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.