Playing the Indian Card

Saturday, March 17, 2018

About Those US Steel Tariffs

I am and have always been a liberal, in the true sense of the word. I believe in free trade. It is the issue on which I parted company with the Canadian Liberal Party, which shockingly came out against it in the 1980s. Violating their oldest principles.

On this issue, free trade, Donald Trump, with his protectionist talk, is not my man.

However, I see the logic in his recent imposition of stiff tariffs on imported aluminium and steel.

A lot of people are missing the point. This is not about trade or protectionism.

This is about national defense.

Suppose there is a long general war. Without ready supplies of steel and aluminium for munitions, any nation will soon be dead in the water.

Accordingly, it is only prudent for the US to sustain, artificially if necessary, a healthy steel and aluminium industry.

It is not just the issue of possibly being at war with your supplier. It is also the issue of having to transport supplies across vast oceans, vulnerable to disruption at sea.

Accordingly, it also makes sense that Trump has exempted Canada and Mexico from these tariffs. Land transportation is much more reliable, and it is hard to conceive of either being a future enemy. Even if they were, the US could probably overrun them before supplies of materiel even became an issue. 

Playing the Indian Card

My book Playing the Indian Card is now officially published, and available in ebook formats at the ridiculously low price of $4.99 US. Unfortunately, the publication of the paper version is still delayed by red tape with the US tax dudes.

Click on the links at top or left to buy your copy!

You will be amazed when you read the real story of Canada's "First Nations." It is not at all as we have been told.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Case for Kings

A friend in Japan wants to launch a letter writing campaign to urge the Japanese government to let in more Syrian refugees.

I think that is a bad idea, and have told him so. The Syrian civil war will one day end, and those who are refugees now will want to return home. And they should return home. Their country will need them to rebuild. Syrian Christians, Yazidis, Jews, and Kurds have a case to be taken in as permanent refugees; but not other Syrians.

Granted that there is a refugee problem in Syria right now. But the best thing is to keep the refugees as close as possible to their homes. Moving them halfway around the world complicates things.

If foreign governments want to help, right now, they can help fund the refugee settlements in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. My friend says there are too many people there to be supportable. I say there is no such thing as “too many people.” There are a heck of a lot of people living in downtown Tokyo, and they make out okay.

But the best help would be to go in with guns blazing, as part of an international force, and end the war. Then everyone could return home.

Understandably, everyone is trigger shy. Everyone always thinks of the last war. After Rwanda, the international community decided the best thing was to move in militarily to end local bloodbaths. That worked in Bosnia and Kosovo. Then it did not work in Iraq and Afghanistan. So everyone became afraid of “regime change.” But then, just going in and taking out the dictator failed to work in Libya.

So now the international community does not dare to do anything. And we are back to the situation of Rwanda.

Worse, the vacuum has enticed smaller powers to get involved on their own behalf, none of them strong enough to end the conflict, but each able to make it worse: Russia, Turkey, Iran.

We need the UN to go in; or, if the UN is too divided to do it, we need a coalition of NATO, basically representing the world’s democracies, and the Arab League. Failing that, NATO alone.

Easy enough for them to end the war. But, my friend counters, what chaos may ensue? How to avoid another Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya?

The US’s error there, I believe, was naive belief in democracy. By its nature, democracy cannot be imposed. The objective should simply be to establish a stable government, able to reestablish order. And it might have fairly simply been done, in Iraq, by reestablishing the Iraqi monarchy. There was even an available candidate, the uncle of the present ruler of Jordan. He was in the royal line.

The same might be done, if a little less easily, for Syria. It has been done many times before, for many other countries: choose a member of a cadet branch of some other nation’s monarchy, and establish a new royal line.

Look around, at the rest of the Arab world. Who in MENA has good and stable government? The monarchies, all the monarchies, and only the monarchies: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Oman, Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait. Republics are always disasters. Even Afghanistan, otherwise seemingly ungovernable, ticked away reasonably well for many years so long as it had a monarchy.

For reasons of historical prejudice, the US cannot accept monarchy. But it is the best government available in many cases, when a full democracy is not available, is perfectly compatible with democracy, and is he best government to segue peacefully into a full democracy. Working democracy usually requires an independent, prosperous middle class, and that requires a certain level of economic development.

There are fairly simple reasons for monarchy being successful. Firstly, because the nation is seen as a family possession, corruption is less likely. Each ruler wants to preserve and even improve the state of the nation in order to pass it down to his children, whom he normally cares about. A republic has no such checks on kleptocracy. Secondly, a monarchy has a human face. People can identify with the royal family, and this inspires them to pull together. Especially in a nation that is ethnically diverse, there may be no ready alternative unifying principle. Thirdly, in terms of temperament, a monarchy throws up average people randomly as rulers. A republic in which leadership is up for grabs, without strong rules and traditions, will instead tend to throw up those with the greatest thirst for power, and those most ruthless in obtaining it. It is, therefore, far more likely to end in oppressive totalitarian dictatorship. Fourthly, when civil structures are weak, a monarchy has the advantage of making the succession clear. In a republic, if democracy is not well established and respected, any change of power devolves into civil war. As, indeed, we see in Syria now.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fording the Jordan

The Ontario PC Party, and the people of Ontario, are lucky that Doug Ford just won the Tory leadership. This was the only good possible outcome.

This is not even about who would, in the abstract, make the best leader.

There was chaos in the voting. By many accounts, a large number of party members were disenfranchised. People were, properly, upset. It looked awful, intentional or not, especially after all the irregularities of unseating Patrick Brown, and all the irregularities under his watch as leader.

The only other candidate with a shot at winning, according to the polls, was Christine Elliott. Elliott had, foolishly or selfishly or both, been the only candidate who had opposed calls to extend the voting in order to let everyone vote. This automatically made her winning, had it unfortunately happened, look illegitimate. It certainly reinforced the impression that the fix was in. Everyone already saw her as the establishment’s candidate.

Had she won, there is no way the party could have come together. The public impression would have been that the crooks and incompetents are still in charge. Had the party not split, they would at a minimum have lost the contributions of all their best activists.

Elliott’s refusal to concede now may help rather than hurt the party. It reinforces the message that the corrupt and incompetent elite is no longer in charge. They lost. And probably also that they are not coming back any time soon. For this probably makes a fourth run by Elliott impossible. It confirms the sense that a new leaf has been turned over.

Many lament, it is true, that the PCs would have had a better chance of winning the next election with a more moderate, less polarizing figure than Ford.

That would be the conventional, cynical political wisdom: always tack towards the centre, and you get more of the ideological spectrum on your side, therefore more votes.

But that conventional wisdom does not always hold. Trump, recently, has demonstrated that. As did Reagan in his day, or Mike Harris. Trump won when McCain or Romney, following the conventional strategy, lost. Not to mention Kasich, Rubio, Jeb Bush, and the rest of his primary competitors.

The conventional wisdom holds when civil discourse holds; and there is no general sense that the system itself is broken. But if the state of politics, and of discourse, descends to real conflict, or visible incompetence, it no longer works. Any more than it is the best strategy in war to pick the general who will be nicest to the enemy and least likely to attack.

In the US, the election of Trump demonstrates, if it were not already clear, that civil discourse no longer holds. The system is broken. The left systematically broke it over the last several decades.

And the same seems true now of Ontario. I just saw video of the riot at Queen’s University when Jordan Peterson was invited to speak. Such a scene would have been unthinkable at Queen’s back when I attended—hardly a politically charged campus, ever. It reminded me of the opening scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A disorganized rabble of apes attacking a rival troupe. It was dramatic visual proof that civil discourse is over, and we are de facto in Ontario in a state of civil war.

In such a context, electing a compromiser is only unnecessarily yielding ground to the enemy. It is only appeasement.

Ford has been dignified and managerial in the campaign. I think he is legitimately the Tories’ best hope.

And I expect him to win.

It seems to me that, purely objectively, Wynne’s government has shown itself to be both terminally incompetent and socially divisive. Ontarians are going to be in the mood for a change, and would feel better about a dramatic one, just as they turned to Mike Harris after the disaster of Bob Rae.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Misrule for Radicals

Saul Alinsky

My left-leaning friend Xerxes has surprised me by declaring that he no longer idolizes Saul Alinsky. 

The shock, of course, is that he ever did.

Indeed, he says the only reason he does not now is because Alinsky’s tactics were adopted by the Tea Party.

After all, Alinsky’s methods were supposed to help the poor and powerless against the rich and powerful, right? (And, it seems, the Tea Party is supposed to represent the rich and powerful?)

But surely anyone could see all along that the fact, or claim, that the tactics Alinsky proposed were to help the poor and powerless is boilerplate. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or the Kims made exactly the same claim. Julius Caesar made the same claim; so did Napoleon. Anyone out for raw unfettered personal power is going to make that claim.

Moreover, since Alinsky’s contribution was purely tactical, it is self-evident that the tactics can be used for any purpose, whether in itself good or ill. It is hardly relevant whether his own use was supposedly benign. Once anyone starts using Alinsky’s rules, just as when the Germans started in with poison gas in World War One, then everyone is both morally justified and practically obliged to use them as well. It becomes, if the rules are not themselves moral, an ugly free-for-all with eyes getting gouged out and widows raped all round.

And, of course, in any free for all, might makes right. It is not the poor or powerless who are going to end up on top.

No pious words about his original intent can excuse that. Nor is it plausible to maintain Alinsky was himself so stupid that he did not see it. He was a canny fellow; even William F. Buckley called him a near-genius in terms of organizational ability. If he had had the interest of the poor or disenfranchised in mind or at heart, he would not have published the book. It is purely a manual for any dictator on how to seize local, and perhaps wider, power. Today, Chicago’s South Side; tomorrow, the world!

So the question has to be whether the tactics are, in themselves, moral. Purely on that basis he, and they, must be judged.

And they clearly are not. In their very essence, they are not. His essential idea is that an enemy must be created, a tribal “us-them” mentality created, the enemy must be demonized, and conflict must be initiated or provoked.

This is straighforwardly Satanic. It is just what Hitler did, with the Jews. Or Stalin with the kulaks or the Ukranians, or the Young Turks with the Armenians, the Hutus with the Tutsis, the Serbs with the Croats and the Bosnians, and so on. Not to mention that it justifies starting a war. There is no moral issue here for Alinsky. Hitler could have used it to justify invading Poland.

“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

This is true, as a tactical consideration, but most often immoral. It destroys reasoned debate and a reasoned discussion of the issues. It also violates the most basic rule of morality: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We owe each other basic respect.

It is valid and proper only if normal paths of debate have been cut off—in an authoritarian or totalitarian society. Or as a polite measure to avoid accusing the opposition straightforwardly of something heinous. I think in this regard, for example, of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” It is better to accuse the opposition of folly than of deliberate evil, if those are the choices you are faced with.

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.῎

In other words, go ad hominem. Attack the man, not the idea. Exactly wrong, morally. And exactly wrong if your intention is to produce either the best policy or the best government.

A GoodReads-style suggestion: if you liked Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, you will probably also enjoy reading Machiavelli’s The Prince and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. They are similar books with similar content and a similar view of the world.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

"Race Science" and IQ

This recent article from The Guardian bemoans the idea that IQ varies with race, and calls it “bogus” and “debunked.”

I am no biologist, but I was under the impression this was actually generally accepted as fact by biologists; just not often talked about, because it is a political minefield.

So let’s see if we can grasp and accept the argument of the article.

To begin with, we have to read it halfway trough before we get to any actual factual statements on the issue. The first half of the article is all ad hominem, branding anyone who believes in a link between race and IQ as racist and “alt-right.” This does not inspire confidence in the political neutrality or scientific objectivity of the piece. But at last, we come to this:

“The first claim is that when white Europeans’ Cro-Magnon ancestors arrived on the continent 45,000 years ago, they faced more trying conditions than in Africa. Greater environmental challenges led to the evolution of higher intelligence. Faced with the icy climate of the north, Richard Lynn wrote in 2006, ‘less intelligent individuals and tribes would have died out, leaving as survivors the more intelligent.’”
The piece then argues that this is not a plausible explanation for the difference in IQ; on the grounds that agriculture, writing, and cities first appeared in Mesopotamia, which is not a cold country. And on the grounds that some prehistoric paint, fish hooks, and arrows have been found in Africa.

There are several non sequitors here. First, this or that particular theory as to why there is a racial difference in IQ does not really bear on the issue of whether there is a racial difference in IQ. Second, while Mesopotamia is not cold in winter, it is dry, and suffers periodic drought. This is an environmental challenge at least equivalent to that of a cold winter. Third, it is meaningless that there were fishhooks and arrows in prehistoric Africa. There is necessarily going to be some level of technology wherever humans are found. Or wicker birds, for that matter. What developed in Africa must be measured against what developed in other areas of comparable population over a comparable span of time.

“A second plank of the race science [sic] case goes like this: human bodies continued to evolve, at least until recently – with different groups developing different skin colours, predispositions to certain diseases, and things such as lactose tolerance. So why wouldn’t human brains continue evolving, too?”

The argument of the piece is that this is not good evidence, because the genetics underlying brain structure is far more complex than that underlying physical traits. So there may not have been enough time for the structure of the brain to diverge similarly.

This is certainly not disproof. It does nothing to show that there are NOT mental differences, only that we need not assume there are, based on this evidence.

And even at that, it does not seem to be right. Surely everyone can think, offhand, of at least one single mutation, not uncommon, that dramatically affects mental functioning: Down’s syndrome. And there are others. If then, just one mutation can affect mental functioning, it seems to follow that such differences would not have needed any greater length of time than skin colour, and so forth, to evolve.

The piece’s next argument is the familiar one that IQ tests do not reliably measure anything. This has some merit. Nothing in the social sciences is reliable. But, having said that, IQ seems to be about the most substantial thing we have in that field, in that it correlates so well with so many other factors. It makes no sense to go after IQ on these grounds, and not everything else in the social sciences.

Next the piece cites a Swiss study in which students were able to improve their IQ through swotting to the test. This would be interesting only if the improvements were great enough to account for the observed racial differences. But the present piece gives no figures. As a matter of course, those who develop IQ tests always do their level best to make the tests resistant to this.

The article does give two figures for a Minneapolis-based study of identical twins separated at birth, and the spread does indeed look very significant: 20 to 29 points. Since identical twins are identical genetically, any such variation must be accounted for by some other factor. But what the article does not note is that its own conclusion is the opposite of the conclusion of the study it is citing. The study found IQ to be 70% inherited ( The present article seems to be cherry-picking from the data to find individual cases that go furthest against the statistical norm. That does no more than to confirm the bare possibility that IQ differences of this magnitude are not genetic. And if you check Wikipedia on twin studies and IQ, it suggests the weight of evidence from twin studies remains that intelligence is mostly hereditary. Wikipedia, because of its open editing system, can presumably be taken as a neutral source fairly reflecting the consensus in a field. If anyone inserted anything controversial, someone else who was a specialist would be bound to be upset enough to soon edit it out.

The article’s net objection seems more substantial: the Flynn effect. Flynn found that in a variety of advanced countries, IQs have been rising steadily over the past 100 years, maybe thirty points on average over that century. Three points a decade. Cumulatively, that is certainly enough to account for any interracial difference in IQ, and it cannot be genetic. Nobody has a clear explanation for why it is happening, but the data seem clear.

Still, this is not a clincher. It is another negative argument: it shows that race and genetics are not a necessary, but still a sufficient, explanation for racial IQ differences.

Next, the piece tackles the common claim that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher average IQ than the general population. “Tests conducted in the first two decades of the 20th century routinely showed Ashkenazi Jewish Americans scoring below average.” Aha—so this difference cannot be genetic. It must be--????

On this one, the Guardian piece seems to be plain wrong. Apparently this is a common misrepresentation of what one early 20th century study was about. It was of people of all races pre-screened as having below average intelligence, and it only remarked, with surprise, that there were Askhenazi Jews among this number, Despite the common perception, even then, that they were unusually intelligent. The piece goes on to quote psychologist Carl Brigham saying Jews are no brighter than the rest of us back in 1923. Without noting that Brigham himself recanted his position and his paper by 1930. He said it “collapsed entirely” due to methodological errors.

So there we are. It seems it is not proven that IQ differs among races genetically. This is, on the other hand, both a perfectly reasonable, and, more than that, the most likely hypothesis.

Surely the reader has noticed how disproportionately often South American women win the big international beauty pageants. Why would that be? There are a lot more women in China and India.

Latin cultures put an unusually high premium on beauty. Doubt it, anyone who has not visited a Romance country. As a result, unusually beautiful women will have better marriage prospects there than elsewhere, will tend to marry more prosperous and more faithful husbands and so have more children. And so, over time, the culture naturally selects for feminine beauty. Why would this not be so?

Chinese culture distrusts beauty. So Chinese women are less likely to be beautiful.

If a culture values X, it will breed for X. It might be athleticism (Africa), musical ability (Ireland, Africa), ability with language (Ireland), martial valour (Greece), calm disposition (England), kindness (Philippines), or something else.

Deal with it: racial differences.

And so, as well, with intelligence and scholarship. If you want a good wife in China or among Eastern European Jews, you demonstrate your scholarship. Women will swoon, as will their parents. These cultures have for a couple of millennia been breeding for intelligence.

My students back in Korea, given the choice between becoming a professor or the president of a large corporation, thought it was a no-brainer. Be (or marry) a professor.

There seems nothing surprising about this.

People panic, because they feel it violates the sacred principle of human equality.

He do not understand the sacred principle of human equality.

No sane person ever, until recently, surely thought that everyone was equal in their abilities. How could that possibly be, any more than that all people must have red hair?

Human equality is equality in moral worth. We are all of equal moral value, and so have the right to be treated equally by one another and by government.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Author Interview at Smashwords

Dear loyal fans--and there do seem to be a fair number of you now.

Smashwords has just published an "author interview" with me, tied to the upcoming publication of my book, Playing the Indian Card.

If you happen to be curious to know more about me--based on questions they chose to ask--go and have a look at

For what it is worth, through the power of the Internet, I am able to add my own questions and answers there if I'd like.

So--is there something you would like to know, that you think others might like to know as well? Tell me in the comments here, and I can add it to the interview.

Give Me Your Huddled Masses

Grosse Ile Celtic Cross.

Canada’s current immigration policy gets a lot of praise in the US and the UK, where politicians now propose it as a model. But I think Canada has it wrong.

Briefly, Canada lets in immigrants on the basis of being well educated and highly skilled, on the premise that they will be net contributors instead of a net drain on the economy.

But this has several unfortunate consequences.

In the first place, it strips poorer countries of their skilled workforce. Presumably this is a net minus for the welfare of mankind.

In the second place, Canada is importing, by and large, the Third World’s upper class. There is one reason, and only one reason, why the underdeveloped world is underdeveloped: a corrupt ruling class. These are the people we are bringing in, and, to the extent that they enter the upper class in Canada, they will bring this corruption with them.

Third, if it is a problem to have low-wage foreign workers taking jobs and opportunities away from native-born citizens, why is it not a bigger problem to have foreign workers taking higher-wage jobs away from native-born citizens? In effect, we are voluntarily turning Canada into a colony with a foreign ruling class.

Fourth, since these people by and large had it pretty good where they came from, they will not appreciate the opportunity to be Canadian, will not prize it, and will not feel committed to making things better here (there). If things do not go well, they can just go home. They have no skin in the game.

Fifth, because they had things pretty good where they came from, they will want to change Canada to make it more like where they came from. And they will complain about everything, and be discontented, and inclined to subversion.

In sum, a lousy policy.

I think we would do far better even in a practical sense with a more purely humanitarian immigration policy. As well as being more moral. In principle, all immigrants should be refugees; all refugees should be potential immigrants.

I know, this is currently an unpopular idea in many quarters. Canada, and Europe, are facing a flood of “Middle Eastern refugees,” and everyone fears demographic death. Everybody worries about ISIS infiltration through Syrian refugees. Fair and proper concern. But hear me out.

To begin with, Canada is a nation of refugees. It is our national identity and the essence of our being. Accordingly, new refugee populations would fit right in. English Canada began with the flood of refugees leaving the US after the American Revolution. Nova Scotia and parts of Ontario were populated with refugees from the Highland Clearances. Throughout the nineteenth century, the largest immigrant group was refugees from the awful situation in Ireland, and they have proved the most committed of Canadians. They have been joined now by refugee populations, notably, from Poland, the Ukraine, Swabian Germans, Sikhs, Russian Jews, Vietnamese boat people, and so forth. Each of these groups, I submit, have shown themselves to be model Canadians. It is these refugee groups that make the best Canadian citizens.

It stands to reason that they would. They have nowhere to go back to. All the bridges are burning; for them, it is do or die. And, by contrast with the situation they have left, they have reason to love and bless Canada. They are all in.

I submit that this is also Canada’s manifest destiny. It is what God put this land here for. Canada is vast and still, in world terms, underpopulated. In the rest of the world, there are always populations of people who are hated and in danger of extermination. By welcoming them here, we can save their lives, defuse the tensions where they came from, and preserve cultures and traditions otherwise in danger of dying.

Consider, for example, how much might have been different had Canada swung its doors wide to Jews seeking to leave Germany in the 1930s. There might have been no Holocaust. And can anyone doubt that Canada itself would have ended up much better off?

So what then about these Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees?

For the most part, I do not think they legitimately qualify. They are not real refugees, not in the sense of the term I am using. Regardless of what the UN, or someone else, says.

If a group is simply fleeing a bad government or a civil war, they do not need refugee status, and will not benefit from it. Soon, that civil war will end, that bad government will fall, and they will want to return to their homes. And they ought to return to their homes. Their home country needs them. Their refugee status is only temporary.

At the same time, if we bring in refugees from both sides of a civil war, we are obviously asking for trouble to be transported with them. An obviously awful idea.

No, real refugees are identifiable as either an oppressed or endangered distinct ethnic minority where they come from, or an ethnic group being ruled by some foreign power and with no realistic prospect of self-government in the foreseeable future.

I don’t think that is a difficult distinction to make.

In the current Middle Eastern turmoil, by this standard, we have warrant to open the doors wide to Syrian Christians, Syrian Jews, Syrian Yazidis, Kurds, Assyrians, Druze. We have no warrant to let in Syrian Shia Arab Muslims—currently in power—or Syrian Sunni Arab Muslims—a majority of the population, and quite likely to hold power soon. Just about the same calculation applies to Iraq. We have no warrant to let in Libyans, Yemenis or Somalis as refugees—these countries are basket cases currently due to civil war, not systemic oppression of a minority by a majority, and it is not clear who will hold power in a few years.

There is again no warrant to accept large numbers of Mexicans, or South or Central Americans, as refugees, if they happen to come knocking on our door. These are economic migrants. Things may be awful in Venezuela right now, but they are likely to get better sometime soon. The same seems generally true of “refugees” from sub-Saharan Africa. That continent is a patchwork of ethnicities, and these bear little or no relation to national boundaries; at the same time, in most cases it is impossible to foresee who will be in power and oppressing whom in a few years time. Which group is oppressed, and which oppressor, seems transitory. This year it is Tutsis; next year it is Hutus. Let in the Tutsis this year, let in the Hutus next year, and in the third year you may have an imported civil war.

There are probably a few exceptions. I think there is good reason to see “white” minorities in Africa as now endangered and unlikely soon again to come to power. The South African parliament has just voted overwhelmingly to confiscate land owned by “whites” without compensation. South Asians living in Uganda certainly qualified under Idi Amin, and perhaps elsewhere.

An interesting case is that of “indigenous people”: do they fit our definition? “Either an oppressed or endangered distinct ethnic minority where they come from, or an ethnic group being ruled by some foreign power and with no realistic prospect of self-government in the foreseeable future.”

So, should we make a special point of letting in Australian aborigines, or Sami from Norway, or Bushmen?

No; these groups more or less by definition would not benefit from refugee status. To be clear, what we are really talking about when we refer to a group as “indigenous” is to a culture that is dramatically technically behind the surrounding culture. In such a case, while their culture is endangered, it is not because they are being oppressed or discriminated against by the surrounding culture. It is because their culture by its nature cannot survive much contact with another culture. In such a case, emigrating to an entirely new milieu would make their problem vastly worse. Moreover, by the nature of the culture, they would be lousy immigrants, doing their best to stay apart and separate.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Ontario PC Leadership Debate

What of any use do we really learn from leadership debates?

I just sat through the Ontario PC leadership faceoff in Ottawa.

After watching these things for years, you can predict many of the answers.

How will you balance the budget? What services will you cut? What taxes will you raise?

“I will cut waste.”

How will you improve health care?

“I will listen to the doctors and nurses.”

What will you do about sexual harassment at Queen’s Park?

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable.”

Yawn. Are we really going to believe that no one else has ever tried to cut waste? That other governments have never consulted with doctors and nurses about health care? That other governments have been in favour of sexual harassment?

Of course, you know why they do this. Being honest loses votes. You cite a specific tax you will raise, and everyone affected campaigns and votes against you. You say you will fire 100,000 civil servants, and all the civil service unions campaign against you. And on and on. Anything you say is going to rile a special interest group. Definitely, you do not say anything against doctors and nurses. That’s a lot of voters, with a lot of money to spend.

Or imagine even the best case. Imagine you enunciate a specific policy that defies all odds and proves to be widely popular. Given a little time before the election, the party running against you will simply steal it for their own platform once you’ve taken all the risks. No need for anyone to vote for you just because you thought of it first.

So, as I have said before, these things are not debates, and they are not about policy. They are beauty contests, in which we get to see how the candidates handle themselves and whether we would like then in our living rooms for the next four or five years. They are about tone.

On that basis, I think Doug Ford easily won the debate.

Paul Wells, in the Post, thinks Christine Elliott won, on the grounds that she sounded responsible, and that the other candidates all attacked her. That suggests they all think she is the front-runner. As polls so far indeed show.

I think just running as responsible is pretty weak tea. In her summation speech, although it was her best moment, her case for herself was simply that she would be a better manager than Kathleen Wynne. She would go through the budget “line by line.” She knows how to do this sort of thing.

Problem: if the issue is responsible budgetary management, why vote for Elliott, a lawyer, instead of Doug Ford, a businessman? Ford offers the patina of business savvy, and he has a fairly well-known background of budget cutting at Toronto City Hall.

Elliott seems here to be looking past the leadership contest to the next election. I think that is fatal. It does not seem to me to be a pitch that works for Elliott in this field of candidates. Elliott rather accentuated her problem here herself when Doug Ford said, earlier in the debate, that he would go through the budget line by line, and Elliott actually responded “That’s not enough. You have to go through the budget line by line.”


I don’t think ignoring what Ford said is going to impress voters. They heard him. She only comes across as an insincere political hack who will say anything. A charge Ford soon levelled against her.

Given that the average Tory in Ontario is mad as hell at Wynne and the Liberals, I do not think they are in the mood to support someone who, like Patrick Brown before her, promises to do things on the whole the same way the Liberals have, but do them better.

Plain vanilla, I think, is not the flavour of the month.

The candidate who was most forthcoming was, inevitably, Tanya Allen. So some people are saying she won the debate. She got cheers when she brought up the sex ed curriculum.

But this is not fair. She had it easy. She is not going to win anyway, she has nothing to lose, nobody is going to hold her to account for what she says two years from now, so she is free to be a fire-eater. She is not being brave; just doing what politics suggests. For my part, she came across as unreasonably uncharitable towards Patrick Brown. I wish one of the other candidates had responded to her at that point, “Whatever I might feel about Patrick Brown, this is not the time for that. I am not going to kick a man when he is down.”

I also wish at least one of the candidates had given the obvious and necessary response to the question, “Why don’t we save money by closing down the separate Catholic and French school boards?” The candidates all said no, they would save money in other ways—again, seemingly just a matter of not offending any identifiable constituency. But the proper response is: “I cannot. Nobody can, without seriously breaking faith. It is in the constitution, and has been since 1867. It is in large part the deal on which Canada was founded.” It was either dishonest or ignorant to say anything else.

Paul Wells does not seem to see it, but I think Caroline Mulroney lost badly in the debate. Early on, in an answer on green energy, she was only too obviously padding her answer with pure platitudes to fill out the time. It was a cringe-worthy moment. I think it was historically bad. She also unwisely attacked Doug Ford on internal party corruption, an issue on which she was herself vulnerable, and he was not. And got nailed for it, not by Ford, but worse, by a third party, Allen. She was also the only candidate audibly booed by the audience. Maybe that is to her credit: she took a clear stand on an issue. It just was not the conservative stand.

I was surprised at the political skill and poise Doug Ford demonstrated. I had always thought it was his brother who had the political talent, whatever his other failings, and that Doug was just a wooden replica. But no, he has real talent himself.

Yeah, he said very little of substance, but that was a given. But he was good at telling stories. He was good at summing things up as slogans. He showed himself, in sum, to be a fine communicator.

He came across—no mean skill—as both likeable and no-nonsense. And at the same time, he did not sound like a loose cannon. He sounded managerial.

Given that all we really accomplish with such debates is tone, it was Ford who pulled off the best tone.

A Path of White Pebbles

Hansel and Gretel

It would be a great thing to find a cure for depression and anxiety states. The anguish involved is immeasurable, and it is afflicting people who might be our best and brightest. And by multiple accounts, the toll is growing. It would be a bigger thing than finding a cure for cancer.

But if there is a cure, where are we likely to find the cure?

Conventional wisdom holds that this sort of thing, “mental illness,” is the preserve of psychiatry and psychology.

This is a critic mistake. We have wandered into the dark woods, and taken the wrong turning.

Psychiatry as a distinct discipline emerged in the nineteenth century, with the idea of extending medical practice into spiritual affairs.

Was this a good idea? Pretty obviously not.

After all, medical doctors are “physicians,” experts on the human body. Does that qualify them to understand or treat the mind? There seems to be a categorization error involved here, along the line of the classic “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

And not just the single error of conflating mind and body, either. Making melancholic mental states the business of physicians also involves another, separate, and dubious assumption: that it is an illness.

Merriam–Webster defines “├»llness” as “a specific condition that prevents your body or mind from working normally.”

This implies some sort of deficit. After all, we do not consider Olympic athletes’ bodies ill, although they are not working normally. Illness means something is currently not up to code. At best, you might be “high-functioning”; but you are still not capable of what a normal person might be able to do.

This assumption does not really apply to depressives, or indeed for most of the rest of what we call “mental illness.” Since Aristotle, it has been fairly generally understood, and modern studies confirm, that people of outstanding accomplishment in many fields are depressives or “mentally ill” in other ways. For any given “mental illness,” some study has been able to demonstrate an associated mental benefit: people who are inclined towards “obsessive compulsive disorder,” for example, are also likely to have exceptional memories. People with “attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder” turn out to be unusually creative. People inclined towards schizophrenia are also inclined to have exceptional math talents. Bipolar patients seem to be unusually good with words and exceptionally quick-thinking. And on and on.  On this point, the comparison with physical illness seems to fall down: are professional hockey players usually classed as disabled?

Actually, in a sense they probably are. Even high athletic achievement is apparently associated with the diagnosis of “Tourette’s syndrome.” It seems to involve heightened attention and reflexes.

Given this consistent association with high as well as low accomplishment, it seems arbitrary and misleading, not to say stigmatizing and discouraging, to class these things as “illnesses.” This is focusing only on the negative. It is as though we stumbled upon some new drug which improves brain functioning in some way, and put only its side effects on the label.

Granted that depressives and the “mentally ill” suffer terribly. Granted that most would probably prefer not to be “mentally ill.” Still, this is a more complex matter than what we think of when we use words like disease or illness. It seems, instead, to be a good example of what Catholic call “redemptive suffering”: this awful suffering has some spiritual (mental, if you prefer) value. Put plainly, suffering builds soul.

Since the idea of an “illness” is too simplistic, is it also too simplistic to speak of a “cure”? Is it desirable or even possible to return the afflicted to the status quo ante, the “normal” state? Can soul, once created, be erased? It might be like seeking a cure to growing up.

Accordingly, it might be more useful instead to speak not of a cure, but of a calling.

There is a parable told of Herakles by Xenophon: that, as a young man, he was accosted at once by two beautiful women. One promised him a good, easy, comfortable life. The other promised him a life of suffering and hard work, but of honour. Herakles chose the second bride, and the second life. Why? Because it was the good, the right.[1] 

The name of the first woman was Vice. The name of the second was Virtue.

In fact, this is the same choice St. Dymphna is faced with in her legend: either accept an immoral union, and live like a queen, or insist on virtue, and be martyred.

This is perhaps the choice the depressive, or the “mentally ill” are called to make.

And we are unlikely to get our guide to that from psychiatry.

As traditionally practiced, by Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, or Alice Miller, psychiatry collects its data and draws its conclusions from clinical case studies. By its nature, psychiatric clinical evidence is at best third hand: the doctor must rely on the veracity of the patient in describing their symptoms, their thoughts and feelings, which are not visible to him; and then we must rely on the veracity of the doctor. This is classic hearsay evidence; it could not be admitted in a court of law. There is too much subjectivity to be able to draw general conclusions.

Psychology is no better, being founded on the same categorization error. The idea behind modern psychology, simply, was to apply the techniques of empirical science, so useful for understanding the natural world, to the psyche. It is a “social science.”

The techniques of empirical science are designed to tell us more about the world apparent to our senses. Instead of consulting books and reason and appeal to first principles, one looks and listens attentively. One measures and weighs. Do the same techniques make sense if trying instead to understand the human soul? Not on the face of it: it sounds more like trying to drive nails with a screwdriver, or studying microbes through a telescope.

Two thousand five hundred years ago, give or take an autumn day, the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus observed:

“One would never discover the limits of psyche, should one traverse every road--so deep a logos does it possess.” 

The psyche is both different in kind and several levels more complex than is the physical universe. The human psyche is both infinite and incomprehensible in principle. To begin with, it already includes the physical universe as a whole. For we experience the entire physical universe only as thoughts, as the impressions our senses evoke in our minds. As Bishop Berkeley showed centuries ago, there is no good reason to suppose there is any independent external physical place to which these perceptions correspond. If there is, there is no way of telling how they correspond. So each new datum apparent to our senses is in fact a psychic element. Jupiter and Alpha Centauri are parts of our mind.

Accordingly, were we to fully understand the physical universe and how it works, all its laws and all its individual objects, we would still have only entered the vestibule of the psyche. And not yet taken our coats off.

Next, the psyche includes not just these perceptions, but the perceiver who perceives them, and the act of perception. And it includes the perceiver’s reactions to these perceptions: emotions, imaginings, memories, hopes, dreams, anticipations, abstractions, logical and rational deductions; and a set of abstract principles which help form these reactions, such as number, logic, fundamental concepts like justice, truth, meaning, value, beauty, balance, good and evil; and mathematical operations. Not to mention all the perceiver’s deeds. As it includes imaginings, it also includes, potentially, an infinite number of imagined physical universes, each existing over an infinite extension of time. And it must include the perceiver who perceives the existence of the perceiver, and then the perceiver who perceives the existence of the perceiver of the perceiver, and so on to another potential infinity.

Does it not sound rather silly then to attempt, as psychology does, to pin this living butterfly to a piece of cardstock for scientific observation? And how to do so, since the cardstock and the pin and we ourselves must all be part of the butterfly?

William Labov, the sociolinguist, sketched in one slender arm of the problem of trying to “scientifically” study human beings, when he formulated the “observer paradox”: “the aim of linguistic research in the community must be to find out how people talk when they are not being systematically observed; yet we can only obtain this data by systematic observation.”[2] Psychological observations, like those of social science generally, and unlike those of physical science, are of humans, not objects. The “objects” of the study are also independent “subjects,” and in principle as conscious of what is happening and as apt to be controlling it as the supposed scientific observer. They are certain to adjust their behaviour, or their survey responses, based on what they think the person in the white smock wants. Meaning the results apply meaningfully only to this survey or experiment, not to “real life.”

Immanual Kant immediately pointed out the practical impossibility of a “scientific” psychology back in the 18th century, when it was first proposed:
The empirical doctrine of the soul can also never approach chemistry even as a systematic art of analysis or experimental doctrine, for in it the manifold of inner observation can be separated only by mere division in thought, and cannot then be held separate and recombined at will (but still less does another thinking subject suffer himself to be experimented upon to suit our purpose), and even observation by itself already changes and displaces the state of the observed object.
Nailing imaginary jelly to the wall would be, in principle, far simpler.

And this does not even touch the ethical objections to such research, to treating fellow humans as “objects.” This, as Kant could have pointed out, is the most basic violation of the categorical imperative on which all morality is based.

Empirical science also deliberately strips away the matters that are most central to the psyche. It is founded in part on the premise of being value-neutral or value-free; one is supposed to merely observe what is without making any judgments. Everything must emerge from the data. This cannot work with the soul (note that the terms “psyche,” “soul, and “mind” are cognates, and can be used interchangeably). The soul needs meaning and a sense of worth. One might say, in particular the soul of one who is depressed needs meaning and a sense of worth. Psychology or psychiatry are constitutionally incapable of offering this, and even point in the opposite direction.

Empirical science strips out any thought of moral right or wrong. They are irrelevant, after all, to the understanding of nature, which lacks consciousness and free will. Unfortunately, consciousness and free will are a vital part of the psyche; and so are moral considerations.

Now imagine if the depressive is in fact facing the life choice Xenophon gave to Herakles. Psychiatry has only one proposition on offer, and it is the wrong one for the depressive: it offers the life of easy vice. Given that there is no good or evil, why would one choose anything else?

Classically, but arbitrarily, psychology substitutes for any concept of value or ethics the ideal of “normalcy.” Which is to say, the goal and Holy Grail is simply being “average.” That is underwhelming. To see the normal as ideal is, if not a flat contradiction in terms, a logical error: mistaking an “is” for an “ought.”

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut might have said.

The mathematician Stanlislaw Ulam once challenged anyone to name a single discovery produced by the social sciences that is both true and of value. If true, the insights of social science seem to be trivial: for example, a study showing that most men prefer younger women. Didn’t we all know that? If new and interesting, like the Keynesian idea that we can spend our way to prosperity, they turn out to be wrong.

One proposed rebuttal advanced years ago was Noam Chomsky’s concept of a “universal grammar” behind all languages. That seemed exciting. For a couple of decades, that was the Big Idea in the social sciences. At last we had something to build on.

Chomsky has now been pretty definitively shown to be wrong; just like Marx, Freud, Skinner, and everyone else before him.

The other rebuttal that I have sometimes heard is the economic theory of competitive advantage. If I am especially good at making shoes, but lousy at baking bread, and you are good at baking bread, but bad at making shoes, we both do better if I make shoes for both of us, and you make bread for both of us, than if we both tried to make our own shoes and bake our own bread.

Very well; if it continues to hold up, and we can agree that this is not just common sense, we have one interesting thing we have thus far learned from social science. Not bad for only two centuries or so of strenuous intellectual work by millions of our best-educated minds.

But I don’t think we should be holding our breath for a “cure” to depression or mental illness from this quarter.

It seems a better idea to retrace our steps, to go back to where we were before we started down this forest path, of applying empirical science to the soul. Before we had Freud, or Mesmer, we might have had something better than we have now. At least we had our basic concepts right.

So what did we have for those spiritually afflicted before Dr. Freud and his associates?

Put that starkly, the question almost answers itself. And if it did not, the Dymphna legend reminds us.

We had, in the first place, and not to scare you away right at the outset, art; we had legends like that of St. Dymphna, and artists and entertainers like her supporter, the court jester. The chief role of a court jester, after all, was to salve the anxieties of the king amidst all the troubles of being king, and keep his feet firmly rooted in reality, his view of the world level-headed and non-delusional. To prevent mental illness, in other words. Dr. Punch Jester did this through various arts: comedy, acting, music, juggling, dancing, acrobatics.

Aristotle argues that the effect proper to all art is therapeutic. He called it “catharsis.” Literally, a purging: as physicians might purge a sour stomach. It emptied us of excess emotions, like the excess anxiety or sorrow of a depressive, and put our psyches back in balance.

For every feeling that affects some souls violently affects all souls more or less; the difference is only one of degree. Take pity and fear, for example, or again enthusiasm. Some people are liable to become possessed by the latter emotion, but we see that, when they have made use of the melodies which fill the soul with orgiastic feeling, they are brought back by these sacred melodies to a normal condition as if they had been medically treated and undergone a purge [catharsis]. Those who are subject to the emotions of pity and fear and the feelings generally will necessarily be affected in the same way; and so will other men in exact proportion to their susceptibility to such emotions. All experience a certain purge [catharsis] and pleasant relief. In the same manner cathartic melodies give innocent joy to men.[3]

The Bible reveals the same understanding of art:

Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.
Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”
... Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him. (1 Samuel 16: 14-23, NIV)
David here serves as court jester.

We might say that art is the product of one insightful person plumbing the depths of his or her own psyche. Shelley said poetry is “the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.” Leaving aside the tangled knot of what constitutes “happiness,” the best thoughts of the best minds ought to be some sort of guide to mind. Art that has attracted wide public response, and stood the test of time, has then proven to resonate with countless other psyches. Any art, therefore, that has permeated the culture, that has been passed on widely for many years, we can take to have known therapeutic value for the treatment of spiritual malaise. This is a true psychology.

And then there is Dymphna’s second, and better-remembered, companion. Not to mention her own status as a saint.

There is religion.

Brace yourself.

“Psyche” means soul. Any religion is, in its core, both a “theology” or “cosmology” and a “psychology.” It is on the one hand a repository of knowledge about ultimate things, about what is and what ought, and on the other a deposit of wisdom regarding the proper care and development of a soul.

This is more apparent in Buddhism than in Christianity. Buddhism largely leaves theology or cosmology alone, and concentrates on psychology. It works with what it calls “upaya,” “skillful means”—spiritual techniques which have been tested and shown by long experience to achieve “enlightenment.” Meditation techniques, most obviously. Leonard Cohen, a devout Jew, felt comfortable being ordained as a Buddhist monk. Jack Kerouac, a devout Catholic, translated Buddhist sutras. The one tradition provided the theology, the other provided various “skillful means” for spiritual insight, without any conflicting truth claims.

Buddhism specializes in this. But all religions, to a greater or lesser extent, use “upaya”: disciplines that foster a healthy soul. That is what “religion” means: spiritual discipline. The word is from the Latin, “to be bound.” Catholicism is full of them: sacraments, sacramentals, observations, novenas, liturgies, spiritual retreats, statues, chants, “bells and smells,” fasts and feasts, prayers, rituals, and so on. Not to mention pilgrimages to the shrines of saints.

This too is plainly, and yet more plainly, the path that Dymphna calls us to.

Artists, for all the wonders they offer us, are arguably often still half crazy. In all the world of man, only a saint is wholly sane.

There was always a reason for all this scary religious stuff. Even leaving aside philosophical considerations, the fact that a religious practice has survived for a great length of time, and has been widely practiced, is warrant that it is effective in sustaining the soul.

Nor should we leave aside philosophical considerations. Depression can be succinctly defined as a sense of loss of meaning in life. Insanity can be succinctly defined as a loss of truth, of a sense of what is and is not real.

What else, then, is the medicine required, but a consistent and well-established cosmology and theology?

Nor should we forget the value of religion as an ethical guide. If, as we here seem to see, depression and perhaps mental illness in general is often the product of a personal injustice, what is called for is a reference in the first place to a clear ethical standard.

It is remarkably foolish for us to ignore this vast body of knowledge; that steeple we see before us is the visible pinnacle of the greatest and most important accomplishment of humankind. It is the rock upon which everything else has been built—not just at the level of our civilization, but at the level of each individual psyche, which is to say, soul.

[1] Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.1.30-3.
[2] William Labov, Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1972, p. 209
[3] Politics VIII:7; 1341b 35-1342a 8, J. Burnet trans.