Playing the Indian Card

Friday, July 27, 2018

Religion as Aggression

World's tallest buildings, 1850.

My left-leaning friend laments the “colonization” of the Mediterranean basin by the followers of Jesus a few thousand years ago. All a matter, in the end, of religious intolerance. Okay, at first it was all voluntary, but not once Constantine Christianized the empire. Then one had to be Christian or face consequences.

We pride ourselves on being more religiously tolerant than our ancestors—just imagine trying to impose our religion on someone! But I suspect we may be giving our ancestors a bum rap. It is easy to accept religious diversity so long as your own religion is not really Christianity any longer, or any of the recognized others, but secular humanism, human rights, materialism, and science. It is, after all, when that shift happened in our culture, especially in the nineteenth century, that we really started relaxing about religious differences.

It seems to me symbolically significant that, up until 1884, the world's tallest buildings were always (at least next to another, ancient religious structure, the pyramids) cathedrals. In that year, the Washington Monument, an image of secular humanism, became the world's tallest, and secular buildings have held the record ever since. The Washington Monument was surpassed by the Eiffel Tower, essentially a shrine to science and technology. Since the Eiffel Tower was surpassed in turn in 1930, the biggest shrines are either to technology—broadcast masts—or to commerce.

A fairer comparison to the attitude of our ancestors, who held that Christianity was simply truth, since it was indeed what they believed, as we now do science and human rights, would be how peacefully we can tolerate in our midst people who reject the basics of both science and human rights. Not just science or technology alone, because science or technology, unlike Christianity, lacks a moral dimension; so rejecting it is not so much considered morally disturbing as just insane.

Now, wouldn't we have a problem? Don't we? Note that it is on human rights grounds that “we” went in to Kosovo, or Bosnia. Were we wrong, or simply aggressive, to do so? Were we right to stay out of Rwanda, or Syria? Should we have nothing to say about female genital mutilation? Perhaps; but it gets hard to make the case.

You might scoff that religious differences are not that morally significant. But they often are. When you contrast Christianity with historical paganism—back when people actually believed in either—for example, you have to consider issues like human sacrifice. Contrast Christianity with historical Hinduism, and you have issues like suttee, the caste system, and such. With Islam, you had issues like slavery. I think we would still consider such issues morally significant today. We would just ascribe them to human rights instead of Christianity.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


J. J. McCullough is tepid on the currently sometimes floated proposal for a CANZUK union: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom joining a customs and mutual defense pact. He points out, rightly, that these countries really do not do much trade with each other. Each of them trades far more with the US. So what's the advantage?

True enough, and fair enough. My own first choice in terms of such a union would be CAINZUKUSA, including also the US and Ireland. Heck, if it were me, I'd add in the Philippines, Singapore, and the British West Indies. Not to exclude others who might want to join.

But, further, McCullough is looking only at trade. It seems to me that is not the only consideration. I am more attracted by the idea of free movement. I have always found Canada confiningly small, at least in population terms. It is not, no doubt, in world terms, but it is in comparison to our nearest neighbour, and this can feel frustrating. Many occupations in Canada are effectively only available in Toronto. Toronto is not everybody's cup of tea. It would be great to be able to pick up and move to London or Sydney instead.

And I consider defense a second important issue. The US seems to be pulling back from world commitments. A new force is perhaps needed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Death on the Danforth

There has been another random mass murder, in Toronto, on the Danforth. Toronto, or Canada, is not any longer the peaceable kingdom it used to be.

The first reaction is of course for people to call for gun control.

This is not the solution:

  1. more guns in public hands are logically no more dangerous than fewer guns. Note that most mass shootings in the US actually happen in “gun-free zones.” These ensure for a shooter that victims are defenseless: shooting gallery conditions. Secondly, the frequency of mass shootings is actually fairly comparable across developed countries—NOT most common in the US, which supposedly has the loosest gun control. And these various countries have different levels of gun ownership, and different gun laws. 
  2. guns if completely banned can be replaced with bombs, vehicles, or—as we see recently in the UK—knives, for similar random mass attacks. Banning guns would do nothing for this reason. 

The second reaction is for people to call for better mental health care, so that deranged people no longer “fall through the cracks.” More funding!

Neither is this a solution.

  1. Seemingly without exception, these mass killers are already under psychiatric care. They did not fall through the cracks. 
  2. Any number of studies prove that the mentally ill are no more prone to violence than the general population. And, again, the incidence of mass killings is about the same across the developed world, despite different funding models for mental health. 

So what is the solution? Can we do anything?

One obvious suggestion, that nobody wants to make, is to end Muslim immigration. Such shooters do seem to be disproportionately Muslim, as in the current example. Surely this is an argument for ending the immigration of Muslims into any country?

It must immediately be said that Islam or Islamism was not involved in this case. The perp was mentally ill. Nevertheless, as any police department will tell you, there is a “copycat” element in crimes, especially spectacular crimes. One person does it, and others are inspired to do the same. Especially the mentally ill, who tend to be suggestible. Recall for example the spate of assassinations in the US in the late Sixties and Seventies.

The model of going on a killing frenzy against unbelievers will resonate among Muslims who are insane, creating a special danger. Regardless of whether the vast majority of Muslims would never even think of doing it. And such killing sprees against unbelievers are genuinely a longstanding element of Islam. They have been a problem for centuries in, for example, the southern Philippines. Not some new or transitory thing. Ergo, without individual Muslims being at fault, it is still a higher risk to the general population to let in Muslims as immigrants. This is a valid consideration in selecting immigrants. There is, the US Supreme Court to the contrary, no human rights question involved in discriminating on the grounds of religion for immigration purposes. This is an issue of freedom of association for those already here, or anywhere else. Any more than there is a human rights issue in discriminating on the grounds of language ability, or illness, or likelihood to need social assistance. None assume moral fault in the applicant.

Again, nobody wants to say it, but there is another reason to want to restrict Muslim immigration. On a vital issue, Muslims will tend not to assimilate, on religious grounds. Unlike in Christianity or Buddhism, or, at least for historical reasons, Judaism, in Islam there is no separation of church and state. Any government that is not specifically both religious and Muslim is, in Muslim terms, illegitimate. Accordingly, if and when a group of Muslims forms a majority in any area, however small, there will be an inevitable demand for a separate government, with their own laws, on a religious foundation. They will therefore never consider themselves any more than transitionally and regrettably “Canadian.” Witness Bosnia, the southern Philippines, or Chechnya. Letting in a large Muslim minority creates an inevitable future conflict, probably bloody.

But, you may argue, not all Muslims will think like this. So just let in the “good” Muslims who recognize the separation of church and state.

Problem: these are not the good Muslims. These are the Muslims who do not take their religion seriously. Accordingly, they are just as likely to be fast and loose with its other requirements, most of them involving objectively good morals. From the Muslim perspective, to be secularized is to be wicked, and such Muslims will see themselves as having defected to "the wicked West." No rules any longer need apply.

But none of this really does much regarding the immediate question of mass shootings. You cannot deport Muslim Canadians, and there are a good number of them.

The real problem is, I think, a critical diagnostic failure in the psychiatric profession. Psychiatry does not distinguish between two opposite conditions, melancholia, and narcissism. This is the only way you can end up with mass killers always being mentally ill, but the mentally ill not being any more likely to be mass killers. We must have two separate groups being given the same diagnosis of “mental illness.” One has to be less likely than the general population to be violent, and the other more likely, so that the two statistically balance out.

Melancholics, the product of some abuse or trauma, and narcissists, who have mostly simply chosen to do wrong, show similar symptoms, of depression and anxiety; and all psychiatry is capable of seeing, because of its empirical prejudices, are symptoms. So both are treated with antidepressants, or antipsychotics, which give purely symptomatic relief.

These helpfully dull the floating anxiety, the troubling thoughts, or, in the case of psychosis, the hallucinations. In a melancholic, it allows them to function more normally, without unjustified anxieties caused by systematic abuse or PTSD. In a narcissist, however, the anxiety and depression are really the voice of conscience, expressing genuine guilt. Giving them the pills allows them to continue to function narcissistically, and ramp up, by stilling this troubling voice of conscience.

If the former group, the melancholics, experience a crisis, they want to kill themselves. If the latter group, the narcissists, experience a crisis, they will want to kill everyone around them. Big difference. Give them antidepressants and antipsychotics, and this will happen. This itself explains the growing incidence of such mass murders.

How to tell the difference? Not hard, on several bases.

Both groups will also tend to seek similar relief in alcohol, as a form of “self-medication.” But there are two kinds of drunks, aren't there? A melancholic drunk, who drinks to ease the pain of abuse, will get funnier and more outgoing when drunk, or just dopey, or fall asleep. A narcissistic drunk, who drinks to still the inhibitions of conscience, will get belligerent, or self-pitying, or nasty.

It might be a good diagnostic tool, if psychiatry knew what it was doing.

Monday, July 23, 2018

About the Jews

A Canadian WWI recruiting poster.

I read with surprise recently that Canada actually has the world's fourth largest Jewish population, after Israel, France, and the US.

Good for Canada.

But then, I think if Canada were smarter, the Jewish population of Canada would be far larger. I advocate for Canada an absolute “right of return”: automatically accept any Jew as an immigrant.

First, on humanitarian grounds. Jews are in principle in danger and at risk everywhere. They always have been, for thousands of years. They are the ultimate and archetypal refugees. Not excluding in Israel, where odds are, over the course of time and changing demographics, they will sooner or later be wiped out. As many of their neighbours openly advocate.

If there is one place on earth with the available space to offer the Jews a home, it is Canada. If there is one place on earth where they would be safe over the long term, it is Canada, bounded by seas on three sides, and with the Russian advantage of vast distances. Why impose on the Arabs, by taking some of their traditional land? If they do not want the Jews, very well. Their mistake. We should. Take them all; end the trouble in the Middle East.

For any sensible person must see that a Jewish presence is a net benefit wherever they are.

Ask Hitler's ghost. Ever wonder why it was the Americans who first detonated the atom bomb? What if it had been Germany? Imagine what that might have meant. But it was not going to be Germany, because Hitler had killed or forced into exile all the Jewish scientists who knew much of anything about the atom, beginning of course with Albert Einstein. And Julius Oppenheimer, whose parents had fled Germany. And Niels Bohr. They left for America, and did it there. Getting rid of Jews was suicidal for Nazi Germany. It amounts, in effect, to getting rid of the best minds in your country or culture. You are cutting off your head to spite your face.

Why, you might ask, then, does everyone hate the Jews?

Not hard to explain. It is right there in the Bible, almost at the start, in the story of Cain and Abel. The Jews are the shepherd brother. Others envy them because they are smarter and more successful. And so they want to murder them. We see the same tendency today in the general pogrom against “Anglos” or “straight white men.”

Yes, it is true, Jews are great at starting businesses, just as everyone says. Bronfmans, Aspers, Steinbergs, Mirvishes, Snidermans. Stronger economy, more jobs. All Canadians would be poorer had such families not settled in our midst. But there's more. Where would Canadian culture be either without Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Mordecai Richler, A.M. Klein, Wayne and Schuster, Sharon, Lois and Bram, Ed Mirvish, Frank Gehry, Moshe Safdie, Lorne Greene, William Shatner, David Cronenberg, Lorne Michaels, Robbie Robertson, Barbara Frum, Peter C. Newman, Barbara Amiel, and on and on? There'd be quite a hole if they had not been around, wouldn't there be?

All of this from a tiny minority within the country. One percent of the population. There are more Portuguese, Welsh, Spanish, or Norwegian in Canada.

Now imagine if we had twice or three times as many such creative and enterprising types?

Not welcoming Jews wherever they want to settle is its own punishment.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Best Canadian Prime Ministers and US Presidents

Who was Canada's best prime minister?

This is often debated among Americans about American presidents. It comes up less often for Canadian PMs. No one cares much about Canadian prime ministers. In one sense this is wrong, because Canadian prime ministers actually have more real power than US presidents. But it somehow seems easier to cite presidents who are admirable. Canadian prime ministers always seem, at best, just another politician.

I think this is partly because presidents serve symbolically as head of state, national symbols, partly an artifact of the US term limits. As Enoch Powell once observed, under the Westminster system, every political career ends in failure. Leaders usually stay on until voted out of office—or until they know they are going to be voted out if they again face the polls: until popular opinion turns against them. And so this is how they are remembered. With US term limits, it is common for a leader to retire while still popular, and this is how he is remembered.

When deciding on the best prime ministers, or presidents, there is a tendency too to give highest marks to ones who made a lot of changes while in office: who left a legacy. They are, naturally enough, the most remembered. America would be a very different place today had Lincoln or FDR not been in office.

I think this is a dangerously bad idea, and a bad influence. In principle, any change has only a 50-50 chance of being for the better. So we ought not to give precedence simply to change. Encouraging this imagined need to leave a legacy can prompt leaders to do dumb and dangerous things.

I think, for example, of Brian Mulroney's Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. He came close to busting the country, just to be a bigger man than Trudeau. Or Pierre Trudeau's inane, pretentious, and counterproductive world peace tour at the end of his final mandate.

Stephen Harper

With all that in mind, I think Canada's best prime minister to date is actually relatively unassuming Stephen Harper. He held a steady course, in which all the regions and constituencies were kept generally content. Maybe Wilfrid Laurier next. Then Louis St. Laurent. The country prospered, and they didn't unnecessarily rock the boat.

Wilfrid Laurier

Other prime ministers, those that did, tend to my mind to have usually left sour tastes when they departed. Paul Martin was a great finance minister, but as prime minister, he seemed to me unprincipled and duplicitous. Jean Chretien was lovable in a number of cabinet posts, but as prime minister, he seemed dangerously ruthless. One felt he was prepared to let the Liberal Party and parliamentary traditions burn to the ground if necessary to keep his own power. He badly fumbled the ball on the 1995 Quebec Referendum, and again the country nearly broke up. Brian Mulroney, although he deserves credit for NAFTA, was unforgivably reckless, as noted with Canada's future for the sake of his supposed legacy. Joe Clark's signal accomplishment was quickly getting himself voted out of office. Pierre Trudeau deserves credit for his work on national unity, and he was an inspiring presence, but he showed a frightening authoritarian streak with Les Ordres, his romance with Castro, and his Hate Crimes legislation. We are still paying for that legacy. Lester Pearson deserves credit for Medicare, which for all its faults few Canadians would want to do without. But at the time, a difficult time for Canada, he seemed maddeningly weak. Always the diplomat, one felt that, had half the country gone Neo-Nazi, and the other half become serial rapists, he would have gone along with it all without saying anything for the sake of superficial concord. Diefenbaker was a lot of fun to have around, and deserves a little credit for the Canadian Bill of Rights, but shambolic in power. Mackenzie King was remarkable mostly for hanging on to power so long. F.R. Scott claimed his motto was “never do by halves what you can do by quarters.” That is not by itself a bad thing, but it is not really true. It is more that this is the impression he made: uninspiring, While doing lots of things, a transformation comparable to that by FDR in the US, by stealth.

Louis St. Laurent

R.B. Bennett might have amounted to something, but had the misfortune to be in power during the worst early years of the Great Depression. Robert Borden seems a suit, a cipher, and tone deaf on Quebec. And so on back to Sir John A, who was above all else a political deal maker. A useful skill, but not an inspiring or really very admirable one.

Now to apply the same principles to American presidents. Because I can't resist. Most admirable, I think, has to be George Washington. He could have become America's king. He could have been a Cromwell, dictator for life. It was virtually historically unprecedented at the time—people had to think back to the Roman Republic and Cincinnatus—that he did not try for greater power than suggested in the Constitution, and then insisted on retiring from office after two terms. He set a model everyone else felt obliged to follow; at least until FDR.

Speaking of which, by this same measure, FDR was an especially bad president. So are some others generally heralded as among the best: Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson. Lincoln's bloody tumult and suspension of liberties was in itself not at all good, but perhaps a morally necessary thing. That argument hinges on whether you can see slavery being abolished peacefully in the US, as it indeed was throughout the British Empire.

After Washington, Jefferson deserves a lot of credit. He represented the radical faction from the Revolution coming to power. If Washington might have been a Cromwell, Jefferson might have been a Robespierre. Instead, he acted with admirable restraint and magnanimity. Jefferson is largely responsible, with Washington, for establishing the vital principle of a peaceful transfer of power. He did exceed his constitutional authority in one regard: in buying the Louisiana Territory, peacefully doubling the US's physical extent. But who, in retrospect, can fault instead of credit him for that?

I think it is unfortunate, and unjust, that Jefferson's reputation is currently in eclipse. He is blamed, firstly, for owning slaves, and, secondly, for supposedly having had a long extramarital affair with his own slave, Sally Hemings. I think the first is a bum rape: the problem was structural. Given that other farmers used slave labour, Jefferson as a farmer could not have refused to do so and remained solvent. It seems to me to matter more that he was politically opposed to slavery. A for the second, it is an unproven allegation, and so no more than salacious calumny. Contrary to common belief, it has not really been confirmed by the DNA evidence. And if it is true, it is a matter that does not reflect on his presidency. Presidents should have the same right to privacy as common citizens.

Calvin Coolidge

Another candidate for the best president is Calvin Coolidge. He resisted exercising power when possible, and insisted on leaving after one term. Another admirable example; although this one has not since been followed.

U.S. Grant

I have a soft spot too for Ulysses S. Grant. He governed at a tough time, during Reconstruction, and it seems his fate to be eternally underestimated. His administration was mired in corruption, but I do not think Grant himself was responsible. On the other hand, he had a record of magnanimity towards the defeated South, and advanced civil rights for both blacks and American Indians. He was a steady and a fair hand when it was desperately needed.

Theodore Roosevelt.

Next, I like Teddy Roosevelt. He was no doubt an activist, which is not in itself a good thing. But far more than for Canadian prime ministers, a large part of the job of a US president is to set the tone of discourse, as head of state. At this, at least, Roosevelt was perhaps the best of all American presidents. He personified the American spirit, and the best of the American spirit, in a way nobody else has done so well before or since.

On the same score, I think John Kennedy ranks high. Like Roosevelt, he projected hope, good nature, a sense of fairness, and optimism. I give him credit for civil rights. I do not blame him for Vietnam. I think Vietnam was down to Eisenhower, who has been generally given too much credit by history. I think Ike was a much worse president than people generally think. Kennedy's rep, like Jefferson's, is in decline because of his personal life. I maintain this is not relevant.

And on the same score, Reagan must rank high. As a national cheerleader and spokesman, he gave Americans hope and optimism.

And there you have it; typically enough for a Canadian, I seem to have much more to say about US presidents than Canadian prime ministers.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Fireworks on "The View"

Things are getting weirder. Apparently there as a big dustup on “The View” yesterday, between Whoopi Goldberg and Jeanine Pirro. I did not watch it, but have seen the clips on YouTube. It seems an indication of how broken political discourse has become. People are no longer talking to one another.

Ben Shapiro opines that the left have come to view the right as purely evil, and this is the problem.

Trying to reconstruct what happened and why Goldberg blew her stack. To begin with, the title of Pirro's book was not going to be conciliatory: “Liars, Leakers, and Liberals.” But I think she deserves a bye on that, because it is in an established tradition, and the tradition was started, I think, by the left. The first such title I recall is Democratic former senator Al Franken's “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.” 1999. Then there was his “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell them.” 2003. Turnabout is fair play; she did not make the rules; and Pirro's title is a lot milder.

Pirro is no shrinking violet, but she did seem to behave on the show with great politeness, in the face of what seemed like provocation: Goldberg calling out “You have to answer the question,” for example.

Goldberg seemed to go right off the rails when Pirro accused her—not directly, but in a comment to another guest which actually seemed meant to be conciliatory towards that guest—of “Trump derangement syndrome.” She immediately insisted that Trump was utterly beyond the pale: “I've never, ever seen anybody whip up such hate...” And then she would not allow Pirro to say anything in response to this charge, but shouted her down as soon as she tried. The premise that Trump is intolerable had to be accepted before she would allow Pirro to say anything further.

This is not sensible. It actually proves Pirro's assertion: Trump derangement syndrome was clearly demonstrated.

Trump was fairly recently elected president. Political discourse cannot continue on the premise that nobody is allowed to agree openly with the bulk of the US population.

In the shouting, it was possible to make out a few of Goldberg's charges against Trump: that he “called Mexicans murderers and rapists”; that he told people to beat them (or someone) up. It surely matters that neither of these charges are true. Certainly not the first; he was referring to some illegal immigrants, and made that clear in the initial statement. The second is debatable, and ignores the fact that Trump was responding directly to violence from the left.

But then, if they were true, Goldberg would have felt no need to shout down Pirro's response.

To do so is an admission of a sort. And that is, I think, the real nub of the problem. It is not, as Shapiro supposes, a matter of the left having come to believe that the right is pure evil. It is a matter of the left coming to the realization that the right has better arguments on some vital issue, so that they must not be allowed to be heard. That explains everything most straightforwardly, surely.

Wouldn't the mature, normal, sensible and healthy course simply be to concede the argument, and move on to other matters? Isn't that what political discourse is for? If not at once, for the sake of saving face, then fairly promptly and without admitting it? Yet this has been going on, and getting worse, for some time. What could be so important as to insist on a falsehood?

It has to mean, I think, the opposite of what Shapiro opines. It has to mean that the left believes they are evil, and the right is good. But they don't want to give something up that they know is wrong.

There are not that many possibilities. One is perhaps that the left represents an elite holding power illegitimately, as in “the deep state,” and they are afraid of losing their cushy, well-paid jobs, power, and social status. That seems plausible. That seems to have been what Trump's election was about, and would explain why he is to them intolerable. His election was a revolt against them. It must not be allowed to stand.

But another possibility, I think, is abortion. Trump has not made that his central theme, but he did make his ability to appoint Supreme Court justices central in his pitch to his base. His Supreme Court picks do matter on this score, and the left has clearly signaled that to them, this is what the Supreme Court is all about.

I read that 40% of US children are now aborted. That leaves a huge proportion of women complicit in an act that another huge proportion of the population considers murder—a hanging crime.

Hard to come to any civil agreement on that.

It was a tragic mistake ever to make abortion legal—conceivably a civilization-ending mistake.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Civilization 101?

Norte Chaco panorama: where civilization began in the New World.

Most of the first world civilizations seem to have developed in deserts; or rather, along river valleys in deserts: the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris-Euphrates in Mesopotamia, in the Indus valley in India, along the Yellow River in China. In the New World, the first known civilization was on the northwest coast of Peru, an area that is “extremely arid, bounded by two rain shadows caused by the Andes to the east, and the Pacific trade winds to the west.”

At first glance, this seems odd. Why would settled agriculture have developed here? Deserts are relatively infertile areas. They are hard to farm. They are impoverished areas in agricultural terms. These places where agriculture first developed are far from the best farming areas today.

Some have theorized that the need to work together to develop irrigation works was the impetus to create the first complex communities. But this does not quite work. When you don't have much in the way of weaponry, hunting big game can also often require coordination. Mastodons will not stand still to be beaten with sticks. Indians like the Beothuk constructed and maintained miles of high fencing to channel caribou or buffalo into traps. Buffalo hunts required great coordination. Yet they never developed cities, or writing, or complex forms of government. Surely there are other circumstances that require social coordination; yet the civilizations arose specifically along these dry river valleys.

Mohenjo-Daro, Where civilization began in India.

I see another possible factor. Among hunter-gatherer societies, constant war was the norm. Constant total war allows little leisure to develop new ideas or technologies.

A community surrounded by desert would, in the course of things, have relatively little contact with hostile neighbours; there was little game nearby to hunt. Granted, people passing through a desert might want to fight for a water source, but if they have to cross a desert to get to it, they would be few in number, easy to see coming, and unlikely, as hunters, to see a compelling reason to stay around. You could probably bargain with them rather than having to fight. If you had to fight, you would probably win.

Ur: Where civilization began in Mesopotamia.

And so those people along the river valley, although poor, might have had the tranquility to work out those irrigation works in the first place, and the ability to preserve them intact, and the time to develop writing systems, architecture, and all that followed.

Monday, July 09, 2018

There Is a Right and Wrong

Somebody visited W.C. Fields in hospital, on his deathbed, and found him reading the Bible. They expressed surprise.

“Just looking for loopholes,” he explained.

And that is the story of much of human life, and much of human history. Everyone wants to be good, but without that difficult bit about doing good. Civilization itself may be seen as the struggle against that tendency, and civilizations have been successful to the extent that they have pulled it off: the ability to accept the difference between good and evil, and to act accordingly. Societies of any kind work to the exact extent that everyone follows the Golden Rule, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The temptation is always very strong to simply deny that there is good and evil—that lets you completely off the hook. That is why you hear people using terms like “inappropriate” or “negative” for human deeds instead of “wrong” or “evil.” Modern psychiatry and psychology is founded on the premise. You read—as I just have—references to the “myth of pure evil,” claiming that most people who commit terrible acts, even mass murder, do so in the sincere conviction that they’re on the side of the angels. Perhaps they simply “lack empathy” because their brains are wired differently.

“I wanted to understand how ordinary people got caught up in doing these things,” the present author says. “I came to realize that those who come to do evil don’t view it as evil. Evil is in the mind of the perceiver. Most of the Nazis thought they were doing noble work.”

No. This reduces the human person to an automaton, without free will.

If there really were no such thing as evil, if it really were in the mind of the perceiver, all punishments for crime would be no more than the persecution of minority opinions. It would mean we had no right to judge the Nazis at Nuremberg, or to punish anyone at the International Court of Justice for personal peccadillos like mass murder. It never really mattered whether the Nazis won, or we did. Everyone died for nothing.

There is no way Himmler, for example, had a sincere conviction that he was on the side of the angels. Nor those below him. That was why they invented the gas chambers. They found it too troubling to see their victims shot. Better to do it all out of sight, so they could pretend to themselves it was not happening.

Everyone has a conscience. Demonstrably, when a narcissist does something morally wrong, he or she knows perfectly well they are doing something morally wrong. Because they will invariably lie about it. If they did not think it was wrong, they would not. And they have plenty of empathy as well: if they did not have a well-tuned sense of how others experience things, of how others feel, they would not be able to manipulate them so expertly, which they are famous for. Their “emotional intelligence” is through the roof.

Narcissism is like alcoholism. The alcoholic knows perfectly well that taking that next drink is bad for him, and for those around him. He does not lack a conscience. He just wants it; nothing else matters as much. Same with a narcissist.

This is also why not everyone who is raised to have maximum self-esteem, who is spoiled, will end up a narcissist. Everyone has a conscience, and in the end knows right from wrong in their heart. Becoming a narcissist requires a conscious moral choice.

The essential task for either the narcissist is to get back in touch with that natural rheostat or internal gyroscope, with conscience and with reality.

Psychology in general, sadly, takes exactly that solution, and puts it out of reach. By saying there is no reality, no morality, no right or wrong, and no free will. Trapping narcissists in their narcissism, and melancholics in their despair.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The Left Is Not about Community

A left-leaning friend who shall this time remain nameless wrote a column, which I understood as offering the proposition that the left was all about “community,” while the right was all about “individualism.” I sent him an email arguing that the premise was false, and he wrote back only the simple sentence “No, I didn't say that.”

Rereading, I still think that is exactly what he said. He wrote, for example, “The alternative to community is individualism.” So far, so good--but it sets up the opposition. Then: “The right tends to takes a vigilante response. If you don’t like something, you take individual action against it -- the lone gunman who shoots up a newspaper, a night club, a concert, a school.” “By contrast, the so-called left knows that it needs government to control the corporations it doesn’t trust. So it has to take collective action.” “So the characteristic of the left is that it organizes.”

Even if it was not, it is certainly what I have heard many times from those on the left: the left is about community, the right is about individualism. Consider Obama's statement that “government is just our word for things we choose to do together.” 

The subtext, of course, is that “individualism” really means “selfishness.” With a mental image of the cartoon “greedy capitalist.”

"Organized big business interests."

I suspect that my friend's response really reveals that my points in rebuttal to this claim were strong enough that he did not feel able to counter them. So I think they may be worth posting here.

Because the premise is wrong. Edmund Burke, for example, was all about community and people helping one another in human solidarity. And he is considered a founder figure to most modern conservatives.

“Seems to me your association of community with the left and individualism with the right does not work on several levels. Beginning with the fact that you are quoting the ideal of Canada as a community of communities from Joe Clark, who was overall on the right of the Canadian spectrum. The response of the Liberals, the party to his left, at the time, was, in rough translation, 'like hell it is.' Note that small towns, real communities, “with lots of face to face interaction,” also actually tend to vote on the right; the big cities are more likely to be jammed with leftists, and leftists are more likely to congregate in the big cities. Where nobody knows one another. It would seem that either the right values community more than the left, or communities see their own values in the right more than the left.

Leftist ideologue?

I think Robert Reich [whom my friend quoted on this] is closer to the mark when he says that the right trusts corporations more than government, and the left trusts government more than corporations. The left thinks government is necessary to restrain corporations. The right thinks private enterprise is necessary to restrain government. But either a government or a corporation is a community in the basic sense. Neither is an individual. The essential difference is not community versus individual, but that a corporation is, for all participants, basically and theoretically a voluntary association, while being subject to a government is, by and large, a forced association—you can move, but within limits. That is a different issue, voluntary or forced, not community or individual. Or perhaps it is not. I think it could be argued that no forced association is a real community, on the grounds that any real community is based on love, not power.

You also mention, as examples of community, churches. Right. Perfect example. But any number of polls show that, the more people are involved in a local church, the more likely they are to vote on the right, and vice versa. I believe this is true as well of just about all other voluntary associations: service clubs like Rotary, amateur sports associations, charity groups, Scout troops, and so on. Think about it. Strong evidence that, in fact, community matters to the right, and not to the left.

You almost seem to suggest that the right is somehow in support of lone gunmen. That is, of course, outrageous. To begin with, lone shooters are themselves no more likely to be from the political right than from the political left. Indeed, I think historically, the left would predominate on that score. Sacco and Vanzetti were not Republicans. I guess you admit that in saying their politics do not matter. Second, it is the right, generally, that calls for more police and stricter law enforcement, presumably to prevent just such things. The left seems generally down on law enforcement agencies of all kinds. There are now calls on the left, for example, to abolish ICE. The right also tends to support tougher penalties for such crimes.

I suspect you are basing your claim here solely on the US issue of gun rights. This is not correct: the right's argument here is that more guns in private possession will prevent such incidents, or end them more quickly; it is not meant to promote them.

Again, the emphasis on 'law and order,' traditionally heard from the right, is the political position diametrically opposite to 'vigilante action.' Which, therefore, is probably more properly assigned to the left. Isn't it the left who are always talking about 'taking it to the streets'? And surely we are seeing just such “vigilante action” currently down south, with groups like Antifa resorting to violence in support of their preferred politics. No doubt factions on the right are capable of such misbehaviour at times as well; but that is not what we are seeing most often currently.

Perhaps there is a valid distinction to be made, and perhaps you are making it, in saying that the left organizes around single issues; perhaps indeed there is a contrast here. The left organizes around single political issues; that does seem to be right. The right, by contrast, organizes not primarily for politics, but for community. Churches, bowling leagues, bridge clubs, and service associations do not exist for political purposes. The left is by this standard again more individualistic: they live as individuals and apart except in the case of some common political interest. Not sure whether this holds up, but it looks right.

At the same time, it is important to point out that “community” is not without its own problems. Whenever you define any group as a community, you are also, automatically, defining everyone else as “other.” Nazi Germany was profoundly communitarian, as was Pol Pot's Kampuchea or Mao's China or Karadzik's Serbian Bosnia. So was the KKK.

Community Barbeque
It does seem that the left currently is far more favourable toward such “group identities,” such divisions into opposing factions, than the right. I do not think this is a good thing. And I do not think these are real communities, because they divide as much as unite people.

This is one vital reason why voluntary associations, like corporations, are better than enforced associations, like governments. The former is about love; the latter is about power. Keeping membership voluntary—on both sides—tends to prevent such problems. Because the “other” can become “one of us.” Note too that by this definition, the KKK, although non-governmental, or the Nazi party, were not voluntary associations: blacks or Jews or Catholics or immigrants could not join."

Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Meaning of Life: Not 42

Not all religions are equal. Why would they be? How could they be? All religions may and must include all that is needful, but if they are different, they cannot be equal. I have studied all the major world religions, and, while I love them all, I frankly do have favourites.

Traditionally in Western thought, starting with Plato, with traces back to Parmenides, there are three transcendentals: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. These are the three qualities that abide in all things, and to the degree that they subsist in something, give a thing its value. In other words, they are the measures of all value. Put another way, they are the proper goals or objectives of human life.

Is this an arbitrary list? I cannot feel so. It seems to me that the proposition is self-evident once proposed. One cannot seem to superimpose some other, external standard by which goodness or truth can be measured and determined to have or not have value. Other, that is, than in terms of one of the other transcendentals. And so as well with beauty. These seem to be genuine a prioris. There may be others, and others have been proposed, but at a minimum, these three.

Now, given that these three are what they appear to be, the goals of existence, a religion can be evaluated on the basis of how well it recognizes and accommodates all three in its concept of God or the sacred, and of righteous human life.

On this score, I think Catholic Christianity has to ge the highest score, objectively. It is the one, to my eye, that most fully emphasizes all three aspects of life and of the divine: the faith, the morals and the ceremonials and sacramentals. I felt this in a deep, intuitive way before I thought to apply the doctrine of the universals, but the doctrine of the universals confirms it.

Take Islam first, as a comparison, since it is so much in the news. I find it bereft of a proper appreciation for Beauty. It is deeply suspicious of the arts: of painting, music, dance. Walk into a mosque, and there is very little there but bare walls. To me, this makes it feel barren and lifeless. 

Radha, image of the devotee, with Krishna.

Now take Buddhism or Hinduism. They seem to avoid the issue of the Good. They lack a strong moral dimension. Buddhist seems stronger on the Truth, Hinduism on Beauty, but both are relatively lacking in moral emphasis. To me, this makes them feel ultimately unserious, ephemeral. For East Asian culture in general, this lack is made up for by Confucianism, which emphasizes the Good without touching much on the True or the Beautiful. A relative lack of emphasis on Beauty in Buddhism is made up for in East Asia by Taoism. Bundled together, they work well. On the other hand, transporting Buddhism to the West without the other two does not work out well.

Judaism seems to me pretty solid. In theory, it should resemble Calvinism or Islam in discounting Beauty, since it shares their iconoclasm. But this does not seem to be the case, at all. Within Judaism, this seems to remain a prohibition against images of God, not against the arts. Which is, indeed, a separate and unrelated position. Judaism has a rich tradition of sacred storytelling. To the extent that a minority culture can, it also has a rich tradition of sacred music, sacred dance, and so forth. The only problem with Judaism in this regard, perhaps, is that it is ethnically and culturally based, and not easily available to us non-Jews.

Calvinism, within Christianity, seems to me to sadly lack both the Good and the Beautiful. No art, anything that smacks of art is of the devil; and no free will, so no moral issues. It seems to me only marginally religious. The Episcopalians, with their doctrinal looseness, seem to me weak on the Truth issue; it seems as though to them Truth does not matter, as long as you have Beauty. In Canada, the United Church as it now exists is similar, but without the Beauty. Good is all that matters. And so forth for other denominations.

To be fair, I can think of one area in which I find Catholic Christianity relatively lacking, and one or two other traditions stronger: humour. There is, within Christianity, a sense of scandal at laughter in a religious context. It feels blasphemous. I think this is wrong; Christianity is uptight here. It deprive God of some of his true personhood. Buddhism, by comparison, is full of jokes. Judaism enjoys a good knock-down argument with God, which seems to me healthy. Islam has the comic figure of Nasruddin. Hinduism has its “theology of play.”

Perhaps humour counts as a fourth transcendental: the Good, the True, the Beautiful, and the Funny.

And I feel there is a fifth transcendental, on which Christianity excels: Love. Or perhaps love is better defined as the proper response to the transcendentals, that of absolute attraction, of seeking them with your whole heart and your whole mind, to the neglect, if necessary, of everything else. I think it is fair to say that love is an important element in all religions: in Buddhism, in the doctrine of the Bodhisattva, in the figure of Guan Yin. In Hinduism, in the figure of Krishna, in the doctrine of bhakti yoga. In Islam, in Sufism and the Sufi poets. In Judaism, in the concept of the Shekhinah; you see it in Song of Songs.

But you can't beat the Christian formulation: God is Love.

The Coming American Civil War

Statehouse control by party as of 2018.

There are a lot of people saying that events are moving fast, and the US is on the verge of civil war. A poll shows that a third of Americans believe this. Who would have thought this five years ago? Not I.

But it is not going to happen. Or if it does, it will be a very short war.

To begin with, the Republicans control all three branches of the federal government. So the Republicans are not going to start it. It has to be the left. And the left, conversely, has no legal federal power base, then, does it? It cannot start as a dispute over power between the executive and the legislature, as civil wars have generally started in England or France.

Nor does the left have a decent power base in the statehouses, as was used to start the last US Civil War. Republican domination at state level is also overwhelming. The only area of contiguous states where Democrats are dominant and so conceivably might vote to separate is the West Coast: California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Hawaii.

Not a large base geographically; much smaller proportionately than the Confederacy. And they could be brought to heel in southern California pretty quickly by turning off their water, which largely comes from the interior. The rest is perfect for blockade.

There is a geographically smaller Democratic pocket in the Northeast: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont—and not New York. Any part of it could probably be sliced through to the sea by a tank column in a day. Sherman never had it so good.

So there is no territorial base from which to launch a Civil War.

Someone suggested the dissident left coast might help themselves by joining Canada. This would be a suicidal move for Canada, so surely Canada would not consent. To begin with, the US West Coast would demographically swamp Canada, so that, being a democracy, Canadians would thereby lose control of their country. Secondly, it would give the rest of the US license and justification in international law to invade and take over Canada--something they could probably do militarily in a week. Canada as a communications and transportation network is one long thin ribbon that could be snipped by a force from below the border at any point.

The big cities might rise up in revolt, as municipal governments, at the municipal level. This can cause havoc in a nation like France, with One Big City and the government in residence. It is not going to hold up in a country like te US, with many large cities and none very dominant. If New York rose, Washington could respond in force. If Washington rose, New York could respond. If both rose, and Chicago and LA too, some of the ten largest cities are pretty conservative: Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio. Even if all the biggest cities rose at once, they could not coordinate. They could not supply. Each could be cut off and picked off fairly easily in turn. Any city, sans hinterland support, is easily subject to siege. The American Revolution was won with New York firmly in British hands.

The only way it could happen, therefore, is by someone on the left first staging a coup, or a revolution. Someone would have to illegally seize the levers of power in Washington. And hope, improbably, that others accepted this and went along, obeying orders.

Most times, when that sort of thing happens, it is the military who does it. Because it must be done by force, and force is more or less a militay monopoly. If it is not the military, if, for example, it is some angry mob, the military must at least stand down and not defend the government. This is always the critical point in any revolution: the government calls in the troops, and the troops refuse to fire on the demonstrators. Or, as in the case of Tiananmen, they do show themselves prepared to fire, and the revolt is over.

In the US, the military, and the police forces as well, can be assumed to have mostly Republican sympathies—both the brass, and the average man on the ground. The left has long been hostile to the military, and to the police, and now very vocally to ICE. If one faction or one cabal of officers tried anything, they would probably soon be crushed by the larger part of the force.

Okay, it is true, in the US, the military has less of a monopoly of force than in most countries. Thanks to the Second Amendment, America has an armed citizenry, able to protect its rights in extremis.

And what are the political sympathies of most US gun owners? Who is bigger on defending the Second Amendment?

Even if the military stood down, in the US the armed citizenry would likely rush in to defend the government.

Perhaps the civil service could try to seize power—the “deep state,” with their military arm being the secret service, the FBI. There are rumblings that the FBI has gone rogue, and has been acting illegally.

Yet if it came to that, FBI agents are basically cops, and many if not most will have shared sympathies with the cops on the beat, who tend Republican. Nor,even if united against them, could the FBI or civil service stand against the actual military in any open confrontation. Any more than Beria could have stood against Zhukov in the lunge for power after Stalin died. It would be handguns against tanks and bazookas and aerial bombardment, in effect.

So no, we are not going to see a civil war.

What we are seeing, accordingly, is hysteria on the left. Because they are acting violent, calling for violence, and talking civil war despite the fact that they could not win one.

They have visibly lost touch with reality.

And it looks as though the general public has begun to notice: this emperor is exposing his nakedness, and folks are starting at last to point and snicker. There seems to be a big movement in just the last few days or weeks, on YouTube, of people videoing explaining why they are “walking away” from the left.

Soon, I suspect, it will no longer be socially acceptable to be openly leftist: it will be like publicly declaring immaturity or stupidity.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Solidarity Forever

Marx Brother?

I am a Democratic Socialist.

I might not have known that, had I not watched an interview last night with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the congressional candidate who just scored an upset win in the NY Democratic primary. She identified herself as a Democratic Socialist, and, when asked by Stephen Colbert what that means, said it meant three things: everyone should have access to health care, regardless of income; everyone should have access to post-secondary education, regardless of income; and everyone should have a roof over their heads, regardless of income.

I wholeheartedly agree with all three of those assertions, and never knew they had anything to do with socialism. Milton Friedman, too, felt that post-secondary education should be at no cost to the student: an obvious matter of equality of opportunity. Richard Nixon was the first to attempt universal health care in the US. It is the right in Canada, notably Hugh Segal, who are advocating a Guaranteed Annual Income. As to the very idea of a “social safety net”―you can trace that back to that wild-eyed radical, Bismark. A Marxist friend of mine claims that Marx himself was opposed to welfare.

There seems to be some sort of miscommunication here. If this is what Democratic Socialism is, we are all or almost all Democratic Socialists. Except possibly for the Marxists. What we disagree about is only what we can afford, and how most efficiently to achieve it. Surely I am missing something here?

I think Ocasio-Cortez must be deliberately falsifying her position, rather than expressing ignorance. There are obvious issues like abortion, free speech, and freedom of religion, that really do divide the contemporary right and left, which she does not mention.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Vietnam and Afghanistan

The way we were...

Saw a documentary on the Vietnam War last night. It is remarkable how memories of Vietnam, once such a pressing issue, at least to those of us who were young, have faded. For a time, the trauma of Vietnam seemed overwhelming, and the end of American domination in the world. It was, the Americans thought, the first war they ever lost. God had deserted them; or they had deserted God. When Reagan a decade later send a few thousand marines into Grenada, the world gasped at his recklessness. After Vietnam? Unthinkable!

And now Afghanistan has dragged on as long, and nobody notices.

My opinion of Vietnam has not changed; not since I read the Pentagon Papers in 1971. I don't think the Americans were wrong in any moral sense to go in. It would have been better for the South Vietnamese had they won. But it was foolish. Just look on a map. First off, they could never invade North Vietnam, or, the Korean War informed them, they would be engaged in a land war in Asia with China. That would be the world's worst-case scenario for American arms, it being a distant sea power. As a result, they were committed to a purely defensive war; they could not win, only hold the line. Unless the North Vietnamese decided to give up, they had to lose.

Worse, South Vietnam is little more than one extended border. Insurgents could slip over that border at any time, at any point. No part of the country could ever be secured. The only way the US could fix that problem was to invade and conquer Laos and Cambodia, which would be a clear act of aggression against neutral countries, a flagrant violation of international law, and would damage US prestige as badly as or worse than losing the war.

All of this was obvious before the US went in.

I do not blame LBJ for going in; he was already committed, and to pull out would have meant a huge loss of American prestige. I do not think you can blame Kennedy either. His hands were similarly tied by prior commitments. You can blame Eisenhower. First, at Suez, he kicked the slats out from under the French and British empires. He forced them out of the game, and so out of Indochina. Then he committed the US to preserving the status quo under which the French left. He put America's head in the guillotine, and pulled the cord. It just took a few years for the blade to fall, and by then he was out of office. Anything after that would have been a grievous loss of American prestige, with perhaps disastrous consequences: the domino effect everyone worried about. The US would have shown itself an unreliable ally.

So why doesn't Afghanistan provoke the same public angst as Vietnam did?

It was almost as obviously dumb from the start. Afghan conditions defeated the Soviet Union, when it was the second-greatest military power on Earth. And a heck of a lot closer for resupply than the US. They defeated the British, when they were the greatest military power on Earth. And a heck of a lot closer to their base in India. Why, other than insane hubris, would the US (and NATO) attempt the same folly? Afghanistan is mountainous—perfect for guerilla warfare, so good for it that local governments have never been able to maintain control. Back in the Sixties, Afghanistan was still famous, as it had been throughout history, for bandits. The roads were never secure. Its natural state is constant total war. It has no seacoast—a huge logistical problem for a sea power like the US. And this also means that it is all border, through which insurgents can always pass in and out. The long border with Pakistan works just as did the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And NATO cannot invade Pakistan to do anything about it. 

The American war aim, back in 2001, was to punish the Taliban for refusing to hand over Osama Bin Laden and for hosting Al Qaeda bases. That mission was accomplished within two months. The US should then have handed the reins of power, such as they were, to their local allies, the Northern Alliance, and pulled out. This is how the British or French used to do it back in the days of empire; this is good old “gunboat diplomacy.” Send in a mobile force, burn down the Summer Palace, and withdraw in good order. Lesson taught. If they go back and do it again, go in and do it again.

US White House after Royal Navy raid, War of 1812.

Anything else is, if you will pardon the term, colonialism. You really do not have to stay and take over the country, do you?

But Vietnam was a much bigger conflict: it required the draft, a lot of unhappy involuntary soldiers, and a lot more casualties. Afghanistan is far less fierce.

In fact, it is so relatively placid that there may be real, material reasons for NATO to want to stay, even if the conflict is unwinnable. It might still be useful as a live-fire training and testing ground for NATO arms and tactics. In case of and more serious conflict, having forces recently battle tested is a huge advantage.

Unfortunately, real people are dying. I'd still pull out. With a strike force waiting on Diego Garcia.