Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fast Notes on a Few Philosophers






Confucius

Confucius is probably the most influential philosopher who ever lived. But he did not really leave us a philosophy. Rather than carefully reasoned argument, he left aphorisms, short pieces of advice on how to live, without explanation or justification.

How can this have been so influential? Why should we take Confucius’s word for it?

This, I think, is because rather than appealing to reason, he appealed to conscience. Given a conscience, if the moral right is simply demonstrated or pointed out, it is undeniable. Resorting to reason, by contrast, might just rationalize wrong. This illustrates Confucius’s most important point: that people are best governed by example, not by laws. If the ruler is visibly virtuous, the people will be virtuous. If the ruler is visibly dishonest, the people will not care about virtue.

A moral and social philosopher, Confucius analysed all human relationships as of five types: parent-child, sibling-sibling, husband-wife, friend-friend, ruler-subject. Each implied specific obligations, and if everyone followed their proper role, society would always function well. Some object that this implied a rigidly hierarchical society, always with superiors and inferiors. This is wrong: it is like the game of rock-paper-scissors. If you must play the subordinate in relationship A, you are going to be the superior in some other relationship.

It worked very well for China and East Asia for thousands of years. If there is a problem here, however, it is that the reliance on direct appeals to conscience instead of general principles can leave gaps. For example, since a foreigner or a stranger does not obviously fit into one of the five relationships, he or she can become a ghost, of no account. Consider the story of the Good Samaritan for comparison. If violence or injustice is done outside your sight, similarly, it may be felt to be less troublesome.

There is this example from Confucius’s follower Mencius:

The King was sitting up on the pavilion. There was an ox being led past the pavilion. The King saw it and said, "Where is the ox going?" Someone responded, "We are about to consecrate a bell [with its blood]." The King said, "Spare it. I cannot bear its frightened appearance, like an innocent going to the execution ground." Someone responded, "So should we abandon the consecrating of the bell?" [The King] said, "How can that be abandoned? Exchange [the ox] for a sheep."

Mencius commends the king for doing right, and says “This is just the way benevolence works.[4] You saw the ox but had not seen the sheep.”

To my mind, however, this is unjust. One ought to care as much for those one does not see. This is why codes of law like the Ten Commandments are, in the end, useful. Even though St. Augustine says, in the spirit of Confucius, “Love, and do what you will.”





Descartes

Descartes set out to doubt everything he could doubt, and came up with one certainty: “I think—even if I doubt—therefore I am.” He could not doubt that he was doubting. So the self exists, “I,” if nothing else. He goes on, then, to point out that at least some of the thoughts do not come from him, nor did he create himself, and so at a minimum God too exists. The existence of God, in turn, is a warrant that anything we perceive clearly and distinctly is likely to be real and true. A good God would not deceive us.

Ironically, Buddhism is based on what seems to be the opposite premise: its core doctrine is anatman, “There is no self.” Does this disprove Descartes? I don’t think so. Both assertions, I think, can be true. We cannot doubt the existence of the perceiving subject, but the point Buddhism is making is that this subject, this “I,” has no content. Or if it does, we cannot know what it is. We cannot perceive it directly--”I” cannot be both subject and object. A mirror cannot reflect itself. We do not really know what it is, we cannot say anything about it.

The second common criticism of Descartes is for “Cartesian dualism.” He posits two distinct realms of existence, the mental or spiritual and the physical. Many have argued that it seems logically impossible for two separate realms like this to have any influence on one another. Like parallel lines, they should never meet. How does that physical cat out there somehow get into our mind? How does our thought make our arm rise up? I do not really see any problem here, however. On the analogy of hardware and software, it seems perfectly reasonable: they are two separate realms, in just the same way, but they do interact. The other solution is more radical: why assume there is a physical world? Maybe everything is spirit!



Rousseau

Rousseau is best known as a social philosopher, although he said important things about education as well. I think his basic premise can be stated in this way:

God exists. God is perfectly good. God created all things. Therefore, all things must have been created perfectly good. “Nature” is a model of perfect goodness. All evil in the world must come from change over time to the original, natural pattern God set. All change from what is original and natural is a falling away.

I see an immediate problem here. It means anything men try to do is a bad thing. Rousseau believes that all art and all science is in error, is a result of human “pride,” like the Tower of Babel. Do we presume we can do better than God?

I think that the Biblical advice “by their fruits ye shall know them” disproves Rousseau in practical terms. To follow his philosophy, nobody would ever try to make the world better. Everyone would just do what they first wanted to do, because that is what is “natural” to them: sex, drugs, stealing, laying about, and so forth. As a result, trying to put Rousseau’s ideas into practice, as in the French Revolution, seems to have always ended badly.

The response to Rousseau, I think, is the idea of original sin; his philosophy is sensible only because he rejects original sin. If there was indeed an original sin, human nature cannot be assumed to be spontaneously good; nor can nature be trusted as a model of the way things ought to be. Both, as we know them now, are in a fallen state.

I think Rousseau’s assumptions also do not work well on his own initial premise, that God is supremely good. If God is supremely good, would he have created a world that must inevitably decay over time? Would he have created man with nothing useful to do? By contrast, the idea that God created an essentially good world, with free will, which is also good, but original sin caused it to fall, leaves the possibility of a process leading to a more perfect world. Therefore, this is the world God would have created.







Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Bullying



Young Abe Lincoln vanquishes a bully.

Bullying is a serious problem, but our attempts to do anything about it seem worse than crippled by a general inability to understand what bullying actually is.

This seems odd, because the matter is straightforward. My leftist columnist friend offers a good one: when “it makes you feel good to make someone else feel bad.” I’d expand it: less extreme bullying is the attempt to control another person: to “push them around.” Merriam-Webster has: “bully: one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.” Oxford says: “bully: A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.”

Yet people keep getting it wrong.

For example, I went to a talk by a supposed expert on teaching writing from McGill University. His main thesis was that writing should always be done in groups. With no assigned roles. And, if one member of a group tended not to go along, such “bullying” was to be punished.

So dissent from the group is bullying? Orwell would be proud: that makes Winston Smith the bully in 1984. It just about has the valences perfectly reversed.

Then it occurred to me: one big reason why we seem to have such trouble dealing with bullying and with even understanding the concept is that there are, in fact, a lot of bullies out there. And bullies are never going to admit the real nature of bullying. Not as a matter of deliberate conspiracy, mind you. It is just that bullies are never going to see themselves as bullying. That, after all, would reflect badly on them. And bullies always have to be right. They will see themselves as special, above others. And so bullying as their right, because they are special. And anyone who resists their bullying—that is the bully.

Who is feeding us our current ideas about bullying? Who is pushing the current “anti-bullying” initiative? Most notably, teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and perhaps social workers.

Guess what? Those are exactly the professions in which one would expect bullies to congregate.

As a result, it is only too likely that this “anti-bullying” initiative is really going to be a huge boon to bullies. It gives them another, especially choice weapon for their arsenal: charging their victims with being bullies. Imagine the mental anguish! No wonder the thing is so popular.

People keep saying, for example, that Donald Trump is a bully. This is an example similar to that of the McGill professor. Trump is the very opposite of a bully. He is someone who stands up to bullies and bullying. He actively and openly resists being pushed around by the media, and by the Republican party establishment. So he gets called a bully, and not them! But whom has he ever bullied, so far as we know?

Yes, he can be harsh and strident. But he seems to follow a clear moral code. He does not attack unless attacked. It is always in defense.

This is why a lot of people who feel bullied have rallied behind him.

It seems unlikely that Trump is a bully even in private. First, politics is not a good career for a bully. Succeeding in politics, in a democratic system, requires continuing support by those under you—ultimately, the general public. A bully might not be found out, but it surely goes against his grain to be always helping others in need, and deliberately being nice to them. Trump’s electoral success in itself suggests therefore that he is not a bully.

Young George Dewey, the hero of Manila, takes on a bully.


Hillary Clinton, on the other hand—there we have reasons to suspect a bully. There are indeed rumours that she is a bully in private, to secret service agents, to aides. And it would help to explain her surprising electoral failures. She has gotten further than she ought through marriage; she got to parachute in at the top of the electoral pyramid. But in a serious campaign, she seems to have consistently lost, despite starting out as a favourite. The public senses something, a lack of empathy, and her subordinates are perhaps not prepared to go the extra mile for her.

Second, Trump is a notable success as an entrepreneur and a salesman. Again, that is especially hard for a bully to pull off. Both require people trusting you and feeling inspired by you. You pretty much have to treat them well to get very far at this.

Bullies can succeed in business now and then, but as bureaucrats in large corporations, not as entrepreneurs and salesmen. In any business, bullies are going to pull the enterprise down. A bully will be a consistent failure at business. You do not get far in business by treating either your customers or your employees badly. Because, generally speaking, they always have somewhere else to go. Business is not where you are likely to find them. But in a large corporation they may not as swiftly be detected.

Third, Trump’s children seem close to him, and he seems prepared always to give them important responsibilities. This is a good test: a bully will probably bully, first and foremost, his own children. Trump, far from controlling them, seems to treat them as colleagues.

My left-wing friend then singles out military officers as bullies. This is another common false conception. The common image of the drill sergeant. But this is also based on a second dangerous misdirection: the identification of strict discipline with bullying. There is no relation. The military is a pretty unlikely place to find a bully. A bully wants a helpless victim. With the military any potential victims are likely to be armed. Not just the enemy, either. An officer who was not honourable to his men always stood the chance of getting “fragged” in combat, in any war. Most times, nobody would ever know. Among higher officers, the main element of success is the ability to inspire: to inspire people to risk their lives for you. That is an extremely high level of trust, and no bully is going to command it.

He then mentions clergy. It is popular to bash clergy today, but this is probably the one least likely place in the world to find bullying. A bully needs a victim who is trapped. Everything about religion is voluntary. You bully a parishioner, and he just turns and walks out the door. Without leaving anything in the collection plate.

A current anti-bullying campaign urges everyone to wear a pink shirt, in solidarity with bullying’s victims. And here we see another common misdirection. Pink seems to suggest homosexuality, does it not? Maybe, you will protest, not to you, because that sounds possibly politically incorrect to notice. But undeniably, to most people, pink on a man puts a blip on the gaydar. The misdirection is a common suggestion that bullying has something in particular to do with your treatment of gays. There is no, or little relation. Yes, once upon a time, you could use their homosexuality as a club to bully people with. But no more. Moreover, it is equally possible for gays to bully. If you do not believe this, you know little of the English public school system. Or, for that matter, the SA and Hitler’s rise to power. So making it all about being nice to gays just gives a blank cheque to gays who are bullies.

Where are you actually likely to find bullies, and the worst, most unrestrained bullying?

Think for a moment. The perfect venue is the family. The perfect scenario for a determined bully is simply to have a kid, or better, a bunch of kids, and push them around mercilessly. They are completely vulnerable. They are there all the time. And you, legally, have close to absolute power over them. The rest of the world really does not want to interfere with the family. Yes, you do have to contend with their other parent. But that can be solved by marrying a doormat, or a milquetoast, which a bully is going to tend to do anyway. Then they will not dare to raise a peep. And you can bully them into the bargain.

Hence, I suspect, most or all of what we call mental illness. It is PTSD from those who have grown up being bullied, with no escape.

First and foremost, actually, in the family. If you are a bully, the simplest and most satisfying outlet is simply to have a good number of kids, and torture them at will. Nobody wants to interfere, because we do not want to bust up families. You get them day or night, and it’s generally nobody else’s business. The only tricky part is having to deal with your spouse. Properly, you want someone who is temperamentally an absolute worm, because the spouse really does have options.

Another really great option, unfortunately, is to become a psychiatrist or psychologist. The downside is that it is hard to qualify. But the upside is that, once you have, you are accorded immense social prestige, so you will be more or less left alone to do your worst. With great pay for pursuing your hobby. Obviously, psychiatric patients are emotionally vulnerable. Most often, they are pre-selected as the perfect victims. That is how they got where they are: by being systematically bullied by someone in the past. If they object or report you, no problem. Heck, they’re crazy. You are a respected professional. Why would anyone believe them? It’s perfect.

And who is it who is giving us our current perspective on bullying and its causes? We should assume everything we are being fed about bullying by the “professionals” will be a lie.

Next to psychiatry, palliative care nursing is probably your best option. Failing that, any kind of in-hospital nursing. There people are under your care around the clock, often when no one else is around. They are often physically unable to protect themselves—that’s why they’re there—and in many cases, nobody cares what happens to them any more.

We’re incredibly careless about this possibility—no, probability.

Next to that, probably teaching. This makes it especially worrisome that the current drive against bullying comes from the schools. Teaching is a great profession. The kids are of course physically and emotionally vulnerable. The system gives you physical control and supervision of them for a good number of hours every day, and the wonderful weapon of getting to mark them as well. If you’re a bully, you get to be both perpetrator, prosecutor, and judge. Kafka would enjoy the situation. If the kids complain, well, they are just kids; they are probably lying, imagining things, or they got it wrong. The danger, of course, is from the parents. If schools is no longer compulsory, or if they have the option to change schools, the jig is up. Hence you are adamantly against things like school vouchers. Public education is our right!

Not as good is being a judge. You get to self-righteously drop heavy bricks of phony moral outrage on the vulnerable, and nobody faults you for it. On the other hand, we have a solid system of judicial review, so I don’t think this is a great problem in our system. Prison guard is another good one, although those prisoners can be tough, and there are a lot of them, so there are certain risks. Cop is good, but nowadays we are pretty well on to the risks, and web cams can go a long way towards accountability.

Being a social worker is a really great one. You get to mess with people’s most intimate concerns. Usually people of low social status, poor, socially vulnerable. And we have few checks against this. Sure, they can complain to the politicians, but if they are marginal enough, they are likely not to be listened to.

Being a manager in the civil service is a pretty good one. First off, being in charge of people, you get to mess with them. Second, because it’s the civil service, nobody gets fired. So you cannot get fired for acting as you want. Sure, you can’t fire anyone either, but you can make their lives hell. Your victims are trapped to some extent by their very job security. It would be catastrophic for most to leave their secure job and huge promised pension. So they have to put up with offal from you indefinitely. You can humiliate; you can berate; you can hogtie; you can play mind games forever. This is why we get the term “go postal.” A poisonous work environment is the norm in the civil service.

In a dictatorship, being a civil servant generally is an ideal opportunity for a bully. The public is at your mercy; nobody can walk away from the government. It works much less well in a democracy, because your political bosses are vulnerable to public displeasure. This is one of the best arguments for democracy.

Why do bullies become bullies? Again, we must not trust the experts here. Many or most of them have a vested interest in misdirection. The common claim today is that bullies bully because of “low self-esteem.” And/or they bully because they have been bullied. This, again, is the predictable opposite of the truth. By process of natural empathy, if someone has suffered, they identify more easily with others who are suffering. Those with low self-esteem are the least likely to put their own interests over others, as bullies do even in the most trivial matters.

No, bullies are made by being spoiled. By being taught to believe they are special, and whatever they do is wonderful. Therefore, if they want something, or if they do something, it is wonderful. Other people, by comparison, are significantly less wonderful in every way, and so the bully, as the hammer of righteousness, has the right to kick them around. Pharisees are bullies; bullies are pharisees. They will be convinced of their own righteousness, and so impervious to improvement.

Hence the old wisdom that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. We are now adamant against any sort of physical punishment. Another misdirection as to bullying: the claim that it is the same as being violent. Children must always be told they are awesome, and that everything they do it wonderful. Another misdirection: fair but strict rules and honest but tough evaluations are not bullying.

No, far from ending bullying, such educational movements guarantee more of it over time.




Monday, February 20, 2017

The Round-the-World Railway





There is nothing new under the sun.

China has recently been talking about funding a railway running across the Bering Strait, connecting Beijing to New York. Sounds like crazy science fiction.

I discovered this map in a 1905 issue of the American Review of Reviews. At that time, a Frenchman had the same plan. Or not quite the same plan. Then, it was to connect with the Trans-Siberian, Russia being the rising power then that China is now, for a run from New York to Moscow.

Who knows? It might have been running long before now, if World War I had not knocked everything into a steel helmet.

Sometimes I wonder if that war, and its sequel, did not set us all back a hundred years or more.

Such a railway seems to have obvious benefits to Canada, opening up commerce along a line running from the Yukon through Alberta. Maybe the Canadian government should talk to this French guy.

A job for Elon Musk?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"Islamophobia" and the Left



Hope and Change?

It’s all starting to make me dizzy. Back before 9/11, I was often getting emails from feminists demanding that the US invade Afghanistan, in defense of women’s rights. I lived for some years in Saudi Arabia, and kept reading articles objecting to the Kingdom’s lack of appreciation for women’s rights. The hijab was oppression by the patriarchy. Yet now, quite suddenly, feminists and the left generally are all in support of Islam. A poster shown prominently during the recent women’s march on Washington showed a woman in a hijab painted as the American flag. The leader of that march, I hear, was Muslim, and the assembled throngs listened to a Muslim call to prayer. Bill Maher has now been banned from speaking at Berkeley because he has publicly criticised Islam. Poor fellow, still bitterly clinging to a few tawdry principles, if misguided, has gotten him caught in the whiplash.

It is all very Orwellian—Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been allied with Eurasia.

The hostility to Islam was always misguided. But one wonders: does the left actually have any principles? What are they? It is just really hard to see any coherent philosophy behind all this. And it is harder to see how anyone with any actual principles could remain allied long with the left.

The left is of course supposed to be all in favour of women’s rights. Yet this is not the first time they seem to have gone directly against this. They loved and love Bill Clinton, whose actions towards women would seem to be criminal had anyone else but Clinton done them. Yet voting Trump instead of Clinton’s wife last election was “misogyny.” Granted, it was Mr. Clinton and not Mrs. who behaved so badly, but she always backed him and defended him against the charges of the claimed victims. The left is adamant about the need to allow men into women’s public toilets at will, a measure that seems very much against the best interests of women and girls. The left is vitriolic in its attacks on any woman identified with the right: Ivanka Trump, Melania Trump, Sarah Palin, Betsy DeVos.

The left is of course supposed to be all in favour of black people (“African-Americans” in the US). Yet it was more passionate about opposing Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education than any other Trump cabinet appointment, because she backed charter schools and vouchers. She actually now needs a police escort wherever she goes. The primary beneficiaries of charter schools and vouchers are poor black families.

The left is supposed to be all in favour of the working class. Yet their fierce opposition to enforcing the laws on immigration directly harms the American working class. It drives down and keeps down the price of low-skilled labour.

Trump is supposed to be intolerably anti-gay. Yet he has long supported gay marriage. When he became president, Barack Obama publicly opposed it, as did Hillary Clinton at the time. Yet they are supposed to be heroes to the gay community.

And what about Jews? The left is currently making a big cause cel├ębre about one attendee at Ezra Levant’s recent Toronto rally supposedly making a Nazi salute. Yet Levant himself is Jewish. They insist that Trump and Steve Bannon are “anti-semitic.” Yet Trump’s daughter is a Jewish convert, and Bannon’s Breitbart is consistently pro-Israel. Was Obama? Meanwhile, a McGill student who called on all to physically assault “Zionists” is getting widespread support on the left.

One might almost begin to suspect the left has no principles.

Can the same charge be laid against the right? I don’t think so. True, Trump’s policies do not correspond to some longstanding right-wing views: he is anti-free-trade, and the right has for some time been pro-free-trade. He is sympathetic to Russia, and most on the right have seen Russia as America’s main geopolitical rival.

But this seems to me quite different: it is a case of Trump going against the right-wing mainstream, not the right-wing mainstream changing its views.

So what is left, as a general principle, behind the left wing? I think it has to be laid down to sheer class interest. That class being the professional class. Whatever is best for the professions, is the left-wing position: whatever is good for teachers, college professors, lawyers, doctors, social workers, bureaucrats. Everything else, it seems, is a con job, for those interest groups who can be suckered. Or, put more kindly, these are client groups that the left promises to take care of, in return for keeping them in power.

But the left has no special allegiance to any of these client groups. Whoever will sign on, gets a nose to the trough.



Monday, February 13, 2017

The Fashion News



Blue? Please. NOBODY wears blue to an inauguration.

Here’s a truly demented piece from the National Post. It is all about what various women were wearing when their husbands were addressing the press in the wake of some scandal.

A striking milestone in the history of trivial thought, surely setting feminism back a few centuries. Who cares about politics? It’s much more interesting to see what colour of dress his wife was wearing…

Its closing is a recommendation that women throw more “hissy fits.”

You go, girl.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Female Privilege



This post recently came to me on Facebook.

“A feminist is a woman, man, or person who furthers the cause of other women. If you only care about yourself, if you expect other women to support you, but do not support other women in action, you are a narcissist, an opportunist, and selfish. No woman represents all women. If you dismiss the struggles and achievements of other women who paved the way for you to own and raise your voice, you have no sense of solidarity or history.”

Note that this expressly calls on everyone to privilege women. Women both have privilege, and demand privilege. But men are condemned for it.


Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Post in Which I Apparently Deny the Holocaust






One complaint going around against Trump is that he did not mention the Jews in his official message on Holocaust Memorial Day. This has even been called “Holocaust denial.”

But this is why Trump was elected: no special interest politics. No preference for one group over another. No racism, in short.

If he had mentioned the Jews, to be fair, unless the point was to give them some special privilege over others, he should have also mentioned the Roma (gypsies), and the Freemasons, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Poles, and the Serbs, and the disabled, … It might, indeed, have been a useful reminder to have done so. I fear much of the current controversy is based on an ignorant belief that the Holocaust targeted only Jews.

But it is hard to do this kind of a list without inadvertently leaving someone out. And without distracting from the main point. Should one mention the various specific political persuasions murdered? The gays? But then there is controversy: some top Nazis were gay. Being gay was illegal before the Nazis showed up. Some say the gay law was applied only to political opponents. So was it gays who were targeted, or political opponents? It all becomes a tangle.

The only intelligent and fair thing is to lament and commemorate the deaths of all who were persecuted by the Nazis, without any special consideration for any one group of victims. All lives matter. Even if Jews were the single largest group.



Calling this “Holocaust Denial” makes it hard for any decent and moral person not to deny the Holocaust.

Is that the plan?