the narrowing of opportunity and experience from being stuck in a small country far far away from the people, the places, the discourse and the culture of the rest of the world. Yes, communications technology has enabled much more to be learned and seen through a screen, but when the dominant discourses are still led by local media outlets including the de-facto state news and opinion website, the Spinoff (don't forget the media you're forced to pay for), then there is so much of the world that people are unaware of.  For TV reporter Patrick Gower to claim journalism in NZ is at an all time high is almost laughable, because if it were true it is a bit like claiming El Salvador is having a great year in lowering violent crime. There are capable journalists in NZ, but it's so often not remotely world class, compared to others.

One of those is Bari Weiss, 37 year old former Wall Street Journal and New York Times (NYT) journalist, who resigned in 2020 because of abuse from colleagues and concern over the narrow frame of reference the NYT was presenting. That link is her resignation letter, she got tired being called a Nazi or a racist by colleagues because of what she wrote. Bear in mind she is a Jew.

Politics in the US as it is, she was hounded and condemned by the left, and praised by the right, but she is hardly a Trumpian conservative, or even a conservative at all. She claims to be a left-leaning centrist liberal, and she is a committed Zionist. What she is, is an intelligent voice of criticism of current cultural and politics trends, in a way that for me, as a radical classically liberal/libertarian atheist, is a breath of fresh air, when the main discourse is between post-modernist left identitarian politics and a clumsy centre-right/populist occasionally identitarian reactionism. It's intelligent and thoughtful, and indeed the sort of discourse I wish Republicans and moderate Democrats would use.

So when she published her list of favourite essays of 2021, they are worth looking at, so here are a few pertinent to NZ:

Wilfred Reilly "The Good News They Won’t Tell You About Race in America". Reilly is an African-American political scientist who has taken on the "alt-right" and is also critical of how race, gender and class issues can't be easily discussed in the USA today because of the positions taken by people on the hard-left and right.  His essay dissects statistics about race and socio-economic outcomes, including how the highest income racial group in the US are Indian-Americans, who earn 92% more than whites on average, West Indians (Caribbean) on average earn around the same as white.  He doesn't deny that there is racism in the US, but he denies that it is on the scale and as important as a determinant of social outcomes as many activists (and the media) claim. Imagine a NZ journalist or academic having the audacity to do research that might risk taking on the narrative that Māori suffer from widespread institutional or systemic racism across state and private institutions, and that this is determinative of socio-economic outcomes. So much reporting on this is reductive to correlation being causation.

Following on from this is Wesley Yang "Welcome to Year Zero" which is the logical consequence of the post-modernist far-left "racism is determinative" philosophy criticised by Reilly. The US embarking down a path of explicitly race based preferences, regardless of need, for business subsidies, board appointments, etc.  Racial colourblindness is seen as "white supremacy" and unlike Reilly's article, evidence is ignored in favour of the view that "disparities were henceforth to be understood as the product of a foundational, pervasive, trans-historical, and unyielding racism that can only be dislodged through the overt distribution of opportunity and reward by race in pursuit of "equity"".  Sounds familiar? This pyramid of white supremacy says it all. Bear in mind that all of this is exactly what the Green Party and Te Pāti Māori embrace philosophically, along with more than a few in Labour.

Andrew Sullivan "When all of the media narratives collapse" is an incisive look at a whole host of mistakes made by the US mainstream media (which many NZ outlets parrot without question), and why it has happened, and how news producers in the US have decided to react to manufactured news by manufacturing their own narratives.

Keira Bell "My Story". She's a 24 year old UK woman who has transitioned to being a man, and back. I'm pretty much live and let live about trans-genderism. I don't really care if people want to live as a different sex to that they were born as, or claim one of the multiple gender identities that are asserted. However, I'm sceptical about the current enthusiasm to medically intervene with healthy people before they are fully-grown adults, in ways that terminate their fertility and cause irreversible changes, when some narratives indicate that mental health problems may arise from sexuality or non-conformity with societal gender indicators. Keira took legal action against the NHS and won. She's no conservative, but she wants transition to not be seen as the only or the core option for those suffering gender dysphoria. Given the Maoist approach of so much of the trans-activist lobby to debate, I'd also be grateful if a journalist or researcher in NZ actually took this issue on in a way that doesn't pander to a binary view.

30 December 2021

Own a bookshop? Beware of TVNZ journalists

In 1993 Lindsay Perigo resigned from TVNZ as a journalist/presenter declaring its news as "braindead", and a lot has happened in that time. From its one time commanding role claiming "more people get their news from TV One news than from any other source" (copied from US network ABC at the time), it is facing a declining market, as a whole generation gets news, of sorts, from online sources, and those who don't want to be talked down to like 12 year old schoolkids look elsewhere.

But never fear, TVNZ is out there to ensure that you are aware of misinformation and it is even patrolling bookshops to check if they are stocking books and magazines that.... shock... print inaccurate information, or even write about conspiracy theories.  

At least twice in the past month (I don't want it daily) has TVNZ engaged what it calls investigate journalism into the horrors of there being, perfectly legally, books and magazines published and even more appallingly, sold by bookshops across Aotearoa.  

Books that challenge Māori nationalism

Some weeks ago TVNZ broadcast a piece purportedly reflecting an English literature tutor, Brittany Rose, who is "disgusted" by finding books in a bookshop that "raised red flags"(!) for her because... they contained opinions she didn't like.  Frankly I think Brittany Rose would happily have flown red flags in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, because she would have made a great Red Guard:

The books were filled with pages warning of the dangers of a so-called greedy, tribal elite.

And descriptions of Māori as violent savages who were saved by colonisation.

“It just struck me as incredibly insensitive, ill-informed and damaging. It's potentially harmful to propagate views that are anti-Maori. That's not at all what we should be having on shelves of our bookstores,” Rose said.

Colonisation devastated Māori, claiming land and lives.

University of Auckland Senior Māori studies lecturer, Dr Daniel Hikuroa, was equally disgusted.

“That's something I would hate for my daughter to stumble across at bookstores but on the other hand I would like for them to understand that it's hate material is what it is. It's hate material. It's designed to drive wedges between peoples,” he said.

I'm not going to go into the details of the books, not only because I haven't read them, but because it is somewhat besides the point. You see, Rose is not so concerned about refuting these books she wouldn't buy in a shop she doesn't own, she is worried about them being "insensitive, ill-informed and damaging", because the views are "harmful".  By extension, TVNZ is sharing this concern by giving a platform to someone who trots out the high-status "insensitive" and "damaging" claims about opinions she doesn't like. It's not enough to be offended nowadays, you have to claim differing views are "harmful".  Harmful to whom? People who can't handle a rigorous debate?  Surely if the books are THAT weak and woeful, it should be easy to dismiss them as poorly written drivel easily refuted.  

How does she know how well they will sell? How does she know that those buying them are going to agree with the books? How does she know the books don't contain facts in among assertions and false claims?  

It doesn't matter, Brittany Rose wants them removed, and by extension, TVNZ. 

The books were published by Tross Publishing, which must be immensely grateful for the free publicity, and although it refused to be interviewed on air (unsurprisingly given it is clearly designed to be a hit job, author John Robinson did send a statement to TVNZ:

I absolutely reject the untrue charges made against Tross Publishing. I believe in equality, decency and accuracy and oppose the divisions in to-day's New Zealand. I am appalled by the ridiculous claims of wrongdoing which implicate me. I am being damned without a hearing.

Given the wording of the TVNZ report it is hardly surprising Tross Publishing did not appear on camera, as it is clearly of a monolithic perspective:

The company has been publishing books that condemn things like treaty settlements and the Waitangi Tribunal for years.

But they are still being sold by big franchises, including Paper Plus and Whitcoulls.

BUT? So does TVNZ say that Paper Plus and Whitcoulls should NOT sell books condemning treaty settlements and the Waitangi Tribunal? What if a radical Māori publisher produced books saying treaty settlements and the Waitangi Tribunal are sell outs? So TVNZ has made it clear what opinion it has. Some books shouldn't be sold.

Then TVNZ puts out this line:

There are calls for stores selling the books to promote balance.

Does TVNZ seriously think bookshops should sell books with a wide variety of views on public issues? Did it even check? No, of course not. There is little difficulty in finding books that advance Māori sovereignty and nationalism, but that would damage the shock-sound bite nature of the story.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon is quoted as saying:

But what really disturbed me about this was the idea that freedom of speech is about being able to have any opinion and go unchallenged

This is Orwellian nonsense, it is actually Brittany Rose that wants to have opinions unchallenged, and TVNZ that is advancing an agenda of a monolithic view on Treaty of Waitangi matters. Freedom of speech is not about having opinions unchallenged, but it is about being able to write and publish opinions and not have the state, by proxy, campaign to stop your books being able to be sold.

The report concluded with a most sinister line:

1News has asked for clarification as to why the books can be purchased at both stores.

The right response (if the bookshops don't want to just say, piss off we can sell whatever we want and we aren't answerable to the state) would be "the books are legal, we embrace freedom of speech including challenging points of view held by academics, media, politicians and journalists, and encourage our customers to buy a variety of books".

Conspiracy magazines

So on 29 December TVNZ broadcast a story about how Auckland Airport newsagents were selling magazines that contained content about conspiracy theories around Covid19, and included misinformation about vaccines etc.  It queried, once again, why newsagents were selling magazines that contained such material, unfortunately this story is now only contained on the full length recording of the 6pm bulletin online. The whole story was based on the outrage that a newsagent would sell titles that publish nonsense.  

So what?

Now I carry no flag for Tross Publishing, some of its titles may be worth a read, others not so much ("A Plague of People" looks like Malthusian nonsense), but it's not the point at all. The state broadcaster should not be engaging in a witch hunt of either publications or bookshops that are acting legally, just because a fragile wanna Red Guard is offended by their content.  

Nor do I care much for little known magazines on a shelf, because before I buy something I tend to browse through to decide for myself if it is worth reading.  If not, I wont buy it. Amazing to TVNZ, I think almost everyone does the same thing. 

If TVNZ journalists want to criticise books or magazines, they should write book reviews, not sound-bite hit jobs demanding to know why a bookshop is selling a book. 

Maybe the books wont sell, maybe the bookshop wont restock them,  because the marketplace of ideas is what determines how most of the book and magazine media world works. Of course TVNZ journalists don't worry about that, although it is a State Owned Enterprise, it isn't going to be allowed to go under.  

From the age of five to ten my parents owned a bookshop, it was independent and could legally only open five days a week (before even Saturday retail was permitted), but it was a six-seven day a week job running a business.  They sold a wide variety of publications from encyclopaedic non-fiction through to trashy paperbacks, through to comics, soft erotica, cards, stationery and even coal. It's a lot of work, and I'd be appalled if any state journalist entered their premises to interrogate them on why they are selling some books or magazines.  

This is the point. If TVNZ actually wants to engage in journalism, instead of engaging in a Maoist style witch hunt to find businesses that have the audacity to sell publications that it thinks is wrong, it could choose to either engage in an honest, balanced debate between people with diametrically opposed views, whilst being an honest broker.

However it isn't an honest broker, it's partisan. It should have just ignored the magazines at the airport, because the likelihood is they wont be around for long. 

It should have told Brittany Rose that bookshops everywhere sell books that some people find upsetting and offensive, and that maybe if she is that fragile she should just not buy the books and tell others to not do so, or write a blog post.  

Of course the irony was this story was broadcast the same night about Hong Kong authorities raiding the offices of Stand News for publishing a seditious publication.  No, NZ is a long way from that, but it is the same philosophical principle that someone is publishing something that TVNZ disagrees with, and that it should be accountable to the state broadcaster for it.

Maybe former National Cabinet Minister Simon Power, soon to be CEO of TVNZ, might do something to change this culture of finger-wagging school prefect style petty-authoritarianism.  Or will he, like so many on the "centre-right" just take his money, run it competently, and be too much of a scared little mouse to take on a culture that has been 30 years in the making.

28 December 2021

High and low-status opinions for 2022

It's an age when there are, in the words of UK economist Kristian Niemetz, "high-status" and "low-status" opinions.  The former will get you praise, open doors in circles of media, academia and even political power, the latter will get you labelled as "controversial" or worse, and may even see you ostracised by your employers and others, ultimately leading to you having zero access to media.

While high-status and low-status opinions have always existed (it was once "low-status" to think women shouldn't be given the vote), the past approach of essentially ignoring low-status opinions in the hope they would go away or be confined to tiny circulation magazines circulated within small societies is no longer valid, and the list of low-status opinions has become long, and the intensity of reaction to low-status opinions has grown.

It used to be that people on the so-called liberal left (I prefer to call the postmodernist left) had low-status opinions, but this has changed dramatically over the past few decades as the post-modern liberal (as opposed to classical liberal) philosophical positions have moved on from dominating some parts of academia and media to being dominant across most media, the education curriculum and most politicians.  Now the postmodernists define high-status opinions, and the mainstream turns their way.

Unfortunately the main reaction to high-status opinions is simple vituperative anger about this, and a postmodernist "right" has emerged which isn't a vehicle for rational countering of such opinions, but a panoply of conspiracies surrounding them. Whether it is partly a desperation to have as large a base of counter-culture (which is conservative right) or reflects the actual industry behind it surviving on attention (Infowars is absolutely a counter-culture factory of postmodernist manufactured drivel sprinkled with facts and issues that deserve attention), is unclear. However both are fundamentally irrationalists.

So within that context, I give you a bunch of opinions for the year ahead, which don't try to be high-status, but could do with some amplification in the year ahead.  

In no particular order...

Equity is an anti-concept that means equality of outcomes and is ultimately unachievable.It's an euphemism for taking money from some people (at the moment a mix of future generations through borrowing and the poor through inflation) to give to others. It's worse than the other anti-concept "redistribution" (which assumed some sentient entity distributed property already). It assumes people's wealth, health and lifestyles can be evened out through state power, that they have insufficient agency over their lives. It's telling that the most poverty inducing policies instituted by governments in recent years - around inflating housing demand and curtailing supply, and now feeding inflation, get next to zero attention, whilst people are hired on above average salaries, paid by taxpayers to do "equity analysis" of micro-economic reforms.  Run a mile from politicians who want to advance equity.

Both private cars and bicycles are incredibly liberating technologies that have given literally billions across the world unrivalled opportunities for prosperity, social life and joy, and continue to do so despite a very small fraction of their users getting killed or badly injured. Neither should be belittled, banned or treated as incompatible with life in cities or the countryside.  The offer freedom to travel when and where you wish, and limits on this are best decided by property owners deciding what space to give up to parking them, and that most roads (set aside motorways and bicycle paths, built for each to be separate) are about them sharing space. Users of both should tolerate each other, and respect the fact that nobody really knows why anyone is travelling the way they are. Cyclists should recognise that without motorists paying fuel tax and RUC, there would be much less road space and much poorer maintained road space for them, and motorists should recognise that a bike takes up little space and does zero wear on the roads.  Councils, if they have to own and run roads (I don't they do, but that's not for now), should stop pitching them against one another, and manage the relationship between them by treating them as customers, and let adjacent property owners help determine who has what space. Councils should also not forget that absolutely everything motorists and cyclists consume, gets delivered by a truck or van, and that's not going to change.

The state is no more responsible for relieving you or your family's poverty (setting aside specific cases where it caused harm by the actions of those in its institutions), that it is responsible for ensuring you wash, have a good sleep and have a social life. Poverty is a natural state, it requires your own actions more than the help of others, to get out of it and stay out of it. You own your life.  If you suffer from poverty, your own decisions matter first. If you are concerned about poverty then you own decisions matter too, because you can do far more for poverty by helping directly either financially or more crucially, with time, especially for the children of those in poverty. Mentoring and guidance is undervalued. You can do much more for child poverty than the self-styled Child Poverty Action Group, which literally does nothing but campaign for higher benefits. Do that if you like, but you're kidding yourself if you think meeting with your high-status friends for coffee to talk about how awful poverty is and how benefits should be raised does anything for anyone in need.

Criticising, insulting and shaming the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) isn't racism, as much as Beijing wants to rally Chinese people into thinking attacks on the regime are racially motivated. They aren't (NZ has enough historic anti-Chinese racism to point to). Chinese people are also not the Government of the PRC or the CPC (unless they are spokespeople officially or de-facto). Don't assume anyone you think is Chinese is an agent of Beijing, especially if you claim to give a damn about freedom in Hong Kong or Taiwan, because such an assumption IS racism.

However, any business, institution or organisation that submits to the requests, protests or objections from any totalitarian regime (like the PRC) to police language is morally debased and should be avoided. You can trade with people you don't like without becoming an arm of their agitprop.

Individual sovereignty over your body, and private property rights are both extensions of the same thing. You can't believe in one without the other, unless you don't really believe in the one in the first place.  It's a high status opinion to debase property rights, among lefties. Some conservative righties debase individual sovereignty. 

Biculturalism is a racist concept and is almost as dismissive of the diversity of humanity as any form of monoculturalism, and it is designed to replace one form of ethno-nationalism with another. If you think Koreans, Arabs, Tongans, Croatians, Jews and Tamils should be shoehorned into a dominant identity of the "other", then you're no better than those who wanted to shoehorn Maori into assimilation. 

Colonialism resulted in grotesque acts of violence, theft and atrocities that most New Zealanders have little knowledge of, and just because it may have been worse under the French or Germans, doesn't make British colonialism morally justified. Yet to portray it as irredeemably evil and undertaken by people of unspeakable turpitude is as wrong as to portray pre-colonial Maori society as a wonder of self-determination, justice, respect for human potential and dignity coupled with sustainable environmentalism. Human history across continents, civilisations and peoples are difficult to judge by standards that were largely non-existent at the start of some lifetimes today.  Maori were people who came to this land, largely eking out an existence, and were able to thrive because they, like all other human civilisations, applied reason to their environment.  

Nobody today is carrying the virtues or vices of their ancestors, wherever they came from. If you come from a lineage of successful doers of something it literally means nothing about your capability or your moral standing, and likewise if you come from a lineage of violent psychopaths.  Your chance to be or do something is now. You can carry a sense of wonder and joy about what may have been done (or indeed dismay and sadness), but you aren't them. You are, in part, a product of your parents, and your wider family, but if you claim pride that someone of your ethnic background invented the telephone or navigated across the seas, then it's false. You might want to commemorate ancestors who achieved great things, or to apologise for their behaviour, but separate your own esteem from those who actually achieved something, so you can achieve yourself.  The emerging trend of collectivist guilt or pride around people of your race or identity is empty at best, psychopathic at worst.

Your feelings have no impact on the merits of any ideas. If your reaction to an idea is that it caused you hurt feelings, and that's all you have, then you don't have an argument and you might just contemplate whether your hurt feelings are based on reason, evidence and a point of principle. Nobody can or should care how you feel about an idea before expressing it, assuming their idea isn't just to insult you.

By and large, it doesn't really matter what youth think on almost any issue. Most have little clue about history, the concept of opportunity cost, the complexity of a modern society and economy of billions of individuals, or how easily their own minds are sponges for the philosophies and ideas expressed at school, at home or in media they consume. There is a reason regimes ranging from the Nazis to the Chinese Communist Party to Ali Soilih of the Comoros embrace elevating youth as a vanguard for political change. They are easily duped to be finger-wagging, violent enforcers of a monolithic point of view. 

Almost nobody who talks about diversity means it. Diversity is ringfenced across the intersectionality of post-modern identity group collectivism. Diversity of ideas and perspectives from individuals is undervalued, as academia and increasingly public policy practitioners talk about "ways of thinking" linked to race or sex. 

Critical theory poisons public policy.  From the absurdity of a US university treating Asian students as "white" (because they outperform other ethnic minorities), to the almost complete void of interest in the underperformance of boys in most developed country education systems (PDF), the intellectual vacuum of critical theory in explaining differences in performances by group around power-race-sex intersectionality cliche's is palpable. The absurdity of it was seen in UK statistics that reveal that every ethnic group in Britain, other than Roma/traveller, outperform white British children in education. Post-modernist critical theory categorises everyone into multiple overlapping collectives, which together determine how oppressed or oppressive you are deemed to be, and if statistics don't bear that out, then they are ignored. Like Marxism-Leninism, which played a broken record of Orwellian doctrine to justify itself, critical theory cannot cope with evidence that demonstrates that entire collectives can thrive better than the "white supremacist" society they are being oppressed by. Critical theorists brushes aside talk about cultures of value education and achievement, or the value of stable family structures.  As with anything, there is value in understanding why people have tendencies to be more comfortable hiring those from a similar background to themselves, but critical theory is poison. 

Freedom of speech is always fragile when a culture of neo-authoritarian philosophical uniformity pervades the transmitters of education and power of universities, media and politics. Well intentioned endeavours to address threats and abuse towards people for whatever reason have now become opportunities to treat some opinions, some culture and some language as "unsafe". Like Chairman Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the policing of language has become de riguer and expected. The debate about science and matauranga which resulted in the authors of the Listener listener being accused of racism was one example, as are the calls by trans-activists to de-platform those who reject their views.  Although the debate over so-called "hate speech" laws is an explicit example of how the state is seeking to ring fence speech, it is a culture of intolerance and lack of resilience about words that is infecting education and media across the Anglosphere.  It is important to stand up for the right to express views that many or most regard as distasteful, and for young people in particular, to be exposed to contrary opinions so they can be debated without being dragged into pejoratives or shut down because someone's words hurt their feelings. 

Socialism is still morally bankrupt and practically destructive, and capitalism is still the most moral and efficient social system discovered by humanity. Capitalism really is the unknown ideal.

Abortion isn't just a medical procedure it's a procedure to terminate a potential life and it is a debate about where the line is drawn between the foetus having rights as an individual or not. As someone who would almost certainly not exist had the laws been different when I was being born, it's actually worthy of a debate that it seems neither side interested in it is really that willing to have. That's why debate about its so fraught. It seems reasonable to treat abortions in the first trimester as being up to the mother, but in the last trimester to take into account the potential viability of the foetus, and somewhere in between is a point of debate. Unfortunately most on both sides of this debate take fundamentalist positions, ranging from treating a fertilised egg as a human life that overrides the mother, through to treating a foetus that would be viable outside the womb as being a rare case that isn't worth debating or acknowledging as having rights (for fear it brings down the entire debate).  

Anthropomorphic climate change is real, consequences are likely to be more negative than positive, but it isn't a catastrophe that needs every local authority to act.  It is New Zealand's nuclear free moment in the sense that, like the nuclear-free policy, whatever New Zealand does has zero effect on the issue. None, it doesn't matter.  What matters is being seen to be following along with New Zealand's trading partners, by embracing technology and markets to get out of the way of people transitioning away from fossil fuels where it is efficient to do so. New Zealand already has the tools to do this, it's just that the enviro-catastrophe movement isn't interested in actual reductions of emission, it's really a group of neo-puritans who want to ban, tax and subsidise their way to a much more controlled and centrally planned future.

Religious and political fundamentalism is dangerous and the still most dangerous fundamentalisms as seen in Islamism and in nationalism.  

Debates about trans-genderism are debates mostly about women and girls. When girls or women decide they wish to identify as men, that threatens no men, but when boys or men decided they wish to identify as women it has consequences, because of the gendered nature of violence against women and girls, and the reasons why certain property and activities have been protected from girls and women. There are other debates to be had about allowing children (those not yet adults) to permanently terminate their fertility, with medically unnecessary procedures and interventions, but the big issues are around where trans-women fit in spaces for women.  I have no skin in the debate, but given the vituperative reaction to those debating it, it's worth defending the right to the debate.

and finally

Neo-puritanism is growing as an ideological trend. Traditional puritanism sneered at drinking alcohol, (women) dressing provocatively, erotic material, gambling and other activities seen as contrary to good Christian living. Today, neo-puritanism is seen in health and environmental finger-waggers. The health finger waggers want less sugar, less fat, less salt, less taste or to finger-wag over eating animals or animal products.  The environmental puritans damn driving, flying, shopping, using plastic.  Most recently is the NZ Government's announcement that it is going to ban anyone who is 14 from 2023 onwards from buying tobacco products. However, they come together in the Green Party which finger wags over gambling, alcohol, "unhealthy" food and "unsustainable" living. The paradox being the party's advocacy for legalising cannabis, albeit to put it under the highly micro-managed regulatory environment wanted for alcohol. While there is nothing wrong in people getting messages about living healthily and especially to target communities with self-destructive practices, the tiresome winsome neo-fascism of modern day neo-puritans deserves to get a pushback, especially since in the age of Covid 19, health neo-puritanism has had its greatest (and all going well temporary) push.  

Unfortunately neo-puritanism is now about policing language (if it "causes harm").  To all neo-puritanism the right response is "fuck off and leave me alone" or a simple "this is none of your business".

PS: This is my 3000th post, albeit I have posted haphazardly in recent years whilst I have been earning a living, so thank you to all who have read and not complained about the evolution of my writing style.