Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Albums of My Teenhood


Someone on Facebook has a chain letter-chain posting going in which folks are supposed to list the albums that were important to them as a teenager.

Okay, for what it’s worth, here are mine.

Lightfoot! His first, and still his best, album. With great bass by Bill Lee. I was a bassist.

Songs of Leonard Cohen Hit me where I lived. I lived a couple of blocks away from Cohen’s boyhood home, and took the same route home from school. He was a local boy. Introduced to Cohen by Nick Economides, who was older and whom I looked up to for his sophistication.

Songs from a Room. Neither this nor his first are his best albums. But these are the ones from my teenage years. "Nancy," "Tonight Will Be Fine." I remember listening to "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes" on the porch with Violet Birch.

Birds, Fifth Dimension. One of the first three albums I bought, in a batch. It wore better than the others. Bought all the Byrds albums following it too. Tempted to put some others on the list. They were probably better albums, but as my first exposure, 5D is the one that influenced me the most.

Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited. First got to know it because a neighbourhood kid, Bob White, held dances where he used to play it. The strategy, all the guys knew, was to ask your favourite girl for “Desolation Row” for a long slow dance where you got to hold her close. Then I started listening to the lyrics. Trying to dance to Dylan was ridiculous. "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," was my favourite for a long time.

Bringing it All Back Home. I bought it after Highway 61. Almost as good.

Blonde on Blonde. It was a disappointment at first. But it grew and grew on me.

Peter Paul and Mary, See What Tomorrow Brings. A lot of great songs. Among other things, the album I listened to after my first real girlfriend broke up with me. My sister and I learned to sing harmony on Betty and Dupree.

Joni Mitchell, Blue, Not my album. My brother was the bigger Joni Mitchell fan. But this one was relly great. Humming “Carey” was the only thing that got me through one summer working in a plastics factory. But “River” and “All I Want” were even better.

Planxty. Bought when I was living in Ottawa. Perhaps the greatest album ever recorded by anyone.

Steeleye Span Please to See the King, Picked up second hand in a bargain bin. Yow!

The Band Music from Big Pink. Another album that seemed to change everything.

Moby Grape. Tipped off on this one by Hit Parader magazine—a great publication. Crazy good.

Rolling Stones, High Tide and Green Grass. Not my album. Was playing in a kid rock and roll band, and a couple of my bandmates were crazy about the Stones. I think Louis Lapierre owned the album. Did not especially like the music then—it was just the most fun to play on stage. But it has grown on me ever since. The Stones get better and better with time.

Ian and Sylvia Four Strong Winds. I love all their stuff, but this I think was where I came in. I cannot ever get “V’la le Bon Vent” out of my mind. Nor would I ever want to. Let alone the title track. Or “Royal Canal,” which oddly always reminds me of Kingston, with the canal and the penitentiary.

Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed and Beggar's Banquet.  These were like the soundtrack to Inscape, the Catholic teenagers' drop-in in Gananoque, the brainchild of Father Ed Shea. "Gimme Shelter."


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cheap Public Transit


China is becoming the frontier of capitalism. Here's a great idea for really cheap public transit in the downtowns of cities, and it is all done by private business. Why not?





Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus to Close Down


Time perhaps to rerun an old column. Because it deal with what largely is responsible for the death of this institution.

A Shrine to Childhood under Attack





Change.org is circulating a petition on the Internet asking the Kingston Memorial Centre to refuse the Shrine Circus use of their facilities. The Shriners' offense is including trained animals in their show. “The circus is a cruel and heartbreaking place for the innocent animals who are forced to perform multiple times a day and are dragged from city to city, year after year.”

Sounds awful. What a hellish existence. Travel. Everyone looking at you perform and applauding. I'm sure no kid every dreamt of the nightmarish life of running off with the circus.

Besides the horses ridden by the Kambarov Cossacks, the only animals performing in the Shrine Circus, so far as I can tell from the playbill, are the Zerbini elephants. No lion tamer. No cute tiny dog acts. No ponies trotting in a ring, with a woman standing on their backs. It looks as though the Shriners have already taken a hit on this matter, and many of the traditional circus acts are no longer attempted. More modern circuses, like the Cirque de Soleil, no longer include them at all. I recall attending one circus with my son in Kamloops when he was tiny. All the animal acts were pulled, because a local ordinance made them illegal. It was a sad affair.

This is a grinch-worthy assault on childhood. It is all very well to be a social justice warrior. It is less well when it costs you nothing, when you are putting all the burden on other people, and yourself sacrificing nothing. But it is another thing entirely when you are robbing children. Kids love animals. The circus is one of the great halls of the empire of childhood. As e.e. cummings once said, “Damn everything but the circus.”

The real problem here is, as the puritans used to worry, that someone, somewhere, might be having fun. To begin with, are animals in captivity worse off than in the wild? It seems unlikely. In captivity, they are protected from predators; they are fed regularly. They die of old age. Someone has estimated that a feral cat, for exampkle, has an average life expectancy of two weeks. More than likely, if these animals did not have a job waiting in some circus, they would not even have been born.



Do animals dislike performing? Does it make them suffer? At most, the Kingston Vegetarian Network, initiators of the petition, cannot know this is so. Anyone who has actually owned an intelligent animal—a collie, say—will probably at least suspect that at least some of them love performing. Elephants are certainly such animals, uncannily smart and accustomed to domestication.

When the film “Free Willy” was finished, there was much concern over the eventual fate of its animal str, Keiko the killer whale. Millions of dollars were spent trying to reintegrate him into the wild. He was given supervises swimming sessions. He was airlifted to a killer whale habitat. It did not work. He never joined a whale pod. Years later, he was spotted in Skalvik Fjord in Norway, offering rides to local children.

Millions that might have been spent on, say, starving children, and all it bought was a life of loneliness.

Keiko. Bit then, if you've seen one killer whale, you've seen them all.
As Carl Jung once said, “sentimentality is the superstructure erected upon brutality.” Hitler too loved dogs. Those who feign to care about Keiko or the elephants of the Shrine Circus are not really concerned about the welfare of the animal. They are merely seeking a justification for their own haterd of their fellow man.

After all, if making animals work is unspeakably cruel, why not the same concern for humans? Are animals capable of more suffering than men? Surely, if it is immoral for animals, it is at least as immoral to expect human beings to work for their vegetarian bacon.

Then we can all go to the circus instead. To watch the performing robots.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jesus's Teaching on Non-Violence


Pope Francis has been tweeting again. He writes:



First problem is that word “today.” It suggests that the requirements for being a follower of Jesus have changed, and even recently. That sounds like the heresy of modernism.

And what teaching is he referring to about “nonviolence”? “Nonviolence” is actually the English translation of the Sanskrit “ahimsa.” It is an ancient Indian philosophy, originating with Jainism. It is not, that is to say, a Christian doctrine. Yet Francis suggests that Christians must accept it in order to be “true” followers of Jesus.

How’s that for muddying the waters concerning Catholic teaching. And he even seems conscious of the fact that he is adding something not originally there: note the word “also.”

They pile heavy burdens on people’s shoulders and won’t lift a finger to help.-- Matthew 23:4

The Jain advocacy of “nonviolence,” originally involving not just pacifism, but vegetarianism, nudism, and not swatting at insects, was taken up by Mahatma Gandhi and used as a practical tool in the Indian independence movement. It was then adopted by Martin Luther King for the civil rights struggle in the US. This has given it a certain modern prestige. It works, in large part by claiming the moral high ground for whatever it advocates. It seems like a good thing.

But that does not make it a part of Christian teaching.

To be fair, Gandhi himself did claim he got his inspiration not solely from Jainism. He pointed to the Sermon on the Mount as seeming to him to preach something similar. But then, this was also wise strategically, in appealing to the Christian English. He also claimed to find the principle in Judaism and Islam.

Presumably he, Gandhi, refers specifically to the famous “turn the other cheek” passage:

“38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

It surely sounds like a related concept. But to call it “nonviolence” is misleading. Note the entire passage:

“40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

Not hitting back at one who slaps you involves renouncing violence. But not refusing your cloak, or a loan, does not. Violence or non-violence, in other words, is not the issue here. It is rather a call to return love for hate.

Compare Rosa Park’s famous action in refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in 1955. This is the most famous single act of “non-violence,” the classic example. But does it follow Jesus’s teaching? Clearly not.

Jesus had no problem with violence as such. He refused to condemn soldiers, he advised his apostles to buy a knife, he cleared the moneychangers from the temple, he said “I come not with peace but the sword.” Violence has its place.

It is really not helpful for a pope to be promoting such confusion. I understand that Francis is not interested in theology or doctrine, that his emphasis is pastoral.

Even so: surely it is the first responsibility of a shepherd that he not lead his flock astray?




Thursday, January 12, 2017

Anti-Psychiatry at OISE



Szasz

Barbara Kay and the National Post are concerned about a new scholarship at OISE for research into “anti-psychiatry.”

“Critics,” says the Post. “worry the university is endorsing an anti-scientific, anti-intellectual exercise”

“’This is a case where academic freedom should be quashed,’ Edward Shorter, a U of T professor and expert in the history of psychiatry, states bluntly.”

A neurosis, I say, on both their houses. Here again is a case where neither side seems close to the truth.

It is entirely proper to question psychiatry. If it were a real science, questioning its premises would be what it is all about. Science is not a body of unassailable dogmas: it is a method for testing any dogmas. It proves nothing; it only disproves. The essence of science—ask Francis Bacon—is taking nothing on authority, testing everything with the direct evidence of experience. Kay and the Post, like just about everyone these days, stand this basic scientific principle on its head. They claim one is “anti-science” if one is not ready to simply take the word of those identified as “scientists.” The obvious current example is “climate science.”

This is not science, but “scientism.” It is a modern religion based loosely on science, including a sacred priesthood held to be above all suspicion. It is not in touch with the real world. It is a great way for a small educated elite to get away with murder.

“To be fair to Barstow,” Kay concedes, “her distrust of psychiatry is not unfounded. For decades, psychoanalysis —often confused with psychiatry, but not a scientific discipline or necessarily premised on a prior medical degree—was wrongly regarded with near-religious awe as a panacea to humanity’s ills. Many analysts did no harm, but others exploited their prestige to promote bizarre theories and, eventually, make psychoanalysis a sidebar in the treatment of mental illness.

Psychiatry, which does require a medical degree, is another story...”

Oh well then. That makes all the difference. If someone has a medical degree, what they say must be true.

Bacon must be ralphing in his grave.

Bacon


“True disciplines spring,” Kay explains reverently, “from pure intellectual curiosity, not the pursuit of social justice. They build on collaboration with similarly engaged scholars. Fact is piled on fact, theories are debated, evidence is adduced, lively debate ensues, and eventually a body of credible knowledge is established. Real scholarship is ‘for’ truth.”

That is a pious recitation of the scientistic faith. So touchingly naive it pulls tears. It assumes anyone well-educated must be beyond base motives of any sort.

Has she never been to grad school? I only wish it were true.

But then, two wrongs do not make a right. That ought to be her argument: two wrongs do not make a right. The present scholarship implies a point of view no better than the one it challenges.

“For Burstow to claim there is ‘no proven biological basis for mental illness,’” writes Kay, “is demonstrably untrue. Countless studies have proved beyond any doubt that there is a genetic basis for all major psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder and depression.”

No, Barstow is exactly right on this point. Kay is far behind the curve. Back in the early nineties or so, psychiatry was insisting that mental illness is all a matter of genetics and of “chemical imbalance,” and announcing that they were on the verge of isolating the mechanism and the gene. It was fashionable then. For one thing, it justified cheap and relatively effective chemical treatments, coming available. It suited govenments, because it promised a cheaper treatment option. Dare I mention, it suited the drug companies, who were putting a lot of money around as a result? It suited the physicians, because it offered a purely physical cause for mental illness. And none of the claims have been substantiated by further research; even as our knowledge of the human genome grows exponentially.

It is high time to plainly admit that it has all been a chase after uncivilized geese.

Psychiatry as a whole begins as a philosophical error. It is a typical academic field in this regard. The pursuit of truth? Academics has only a tangential relation to truth. Careers and entire new disciplines are usually—usually--premised on some intellectual error, even a fairly obvious one. Sooner or later, when this is revealed somehow to be so, it is in too many vested interests to deny the new information. Even the most obvious error must wait for en entire generation of professors to die off to be accepted. Obvious case in point: Marxism was pretty completely discredited by the 1950s, let alone the collapse of the East Bloc in the 1980s. Yet it continues to thrive—guess where?

Unfortunately, human lives can be in the balance. This is clearly the case with psychiatry.

Psychiatry is at base an attempt to reduce the soul (psyche) to some kind of materialistic basis. This was Freud’s agenda; it was the behaviourist agenda; it is still more the modern “chemical imbalance” agenda. This is intrinsic to the field—otherwise it is no province of “physicians.” Yet this is almost automatically slef-contradictory: it is a field that does not even recognize the real existence of its object of study. How likely is that to work? It is like a branch of zoology dedicated to the scientific study and classification of mythological creatures.

The very concept of “mental illness,” therefore, is a metaphor taken literally.

Suppose, instead, that the soul exists?

As it inarguably does. As Berkeley, among others East and West, points out, we are immediately aware of and certain of the soul’s existence. It is the existence of the physical world, of the body, that is debatable.

There is a second, disastrous fundamental error in the field. If you are going to talk about “mental health”--a metaphor, remember, not a reality, and one that may or may not be useful--what constitutes “health”?

Easy to determine in a physical system like the body, imagined as a machine. Does it work, or does it not?

But the metaphor does not work with the soul. What constitutes “working properly”? What exactly is the right functioning of the soul? How is one soul qualified to judge this of another?

Unfortunately, psychiatry has fixed on t he idea of “normalcy.” The soul is functioning correctly that functions like every other soul. The soul is fit to judge that is properly average.

This is obviously highly debatable. In fact, it disagrees sharply with all the world’s major religions. This ought to be an immediate problem in terms of any public funding.

Any of the world’s great religions would say that the average soul is spiritually lacking. So would any of the great philosophers.

Moreover, anyone of any unusual intelligence, creativity, morality, or talent is necessarily abnormal. Anyone with a new idea is abnormal. Accordingly, the basic premise of psychiatry is destructive of science itself, of human progress, of ethics, and of human freedom. Not to mention the health of the soul. All very well so long as one stays out of the gears of the psychiatric system, but deadly to anyone who is unlucky enough to get “diagnosed.”

So Barstow starts with a very good case. Inside or outside of the academy, we need an “anti-psychiatry” movement. Nor is this new. I studied at Syracuse University, home turf of the late, great Thomas Szasz. At Queen’s, I heard a visiting lecture from R.D. Laing. Has Kay not heard of them? Since when has this academic possibility to doubt psychiatry as a whole been shut down?

Unfortunately, Barstow screws it up completely, and probably boosts Kay and the psychiatrists, by saying wild things like:

“The long history of psychiatry is the long history of pathologizing women … It is also an institution that pathologizes blacks, lesbians and gays. This intersectionality analysis is readily available through an antipsychiatry lens.”

So psychiatry is okay so long as only white men are oppressed? It’s all politics? This allows Kay to point out that, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it is clearly the male tendency that is oppressed. So no problem, then. 

McMurphy


Making it all about politics is almost as materialist as making it all about chemicals: that is just replacing Freud’s materialist pseudo-science with Marx’s “dialectical materialism.” It is just as intolerant. And it has no chance of overtaking the chemical solution, if you will pardon the pun, because it is obviously much less practical to implement.

Barstow’s stated goal is to “spur alternate ways of arranging society so that we aren’t inventing diseases.”

Rearranging society is a big project. By itself, it is ominous, it implies a loss of freedom. Instead of submitting only our most eccentric to the absolute power of some arbitrary elite, we would be submitting everyone. And, if ever possible, that is surely the long way around--a longer way around than drugging up the individual sufferer.

Yes, the world is hopelessly screwed up. But that is not news, that is not a temporary condition. Any religion will tell you: it is the inevitable human condition. So long as people are not perfect, some people will be bad to other people. And you cannot perfect human beings. In fact, you do not even have the right to try.

We must accept that fact, and find our peace within it.

The proper solution has, of course, been known for millennia: religion exists, specifically, as the real psychology. Psychiatry harms, more than anything, by blocking this necessary treatment. Marxist politics harms in the same way.




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

There is No Western Civilization



Ngarjuna

Botheration. The students at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies have proposed that “the majority of philosophers on our courses” should be from Africa and Asia. This has caused a backlash in the press.

Powerline comments

“This is so pathetically stupid that it doesn’t really deserve a response. I take it that these people claim to be studying philosophy, right? So that means they need to study philosophers. What we call philosophy is a Western invention. I remember when Paul and I were taking a Greek philosophy class from Professor Duggan at Dartmouth. At one point in a lecture, he referred to ‘Western philosophy,’ then paused and said: ‘as if there were any other kind.’”

Bodhidharma

Here is an interesting case where I think both sides are wrong. It is an old problem, one that I have cared deeply about since undergrad days, and it seems we are never going to resolve it. The truth seems to have no voice. I majored in Comparative Religions, and went on to do grad work in the field, very largely because it was the only place in the academy where one might study the vast domain of non-European thought. Perhaps two thirds of the world’s knowledge, and all untouched elsewhere.

In principle, it seems to me that the students are absolutely right. What was the name of the school again? If you study philosophy at the School of Oriental and African Studies, you have every reason to expect that the philosophers you study will be primarily Oriental and African. Otherwise, your degree is a fraud.

As to the claim that the only philosophy worth studying is Western philosophy, that is simply extreme chauvinism. It is pig ignorant. I tell you with some conviction, anyone who has not studied Buddhist philosophy, Ngarjuna, Hui Neng, the Tao Te-Ching, Confucius, Mencius, Chuang Tzu, Shankara, Ramakrishna, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Arabi, Ibn Sina, Al-Ghazali, has missed important parts of the human argument and experience. He or she is only half-educated.

And they are understudied. If you are not going to find them in the School of Oriental and African Studies, then where?

Ibn Sina


One can argue, technically, that philosophy is a purely Western invention. But only technically. In the sense that the word is Greek. Yes, Eastern thinkers often dwell on different issues than the classic ones that have preoccupied the West. But that only reveals an artificial limitation on our viewpoint—a good reason in itself to study Eastern philosophy. One could similarly argue, and I have heard it argued, that comedy and tragedy are a Western invention, and there is no comedy outside Europe. This is true in the same sense: our definitions of the two genres come from Aristotle and the Greek ritual tradition. Nevertheless, it is absurd to suggest that we cannot find funny plays or sad plays in other cultures, and more absurd to suggest that non-Western drama is not worth studying because it does not fit into our categories. What in the end, is wrong with learning something? Why would we want to exclude it from a university?

This sort of chauvinism implies cultural relativism. Truth does not have a skin colour or an ethnicity. There is no “Western civilization.” There is only civilization. It is the human duty to seek truth and to seek the best. Wherever we find it, regardless of the “culture” that spawned it. Is something that is true in Toronto not true in Mumbai?

Shankara

That is, incipiently, what American culture and English-speaking culture is: taking the best wherever we find it. That is its genius. And, moreover, that is what Christian culture is. Might I point out that Jesus was Asian? St. Augustine, though, was African. We are building the world culture, those of us who are with the program. Take the best music, whether from Ireland or Africa; the best food, whether from Italy or China; and so forth. That is our project.

Unfortunately, while those who object to the student union proposal seem hopelessly misguided on this, this is in fact not what the students want either.

Here is the relevant portion of their “Educational Priorities”:

Decolonising SOAS: Confronting the White Institution: 
Decolonising SOAS is a campaign that aims to address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism within our university. We believe that SOAS should take a lead on such questions given its unique history within British colonialism. In light of the centenary and SOAS’ aims of curating a vision for itself for the next 100 years, this conversation is pivotal for its future direction.
Our aims are a continuation of the campaign last year:

To hold events that will engage in a wider discussion about expressions of racial and economic inequality at the university, focussing on SOAS.

To address histories of erasure prevalent in the curriculum with a particular focus on SOAS’ colonial origins and present alternative ways of knowing.

To interrogate SOAS’ self-image as progressive and diverse.

To use the centenary year as a point of intervention to discuss how the university must move forward and demand that we, as students of colour, are involved in the curriculum review process.

To review 10 first year courses, working with academics to discuss points of revamp, reform and in some cases overhaul.

To make sure that the majority of the philosophers on our courses are from the Global South or it’s diaspora. SOAS’s focus is on Asia and Africa and therefore the foundations of its theories should be presented by Asian or African philosophers (or the diaspora).

If white philosophers are required, then to teach their work from a critical standpoint. For example, acknowledging the colonial context in which so called “Enlightenment” philosophers wrote within.

Lao Tzu heading west 


In other words, their problem is that SOAS is not racist enough.

“ a wider discussion about expressions of racial and economic inequality”? It is hard to shoehorn either European or Asian philosophers into a discussion of economics or race. Not an issue most of them have been interested in. It is a good excuse to avoid having to deal with any of them. And not even really about politics, either. It is an excuse for saying “you owe me a degree without working for it.” Because oppression.

“present alternative ways of knowing.” Thank you, Carlos Castenada. As any proper philosopher, East or West, North or South, could inform them, there are no “alternative ways of knowing.” Epistemology 101. By definition—or it is not knowledge. If such cultural relativism is true, we are indeed wasting our time studying Oriental or African thought. This is just a way to reject any criticism of your own thinking. “It’s just my way of knowing.” How dare you mark me! Oppression!

“ we, as students of colour” This is presented by the Student’s Union. Are all students at SOAS really “students of colour”? If so, the school should be defunded. It is just an academic ghetto. Or is it that only students of colour are worth mentioning? Then we have extreme discrimination against whites. Either way, it further assumes that Oriental and African thought is of interest only to students of Oriental and African background. If so, again, studying it is a waste of time. And why should any Europeans be asked to fund it?

“SOAS’s focus is on Asia and Africa and therefore the foundations of its theories should be presented by Asian or African philosophers (or the diaspora).” I almost bought it, it almost was true, until that first parenthesis. “Or the diaspora”? That is, people of African or Asian ancestry living in Europe or North America? Outside of African Americans, there would be few of those more than a couple of generations back; among Africans in the US, only a few centuries. A small pool in which to find some of the world’s greatest thinkers. No; this is a fairly obvious claim by the “students of colour” that they themselves are, due to their ancestry, already authorities on Oriental and African thought. It I impertinent of their professors to suppose they know better. So stop annoying them with questions and give them their degrees. Racists.

Averroes

“ acknowledging the colonial context in which so called ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers wrote within.” Pardon the bad grammar; its probably correct in African or Oriental Diaspora thought. Again, there is a point here. The Age of Discovery was deeply influential in European thought. You could do a lot with that premise. But has it been generally unacknowledged? If so, congratulations! You just found a thesis topic!

One gets the feeling the authors never thought of that. That in itself is a chilling reflection on the state of the academic project. This is something the professors are supposed to do for them?

“Culture studies,” which is something we vitally need, has been co-opted everywhere. Instead of studying culture, they simply award unearned degrees on grounds of race or sex or sexual orientation.

I propose a rule: harsh, but perhaps necessary. If you are going to have a department of “women’s studies,” only men should be permitted to enroll. If you have a department of “queer studies,” only straight people should be allowed to enroll. If you have a department of African or Oriental Studies, they can accept nobody of African or Oriental parentage.

If such studies are of any value, they must be of value to those who are not themselves from the culture. On the other hand, follow the implied logic of the SOAS proposal. Students of the African or Asian Diaspora already know all this stuff. They are wasting their time pretending to study it.



Monday, January 09, 2017

The End is Near



The tunnel at the end of the light.

I have a leftish friend, a distinguished editor and journalist, who, in retirement, still writes a regular column. It is a window on what the left is thinking, at least in Canada.

His latest column clarifies something. It is titled, “DENYING THE EPIDEMIC OF DEMENTIA.”

That is the main premise: that there is a current epidemic, dementia, and we are foolishly doing nothing about it.

“It’s hard to call dementia an epidemic. Epidemics typically involve infectious diseases. But when one in every 11 Canadians over the age of 65 has some form of dementia, some 700,000 Canadians, it’s hard to call dementia anything but an epidemic. Every year, about 25,000 new cases are diagnosed.

Apply those figures to any other illness -- measles, cancer, AIDS -- and you’d have not just an epidemic, but panic.”

In pointing out our folly, he lists other matters about which we seem to be willfully blind:

“ So we deny climate change. Even though the figures are clear. Global temperatures are rising. So are sea levels. Polar ice is melting. Storms, floods, and fires escalate in violence. But we’d rather debate it than fight it.”

“ We deny the massive extinction of species. As with climate change, we’d rather argue about possible causes than acknowledge the problem.”

“ We haven’t even begun to consider the effects of living in a bath of wireless transmissions, relying on safety standards drafted before cell phones and Bluetooth even existed.”

“ And the topic of over-population is utterly taboo. We humans are already the most invasive species on earth. No other species has had such a devastating effect on other species, or on the environment. But we can’t talk about it, because we consider all solutions unthinkable.”

In a superficially unrelated remark, a reader responds to the immediate past column with the comment:

“Look into the future, . What do you see for us? The Tyee, which is a decidedly left wing newspaper, took a poll of its readers regarding their prognosis for the coming year. Over 80% said they view the future as hopeless.”

And that, it seems to me, is an apt summary of the movement that currently calls itself “progressive.” far from believing in the possibility of progress in any sense, it seems convinced that the sky is falling. One way or another, these are the last days. The world is about to end.

This view is not realistic. Start with dementia. A smaller proportion of people than ever before, at every age group, are getting dementia. That is not characteristic of an epidemic. What is also happening, of course, is that with the improvement in life expectancy, more people than before are living long enough to risk dementia.

But this then seems an effort to put the most depressing spin possible on good news. It is as though either the left wants to believe the world is going to Hell in a handcart, or they are somehow traumatized and cannot get past negative thoughts.

Quickly, on the pressing danger of climate change: to avoid being called a “climate change denier,” it is not enough to believe just that the earth is getting steadily and significantly warmer. Although there is already room enough to doubt that. You must also believe that man is the principal cause, that this will be a bad thing, that it is realistically possible to stop it by government action, that the actions proposed will cost less than the eventual damage from climate change, and that there are no more pressing problems on which the money might be better spent. 

Bertrand Russell, public atheist, leads "ban the bomb" march, 1961.


Buying all that takes quite a leap of faith. It is a complicated dogma, and improbable on its face. Most improbable is the idea that climate change, if real, means impending universal doom. At its core seems a conviction that man is evil, and must somehow repent, to avoid the imminent wrath of an angry God.

So too with the idea of an impending imminent mass extinction. There is no hard evidence of it, only predictions based on computer models. Again, a leap of faith that violates the scientific sine qua non of skepticism and demanding evidence rather than relying on authority. It does not come from science; from whence does this conviction come?

The ultimate concern mentioned, revealingly, is overpopulation. That perhaps gets to the nub. The problem is too many people; with the self-contradictory assumption that too many people by their existence will kill all people. In other words, the problem is with the sinful nature of people. People are bad per se; people are evil in their essence.

Far from ignoring or refusing to discuss the problem, it has been done to death. When I was in high school, back in 1970, our biology teacher required us all to buy and read The Population Bomb. This nagging negative thought has been pervasive ever since, for at least 50 years now. It is, granted, at last apparently fading. Because all the predictions of “overpopulation” turned out not to be true. Scientific evidence did not support the theory. Instead of running out of water, food, and everything else, poverty has declined worldwide. Famines have become much more rare. And the world population is, on present trends, soon to level off on its own.

As men are evil, anything made by man is also evil. That is, civilization is bad. Hence the concern with “pollution.” And new inventions like cell phones or Bluetooth must necessarily be somehow poisonous. The idea that they might be has in fact been studied again and again; and no significant harmful effects have yet been found. The concern seems based on irrational fear, not science.

To be fair, a lot of the present pessimism on the left is connected with the fact that their girl lost the recent US election. Still, they do seem generally to be taking an apocalyptic view of that too. It’s Hitler? Trump is going to send them all to concentration camps! And that has been their attitude for fifty or sixty years, hasn’t it? Since the “ban the bomb” movement in the fifties. The world will end soon from global cooling, or global warming, or overpopulation, or peak oil, or nuclear holocaust, or pollution, or if not that, surely something. There is always a nagging sense of threatening epidemic.

The four horsemen of the apocalypse: overpopulation, dementia, global warming, and Donald Trump


Granted, the right can be apocalyptic too, on a smaller scale. They worry about the decline and fall of civilization, or at least “Western” civilization. But in this is an original optimism and hope In progress: that civilization is worthwhile and that mankind has indeed built something over the years.

What we seem to see on the left is an obvious pervasive sense of free-floating guilt. The human conscience is acting up, and disturbing our sleep.

What happened? What is driving the left, literally, crazy?

This comes from turning away from God.




Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Razor's Edge

Women's razor

Under public pressure, Tesco in the UK has just reduced the price of its women’s twin-blade razors to match those of their men’s two-blade razors. The previous “discriminatory pricing” was supposedly a form of prejudice against women.

I don’t get that logic.

If an essentially identical product is sold at two prices, why is it you are obliged to buy one instead of the other simply because you are a woman? Why not buy the “men’s” razors? Would that be so hard? Is that really too difficult a mental challenge for the average woman to handle?

If, of course, women did that, the market for women’s razors would evaporate. Or the price would come down. Obviously, if they are selling for that price, women are buying them.

No; the real significance of the former different prices is this: men are more price-sensitive than women. A woman feels it is worth it to pay one third more simply to get a colour she prefers—pink, for example.

Supply and demand.

What this reveals, in turn, is that women generally have significantly more money to spend than men do. Women have money for such luxuries; men do not.

Forget all the propaganda you have been fed about men making more than women. They do not. But men need to make life choices based on how much money the job brings in, while women, being intrinsically wealthier, have the luxury to seek out jobs that are fun.

The truth is, regardless of who in a family makes the money, it is the woman who spends it. Eighty percent of all purchasing decisions are made by women. This is true regardless of whether one partner works, or both. Women have eighty percent of the folding money.

There is a reason why there are so many women’s magazines, so fat with ads. Men’s mags are only there to cater to single men, who still have some disposable income.

But apparently it is not enough. What’s the point of having social privilege if you do not use it relentlessly to push for more?


Exile



If we should live long enough,
we all end our lives as exiles
Somebody changes everything as we sleep,
and we awake one morning in a foreign land.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Wishes for the New Year


Since I seem to be so bad at predicting things, let me instead concentrate on things I would most fondly wish to happen. Take it as a prayer; and perhaps it will be heard.

First and foremost, the critical issue of this era is abortion. May we see the start of laws against it, in Canada, the US, and elsewhere.

Second, an end to Quebec’s discriminatory language laws, so that Montreal can regain its rightful place as Canada’s metropolis. Now is the moment, with Ontario’s government making life impossible for business in old rival Toronto.

I would like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK to seize the moment and have a new customs union deal ready to go the day after Brexit becomes official. For Canada, good insurance in case Trump wants to weaken NAFTA.

I want a union of the Catholic with the Orthodox churches. There is no reason but prejudice for the split to endure. There are no substaantian theological differences. And all such conflicts within the Christian church are cause for scandal.

I want an end to no-fault divorce. Nothing is more harmful than the weakening of the family. I want legal penalties for adultery. Without them, marriage is an unenforceable contract. I support gay marriage—it discourages promiscuity, after all—but on the same basis. And I want it clearly spelled out that homosexual sex is not a human right. Pretending it is one is destructive to real human rights like freedom of conscience.

Other ideas to strengthen marriage: an absolute cap on the amount a non-earning party could take out of the marriage. Being married to c doctor is not, in principle, harder or more valuable work than being married to a steelworker. End predatory divorces! Similarly: the person paying child support should also, automatically, have legal custody. He or she may, of course, choose to allow the other party to raise the children, But he who pays the piper ought to be able to call the tune; otherwise, you have a decent functional definition of slavery.

I want a prohibition on affirmative action of all sorts, on grounds of human rights. Not just an end to the legal requirement, but make all hiring on the basis of race or sex illegal, as it should be.

I want an end to all “hate laws” and speech codes, on the same grounds. Prosecute the deed, not the motive. It is impossible to prevent “hate laws” from being used to discriminate—against any currently unpopular group. They violate equality before the law.

I want—here I am libertarian—an end to all legal penalties for possession of drugs of any sort. Again, this seems to me an obvious case of human rights. We have a right to do as we want to our own bodies. Pursuit of happiness and all that. Besides, as a practical matter, prohibition only feeds crime and lawlessness.

Speaking of libertarians, I want Maxime Bernier for the conservative leadership. Not Kevin O’Leary, not Kellie Leitch: both are disqualified as a practical matter by not speaking any French. Both are embarrassing “me too’s” for Donald Trump. We ought to be grown up enough not to ape older brother. Both would be divisive within the party. Nor do we want a Red Tory; that too would alienate a large part of the party. It would be electoral death in this era of populist insurgency. Bernier’s libertarianism seems a platform everyone could rally around.

I want unrestricted immigration for Christians and Yazidis from the Middle East. We are watching a genocide unfold, and doing nothing. After abortion, this seems to me the greatest scandal of our time. And no nonsense about having to let in Middle Eastern Muslims in proportionate numbers. No; we did not need to let in Aryan Germans or Austrians during the Nazi era to justify letting in Jews. Could we tell the difference? Of course we could, at least for Christians. There are baptismal records.

For some of the same reasons, I’d like an unrestricted “right of return” to Canada for Jews. Why not? It is pure self-interest to want to attract as many Jews as we can. They always produce a disproportionate benefit to the economy and culture wherever they go: they are a leaven to the nations. Where, for example, would Canadian culture be without Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, Wayne and Schuster, or Ed and David Mirvish? Let alone the Canadian economy, or Canadian academics. Not a lot of street gang action in Jewish nighbourhoods, either. Second, it seems to me it would be a safety valve for the continuing troubles in the Middle East. It gives Jews a ready second option in case things go South there. The Arabs too, would probably thank us.

That would probably be enough immigration. If not, might I put in a word for the desirability of Filipino immigrants? Christian, generally fluent in English, utterly non-racist as a culture, familiar with Anglo legal principles, and generally admiring of the culture. You do not find Filipino ghettos anywhere. They integrate within two generations.