Playing the Indian Card

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Absent Crisis of Unemployment

Everyone has recently been worrying about the loss of jobs with automation. Especially the hi-tech guys. They have been saying we will need to introduce a guaranteed minimum income to take care of all the people who will soon be thrown out of work.

But, strangely enough, that is not yet happening. Instead, in Canada and the US, there is a labour shortage. Unemployment is on a downward trend.

Self-driving trucks were about to kill off the single most common job in North America, truck driving. Instead, I read that, at least for now, there is a serious shortage of truck drivers.

What's going on?

Perhaps the same thing that went on during the Industrial Revolution. It looked as though a lot of people were going to lose their jobs to machines then too. That's more or less the basis of Marxist doctrine. Everyone expects an apocalypse of poverty. Yet the opposite happened: lots more jobs for lots more people. And better jobs, with higher pay.

There is a logic behind this. Automation makes the actual production of goods, or delivery of services, cheaper. As goods become cheaper, more people can and will buy them. The overall wealth increases. The fact that fewer people are employed making each item is more than counterbalanced by the fact that more items are made and sold.

It may be happening again this time.

I was really beginning to doubt that it could. After all, this time, it was not just manual jobs that were being automated, but at least on the near horizon, professions as well. What's left?

What's left, perhaps, is creativity. Maybe everybody becomes an “artisan” of one sort or another.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Postmodernism and Intolerance

A map of postmodern logic. Escher.

Postmodernists will represent their own position as one of tolerance, because everyone gets to believe “their truth.” But this, if you will excuse the term, is the opposite of the truth.

There is nothing intolerant about believing in or asserting a truth, because the act of doing so does not and cannot impose that truth on anyone else. It cannot compel another to believe. They are still equally free to believe in or assert something else. I can say that the Catholic Church teaches the truth, and this does not do a single thing to interfere with any Muslim or Hindu in the practice of his religion.

Postmodernism will not, on the other hand, tolerate any assertion of absolute truth of any sort. It wants to shut up and shut down both Muslims and Catholics, and everyone else except Postmodernism. No alternative position is tolerated. This is the ultimate intolerance.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Did Darwin Do It?

Thesis: in the Modernist and Postmodern periods—say, 1918 to present—Western culture in general has been undergoing a period of depression. Or rather, first depression—Modernism—and then acedia, willful spiritual sloth--Postmodenism.

I anticipate an obvious response: look at all the progress we have made in the Twentieth Century. Do you really want to go back to Victorian times?

No, I do not. The issue is self-evidently not to go back into the past, since that is intrinsically impossible. It is to reconnect with specific vital things we have lost, and still had then. To that extent, and only to that extent, we should want the future to resemble this past.

You have lost your watch. If you take some time trying to find it, does that imply that you want to go back to the time before you lost your watch? And you are foolish and unrealistic to do so?


Specifically, what we have lost is our general and confident social and cultural connection with the Good, the distinction between right and wrong; with the True; and with the Beautiful. The three things that give life meaning.

But, you will say, what about all the wonderful social progress we have made in the Twentieth Century? What about sexual equality, the Civil Rights movement, the end of colonialism, the end of laws against homosexuality?

Let’s grant that these are all good things. However, in terms of social progress, do these things compare with what happened under the old cultural standards during the 19th century? Are they not, by comparison, fairly trivial? The ending of slavery worldwide—something that had been the norm throughout the centuries; the development of democratic government in France, the US, and, by mid-century, pretty much throughout Europe? How’s that for a record?

Colonialism was big, true, but this was not a new thing; it was not something the 19th century was responsible for, but something it did not correct. Empires have been the standard form of government everywhere for millennia, after all. One could also make the case that those European empires were, on the whole, more benevolent than those of the past.

And is nationalism—the alternative doctrine—such a self-evident value? It has itself led to some nasty things, like ethnic cleansing and Nazism and the Second World War.

Nor is it nearly as clear that the changes in relations between men and women during the 20th century have been as substantial and as clearly of benefit to women as those during the 19th. Votes for women happened just over the line into the Modern era, by our set boundaries, but it was the culmination of a long process. Philosophically, the whole thing happened over the Victorian era, starting with Mary Wollstonecraft. The vote was fairly symbolic by comparison. How low was the status of women in a time symbolized and ruled over by Queen Victoria, all of whose perceived sentiments became informal social convention?

One might even say that, since these great blows were truck, Victorian blows, getting the vote and since ending slavery, it has all gotten a bit confused. As though we had since lost much of our sense of purpose and direction. We fought segregation in the Sixties. Now we fight hard to protect segregation for native people. We fought to end colonialism, then we fought nationalism, now we try to form large tariff-free zones, recreating empire.

Gee, it is as if we are changing course with every wind that blows. As if we are sailing without a rudder or an anchor. Or without clear principles.

At the same time, to balance any claimed accomplishments of the Twentieth Century and Modernism, we really have to throw into the balance as well some other important claimed social advances of the Modern period: Fascism, Nazism, Communism, and the tens of millions, probably hundreds of millions of people they willfully and needlessly killed. And the hundreds of millions more lives they blighted or destroyed. These were all also Modernism social “improvements.” No need to mention abortion, so perhaps we won’t.

Next question: what went so off kilter?

I once thought it was the trauma of the First World War. But no, that does not fit. Truth is, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is plainly a Modernist work, well before that war. That war was a result of Modernism, not a cause.

I think, awkward as it seems to say so, it was Darwin. Darwin, and, to a lesser extent, Marx. But Marx came after, and very much built on, Darwin. As did Freud. It took time for their influence to work through the wider culture, but here is where the unravelling began.

People miss the real issue by saying Darwin was threatening to the religious culture because his theory seemed to disprove the existence of God. It did not. No doubt some wanted to believe so, but this is hardly apparent. Never occurred to the Catholic Church, for example, to think so. It might have weakened one of the most obvious arguments for God’s existence, the “watchmaker” argument from design, but if so, that hardly amounts to a disproof. Nor is even that so clear: if we believe that God is behind all the other laws of nature, and does not fling the lightning bolts personally, why is it a special problem to believe he is behind a process of evolution through natural selection?

There is, at first sight, a problem with Darwin’s word “random” in “random mutation.” If it is truly random, then God is out of it. But it is a principle of science, as much as of theology, that nothing in nature is truly random. That word used to seem to me to be unacceptable, but it is not if understood in the sense “mutations not appearing specifically for greater survival value.” And this is its only possible meaning in scientific terms.

No, the real problem with Darwinism—and this was what people like William Jennings Bryan apparently objected to at the time—was its corrosive effect on morality. Darwinian nature, as Tennyson put it, was “red in tooth and claw.” Darwin conceived the law of the jungle as an eternal war for survival, “survival of the fittest.” Given that God was indeed behind nature, this apparently gave divine sanction to pure selfishness. Or else there was not God, and again we had full sanction for selfishness. Life, properly understood by the woke, was a matter of kill or be killed. You try to be nice to your fellow man, and you’re just a loser.

You can trace the genesis of the First World War to exactly this concept. This was how Germany was seeing the world. They had to grab their chance, now, because in a few decades Russia was going to exceed them vastly in population and close the technological gap. They had to conquer and destroy Russia now, or, in a few years, Russia would destroy and conquer them. Kill or be killed. We are, after all, only weasels fighting in a hole.

And of course, more obviously, you can trace the genesis of the Second World War to it as well. A reading of Mein Kampf makes it plain that Hitler's guiding principle was Darwinism.

This has ben fudged recently by inventing the concept of “Social Darwinism,” as, supposedly, a gross misapplication of a scientific concept where it does not belong.

Perhaps. But if so, Darwin is himself guilty of this very misunderstanding, for he explicitly applied his theory to human societies in his followup to “The Origin of Species,” “The Descent of Man.” A bit hard to find the clear separation here.

Communism is a more complicated example, because it traces back more directly to Marx rather than Darwin. But it is the same issue at base: conventional morality was defenestrated, and society conceived of as a life and death evolutionary struggle of class against class.

One can indeed even make the argument that the actual evils of European colonialism came not from conventional Victorian morality at all, but from Darwin. It was when Darwin’s concept of the survival of the fittest was superimposed on the enterprise, and conventional morality was jettisoned. This is what led to “subject races” being seen as lesser beings. Surely that is exactly what Joseph Conrad is saying in Heart of Darkness. A woman at home imagines Empire as a benevolent matter of helping the Africans to develop. But in reality, it is a case of “painted sepulchres.” The Africans are instead being lied to and ruthlessly exploited for gain, on Darwinian principles.

So the underlying problem of modern life is that we have lost our connection to morality. To the clear distinction between right and wrong.

And what could be more obvious, as the wild parade of postmodernism tramps on outside our window, that this is what it is all about?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Modernism and Acedia

The Waste Land: Waiting for Godot

The literary movement known as Modernism is now widely misunderstood—indeed, misrepresented to be its opposite.

I am a big fan of modernism: W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett, Hermann Hesse, and so on. But the common perception now is that they were a bunch of angry or exhuberant young men seeking to overturn cultural traditions and do battle against the sureties of religion, art, and Western Civ.

Go back and read what they were saying. They were lamenting instead that we have lost our moral core. Here is Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

He was lamenting, and sounding an alarm, that we were losing touch in our modern life with the essentials, with truth, good, and beauty.

“Many ingenious lovely things are gone,” he begins the poem 1919:

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

This is hardly a celebration of the new freedom from conventional moral restraint.

In “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” Pound laments:

All things are a flowing,
Sage Heracleitus says;
But a tawdry cheapness
Shall reign throughout our days.
… Faun's flesh is not to us,
Nor the saint's vision.
We have the press for wafer;
Franchise for circumcision.

Modernism was a lament over lost culture. Not a rebelionl against culture.

In The Waste Land, Eliot writes:

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

This is a vision of modern London as Dante’s Hell. Nobody looks up any more…. Eliot was seeing the spiritual Waste Land that soon enough manifested itself physically as the waste land of Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz.

Conrad captures the same sense of loss of meaning again and again in Heart of Darkness:

Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives—he called them enemies!—hidden out of sight somewhere.

We had lost the plot.

Somehow, more recently, this lament at losing touch with the good, the true, and the beautiful has been transformed into a claim that there is no good, no truth, no beauty. And aggressive persecution of anyone who suggests otherwise. Now we are no longer waiting for Godot. We actively do not want Godot to show up. Yeats or Pound lamented that people were destroying the beautiful, ingenious, lovely things. Now we are run around demanding that anything thought beautiful or meaningful be shunned or destroyed as oppressive.

What we now call “Modernism” is plainly enough the very thing the Moderns were fighting against.

This is a good illustration of the difference between two vital concepts: melancholia and acedia. Melancholia is true, involuntary depression, the result of psychic shock. It is a sense of loss of meaning. The moderns were describing a culture going through depression, thanks to the First World War, and the new doctrines of Darwin and Marx which seemed to deny morality. The Waste Land or the landscape of Waiting for Godot are perfect literary portraits of the experience of depression.

But people today are indulging the sin of acedia. This was once recognized as the worst of the Eight Deadly Sins, then dropped when the list moved from the cloister to the general public. It is spiritual sloth: giving up the hunt for truth, the good, and the beautiful, the quest for which we humans exist. It is deciding it is all too hard, and you might as well just stay in bed. Or that it is more important to drink that next slug of whisky and stay oblivious to it all.

The task at hand, to use Yeats’ imagery, is to get closer to the falconer, back within earshot, and re-establish our ability to hear his voice. It is not to deny he exists.

Of course, the future is not going to be the same as the past. But we need to reconnect the threads. Until we do, we remain in the Waste Land.

One does not and cannot, of course, simply choose to believe in Truth or in God because it might be comforting to do so. That is necessarily not belief in Truth or God: you cannot choose to believe. The point is to keep looking, to keep waiting, to keep oil in the lamps.

But that is not the temptation, is it? Not according to the Modernists. Nor the Ancients. The temptations are the world, the flesh, and the Devil. A too-facile belief is not in that list. That is a bogus excuse for not looking. Accepting the existence of God and of moral obligations, or of Heaven and Hell, is not obviously more comforting than the doctrine that we are all free to do and believe moment by moment whatever we want or find pleasing.

But one must sincerely seek Truth and God. Not succumb to the temptation of acedia. Which is where we are, as a civilization or a culture, right now. If you do, you have his promise: you will find.

And that is the terribly inconvenient part about sincerely seeking for God. You are sooner or later going to find Him.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Growing Security Threat of Canada

Made in China?

What is the deal on the US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum? Since when is Canada a security concern for the Americans?

Wilbur Ross, US Commerce Secretary, recently explained to a US Senate hearing.

To begin with, let us concede the strategic importance of maintaining a healthy domestic steel and aluminum industry for the US. In case of war, if any country does not have a secure domestic supply of these materials, they will soon be unable to manufacture armaments. American strategy is always to count on a long war, and to win through America’s vast production capacity. A lack of raw materials, therefore, makes the US a sitting Norwegian duck.

Now, granted, relying on Canadian sources for aluminum and steel is still secure. Nobody other than the US is likely to be able to invade Canada, Canada is unlikely ever to be on the other side in a war, if they were they could be conquered by the US in a week or two, and the roads and rails from Canada to the US are secure.

The problem is, the US cannot be certain Canadian steel is Canadian steel. Canada is letting Chinese steel in at low prices. This can then be transshipped to the US as Canadian steel, bypassing any tariff against China. At the same time, of course, by allowing this, Canada is letting its own steel and aluminum industries decline, so that they will not be available to the US in time of crisis.

Accordingly, if the security concerns are valid, which they seem to be, the US had no choice but to include Canada in the tariffs.

Ross further claimed that the Canadian government was apprised of this issue, and given the opportunity to impose their own harmonized tariffs on Chinese steel, over a year ago. That would have let Canadian aluminum and steel preserve its US market. The Canadian government had their choice, and they chose trade war with the US, presumably for the sake of preserving their trade relations with China. Understandable, perhaps, but you can’t blame the Americans.

One might imagine an alternative system which could clearly and indelibly identify Chinese steel as Chinese steel on entering Canada, so that it could not be re-shipped without hitting the US tariff protection. But it is hard to imagine how that could be done with a material. It would almost need to be coded into every molecule.

So there is no solution but this: either Canada enters a trade war with the US with devastating effects, in particular for Canada, or Canada makes the concession here. And the Canadian government and media stops playing political games.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Once Abused, Always Abused

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

There is an eternal and a crucial problem for the abused, recognized since antiquity. The problem is that anyone who has once been abused is from then on peculiarly vulnerable to falling under the control of another abuser. They have been preconditioned to it.

But what is the solution?

The common assumption is that you can prevent this by “going to a professional.”

But there is no reason why this should be so. In principle, professionals are just as likely to be abusers. This or another degree does not change that. In fact, abusive personalities tend to rise on the social totem pole, and so are probably more common in the professions.

A narcissist is going to be primarily interested in power and prestige. Being especially interested in these things, and bending all his or her efforts to achieve them, he is naturally more likely to get them. If you set out with a ticket for Milan, you are more likely to get to Milan, than if you set out for Rome.

Worse, the profession of psychiatrist or psychologist specifically has natural attractions for a narcissist. It gives you a constant fresh supply of vulnerable victims. So, more likely, going to a professional involves a greater risk of getting abused than going to the average anonymous Joe on Yonge Street, or to a self-help group. Or staying at home in bed.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: no other profession has stiffer protections in place to ensure the moral uprightness of its practitioners, or closer supervision by superiors, than the Catholic priesthood. Has this guaranteed against abuse?

Within self-help groups, there is also still a problem. The problem is that the symptoms of narcissism, which is to say, the typical abusive personality, are often similar to the symptoms of abuse. Both can appear as “depression” or “anxiety” as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the Bible of North American psychiatrists. Current psychiatry cannot tell the difference, leading to disastrous mistreatments. Like giving anti-depressants to narcissists, with the effect of dulling the voice of conscience.

This is a problem for self-help groups as well: in any self-help group advertised as “for the depressed,” some participants are likely to be the abused, and some abusers. It is mixing the foxes with the hens.

Adult Children of Alcoholics, for example, ends up with two different “laundry lists” of matters needed to be attended to in one’s personality, and the two lists are reverse images of one another.

Big problem. A self-help or encounter group can thus easily become a bloody cockpit for bullying and abuse.

Here’s a proposed solution: narcissists fear the life of the mind. It could mean confronting their conscience. The abused crave the life of the mind: it is an escape from an abusive environment.

Accordingly, such encounter groups should concentrate on literary readings. They will be opaque, and seem irrelevant, to narcissists. They will likely get bored and leave. They will be entrancing, and meaningful, to true melancholics.

Improbable? Notice that it is exactly the strategy Jesus Christ used. That, he explains, is why he spoke in parables.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Donald Trump Is Not a Narcissist

A cartoon narcissist.
Everyone is saying Trump is a narcissist, and I think that is wrong. Trump only plays a narcissist on TV. To say that Trump is exhibiting “public narcissistic behaviour” is quite damaging, because it misleads everyone on what real narcissism is like. And it also, less importantly, misleads everyone on what Trump is about. 

Trump is an exaggerated, cartoon version of a narcissist. Like Jessica Rabbit. But a real narcissist would not be blatant and openly boastful like Trump is. A real narcissist is cunning above all. He will be full of charm in public, just the opposite of Trump’s evident boorishness. The devil is a gentleman.

A real narcissist is entirely concerned with manipulating people, controlling people, pushing people around, and at the same time having people say they are wonderful. Deviousness is key. Openly swaggering like Trump does is an obviously lousy way to manipulate people or get them to praise you. It gets their hackles and their defenses up. A real narcissist “love-bombs,” makes it all about the victim, until the fly is firmly in the web and he has gotten what he wants. Trump did exactly the opposite while campaigning. No true narcissist would do this. 

And a real narcissist wants everyone else to believe they are wonderful, and so usually wears a public mask of political correctness, benevolence, propriety, and social conformity. The abuse is behind closed doors, out of public view. Even Hitler, although not a typical narcissist, is an example of this—his speeches, as William L. Shirer observed, were always expertly tailored to say exactly what that particular audience wanted to hear. Then he did as he liked in secret camps in Poland. 

Trump does the opposite. He tries to be provocative. He seems, despite all the talk about his being “thin-skinned,” to be extraordinarily thick-skinned, saying as he likes almost heedless of what people will think of him or it. He speaks in ways he knows will provoke criticism in many quarters. It is as though he does not care what he looks like in a mirror.

He has also already established a pattern of at least trying to do what he said he would do when campaigning. This is the opposite, again, of a narcissist. A narcissist will promise whatever he thinks the hearer wants, and then do whatever he wants once the deal is made. Trump seems to have done at least as well as the average politician in keeping his promises—so far. You or I might not like his promises, but that is not the issue here.

Trump is also conspicuous for not seeming to hold grudges. Past opponents like Rick Perry, or Kim Jong Un, can be treated like best buddies a few months, or even a few days, later. This is the opposite of narcissistic behaviour. Granted, the subsequent friendliness might all be a sham, meant to manipulate. But narcissists hold grudges. It looks as though, to Trump, it is always “just business; nothing personal.” To a narcissist, everything is personal.

I don’t have any insight into Trump’s psychology, but I say he is not a narcissist. Primarily, I think he is an entertainer; a comic artist. I think of P.T. Barnum.

Barnum at work.

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Storm in Port

A case of hysteria is shown to medical students.

A “progressive Christian” article at Patheos opines on “What the Church Needs to Know about Mental Health.”

A few choice quotes from the article and my responses:

“As medical research continues and our knowledge expands, we are beginning to understand a little more of how our minds work.”

Exactly wrong. Empirical science, while useful for our understanding of the physical world, is of little or no value in understanding non-empirical things like the mind. It is like trying to hammer in a nail with a virtual spaghetti fork, or trying to calculate the number of translucent angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

The advent of “scientism,” science as a comprehensive cosmology and as a substitute for religion, has resulted in us understanding spiritual things less and less. Which means pretty precisely “how our minds work.”

It has probably in large portion caused the current growing epidemic of “mental illness.”

“Until surprisingly recently these same disorders would have resulted in institutionalisation”

Deinstitutionalisation is far worse than institutionalisation. It is far better to keep the mentally ill safe and warm in an asylum however seedy, or better, a well-lit sanatorium in some rural setting, with time and a lack of distractions to work out their problems, than to throw them out to freeze and starve to death on the pavements. This is a large part of the current epidemic of “homelessness”: the emptying out of the mental hospitals. It was and is really a cost-cutting measure by governments, masked as a humane move, and it is appallingly cruel.

“Medical science has identified a wide variety of mental disorders caused by a combination of genetic, biological, physiological and environmental factors, that cause people a great deal of suffering. As with other medical conditions these vary in severity and cause a range of different symptoms.”

There is almost no scientific support for the idea that mental disorders are genetic, biological, or physiological. This is a popular concept largely because it makes them seem more physical, and so more “scientific,” in the scientistic sense of the term. Scientism thinks only physical things are real. And it avoids moral issues. Lots of people prefer to avoid moral issues, usually for the obvious reason that they are aware of behaving immorally.

Literally speaking, medical science has never identified a single mental disorder, unless you count truly physiological conditions like epilepsy. All it has is lists of symptoms—that is what the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) is, and it is from this that psychiatrists work. Whether these relate to any underlying disease is purely hypothetical. Let alone whether a symptom relates to one disease or several or many happening to share the same symptoms, whether this is really a symptom of a disease or some spontaneous treatment for the disease, and what the mechanisms might be that cause the symptoms. Medical science does not know.

“The church has done a lot of damage to people by failing to recognise that mental health is a real thing, and that it needs to be taken as seriously as physical health.”

The church has always, until it yielded this turf to scientism, known what spiritual affliction (i.e., mental illness) was, and certainly understood it as a real thing. It is medicine that does not know, and that often tends not to believe that the mind (i.e., soul) and its concerns are real.

“Once identified, most mental health problems are entirely treatable.”

This is a fudge. “Treatable,” yes, in the sense that, say, a fever is treatable by aspirin, but virtually all of them are now incurable. It used to be largely taken for granted that those who suffered a spiritual affliction could in principle and often would get well. That is how, for example, confession works. And being “born again.”

Besides not themselves curing the condition, there is the issue that simply taking pills as painkillers can distract the patient from working through the problem, helping make it permanent. And then too, is drug addiction such a good thing?

I do not advocate avoiding “psychiatric medications.” Any port in a storm. But we can surely do better, and used to do better.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Fourteen Rules for Life

Obviously inspired by Jordan Peterson.

1. Love God.

3. Love your neighbour as yourself.

4. Seek the true, the good, and the beautiful.

5. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

6. Treat others as an end, never as a means to an end.

7. Judge others only by their demonstrated morality, and by no other factor. Do not be too quick to judge.

8. Say you're sorry. If you do someone wrong, admit fault. Try to make amends.

9. Forgive others on the same basis—that is, if they admit fault and try to make amends. Hold no grudges.

10. Never live in someone else's eyes.

11. Never just ignore evil.

12. Don't waste your life chasing success, money, or fame. Or happiness.

13. Surround yourself daily with religion, art, and people you love.

14. You are not here to save the world. That is just ego wearing a mask. Do what your hands find to do, then let go and let God.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Canada - US Trade War

Now Donald Trump has harsh words for Justin Trudeau. Harsher than the words he is prepared currently to use about Kim Jong-Un. Trump has called Trudeau “dishonest and weak.”

I can sympathize with Trudeau. His actual remarks, which set off the Twitter storm, were pretty much business as usual; they sounded familiar to any Canadian. Canada has been “insulted.” Canada would be “firm.” The US was being “unjust.” Trudeau as Canadian prime minister thought he had free license to poke the US in the eye whenever it seemed to be to his domestic political advantage, and the US, an indulgent big brother, would ignore it, swallow the insult, and look the other way.

The problem is, Trump has never been prepared to simply accept business as usual. As the US media has found out. Trump’s whole appeal is that there is going to be no more “business as usual.”

Canada’s advantage has always been doing a good job of keeping tabs on happenings down in the USA. If Trudeau’s government was really caught by surprise here, it is a stunning bit of incompetence.

It is not just Trump. His advisors Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro were ready to immediately go on the US networks and use extremely undiplomatic language: “a special place in hell.” “Stabbed us in the back.”

Sure, they had license from above to talk that way. They were instructed to talk that way. But I don’t think they would have been so dramatic, public, and vocal if they did not themselves believe it. Americans are fed up with this sort of stuff. That’s why they elected Trump.

Time for Canada and everyone else to wake up and realize the game is over.

In a press conference, Trump has laid out his case: he is no protectionist. He is for free trade. He wants all tariffs and subsidies gone.

But what we have now is everyone else milking the US, getting free access to the US market, but then getting to set their own tariffs and subsidies. Trump cited a 260% (or something like that) tariff on US milk and dairy products entering Canada.

We all know about that, don’t we? Maxime Bernier ran against those tariffs. Yet Trudeau never mentioned them in his public comments.

If that is the position Trump presented to Trudeau during the talks—and I think we can assume that it was—you can understand his anger. Trudeau is falsifying the issue, and falsifying Trump’s position. It does indeed seem like “bad faith.”

Trudeau’s government can go two ways here: it can get involved in a trade war, with ever higher tariffs. Wrecking the Canadian economy, while possibly also somewhat inconveniencing the US. Or it can agree to cut existing tariffs. To the benefit of both sides, including all Canadian consumers.

Unfortunately, it has officially chosen the worse path.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Disproportional Representation and Doug Ford

Australian ballot

The inevitable laments from the left have begun—Doug Ford was only elected by 40% of the voters! His election is not legitimate!

I myself pointed out when Canadian leftist friends complained about Donald Trump not having a real mandate that he actually got a higher percentage of the vote than almost any Canadian government ever does. He took 47%. Trudeau won a majority government in Canada last time with 39%.

I think this is a feature, not a bug, in the Westminster system. We see proportional representation in countries like Italy. It does not work as well. When you have more than two parties, you will almost never see any one of them win more than 50% of the vote. Since 1921, Canada has elected only four governments with 50% of the vote or more: St. Laurent, Diefenbaker, Mulroney. Without a majority, government is permanently unstable, and nobody gets to implement a coherent program. It is a recipe for stagnation. It is horse trading on every bill, with all possible opportunities for porkbarrelling, earmarking, and not dealing with the important issues or making the tough decisions. Having an election every four years is a severe enough restriction on long-range planning. A permanent minority situation means any unpopular decision could trigger an election at any time. 

New Zealand ballot

The great advantage of democratic representative government is not that it lets the majority have its will. There is nothing magic about the majority. The majority can be wrong, or selfish, or bigoted. The great advantage is that it institutionalizes an orderly transition of power, and introduces an objective check on an overreaching government.

There are ways to juke proportional representation so that it still produces stable governments: the Irish or Australian preferential ballot, the French system of runoffs.

But the issue is fairly trivial. And there are tradeoffs. The Australian or Irish system is complicated, raising the likelihood of voting errors, counting errors, and spoiled ballots. The French system is costly.

Ain’t broke.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Results are in on the Ontario provincial election.

Before her concession, the polls showed Wynne's Liberals on track to win just one seat.

She finished with seven.

Warren Kinsella is now officially an idiot.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Wynne, Lose, or Draw Poker

Warren Kinsella, the ultimate Liberal backroom eminence, was on TV last night saying how incredibly dumb it was of Kathleen Wynne to concede the upcoming Ontario election. CBC Radio Ontario had a call-in about how dumbfounded Liberals were.

I don’t get it. According to the polls on the day she made the announcement, the Liberals were on track to win one seat.

At worst, then, what did she possibly have to lose by telling the truth?

So, okay, if it was a bad idea, the Liberals come in with no seats at all. They lost exactly one. Not a huge price to pay for being honest with the voters, surely. Is honesty worth so little to Kinsella and other Liberals?

And if they come in with more than one seat, it will have turned out to be a good idea on purely tactical grounds. Leaving aside the trivial matter of actually doing what is right.

We’ll see.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Vote for Me, Because I'm Going to Lose Anyway

Wynne or Lose.

Kathleen Wynne’s new campaign strategy looks brilliant. It may not help, but it is a darned good try.

Conventionally, party leaders always insist they are running to form a government. They generally insist they have a good chance to win.

Wynne has openly conceded the election. Instead, she is arguing that it is safe to vote Liberal, since they are not going to win anyway. So it is a safe place to park your vote if you are scared by either the NDP or the Tories. Vote Liberal to keep either in a minority position, so they can be moderated.

This sales spiel has the great virtue of being disarmingly honest. And it makes sense. You hate the NDP, so you vote Tory to keep them out. But then you may be left with a Tory government that is more radical than you really want. You hate the Tories, so you vote NDP to keep them out. But then you may be left with an NDP government that is more radical than you really want.

So what if you also hate the Liberals? They’re not going to win anyway. It is a way of voting “none of the above.” And a more meaningful way than just voting Green. Because the Liberals really would have a realistic hope of holding either of the other parties to a minority position.

If the polls are right, and agree with common perceptions, there is more mobility between NDP and Liberal support than between Liberal and Tory. In other words, if this appeal gets more votes for the Liberals, they are more likely to come from the NDP. But that’s okay, too—the NDP looks to be leading in the current polls, so Wynne’s argument still looks solid.

Meanwhile, the other two parties are going to be hammering at one another for being too radical. Strengthening Wynne’s argument. Cumulatively, they are both now saying “vote Liberal.”

Whoever in the Liberal war rooms came up with this concept deserves a lot of credit.

And no, I am not urging anyone to vote Liberal here. This is not an endorsement, just an appreciation of a game well played.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Roseanne Cancelled

Roseanne Barr.

The issue of free speech raised by the Kelly Pocha incident in Lethbridge has now been magnified by the Roseanne Barr incident. Barr’s personal culpability is greater—she was not just videoed by someone else in a moment of anger; she sent out the tweet herself. But the consequences, and the consequences to many innocent parties, have been disproportionate.

To recap, Roseanne is the title character in a runaway hit TV show. She tweeted, one night at 2 AM, that Valerie Jarrett, a former advisor to President Obama, looked like the child of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. She tweeted: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” For this, ABC immediately cancelled her show.

Those punished for these ten short words include all her co-stars, who just lost their livelihood and the professional opportunity of several dozen actor lifetimes; everyone else involved in the show; ABC’s stockholders; and the millions of viewers who were obviously greatly enjoying the series. All for ten words sent by one soul in the middle of one night. Obviously, an injustice has been done here to all of them.

And it seems quite likely that an injustice has also been done to Roseanne Barr. No doubt you should never call anyone a child of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes; but mere insults actually injure no one. Roseanne was only guilty of being coarse. We knew Roseanne was coarse; it is her persona. It is what we pay her for. How did Don Rickles ever have a career, then?

Roseanne’s tweet has been accused of racism. If it were so, it would not justify the cancellation. People have the right to be racist, off the job, famous or not, or we have no freedom of thought or freedom of speech. But it is not even clear she was being racist. She claims that she had no idea Valerie Jarrett was of a different race than herself. If you look at a photo of Jarrett, this is plausible. She self-identifies as black, or “African American,” but she was born in Iran, and does not look African American. And if there is some spontaneous connection in the reader’s mind between apes and African Americans, then the reader is the racist, not Barr. 

Valerie Jarrett.

Is the problem, then, the reference to the Muslim Brotherhood? Does not work. Being Muslim is not a race, and the Muslim Brotherhood does not represent Islam. It is a political party, not a religion. Criticism of it is as fair game as criticism of the Christian Democrats or the IRA. Nor is Jarrett a Muslim.

This seems to me another argument for the law I propose, prohibiting the firing of anyone for what they say off the job, unless it is intentionally and publicly slagging their own employer or their industry. Were this law in place, ABC would not have felt obliged to fire Barr, which I expect they did not want to do. They would still have their hit series, as would the actors and the viewers, and no harm would have been done.

If, of course, people stopped watching the series because of this comment, or advertisers stopped advertising, fine. Then the series could and would be cancelled; on the objective grounds that it was not making money.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Death By Narcissism


Recently, I ran into this sad passage on Quora:

There are several Narcissists in my family. One person lived in denial to her dying day. ... When she became ill she lost all her power. She even denied she was sick for a while and because of that her cancer got worse. Once diagnosed as terminally ill she cried a lot and showed her anguish. She died in fear. She didn’t cope well in the end. It was sad.

This rang a big loud church bell in the back of my mind. My first wife was a narcissist. While we were together, she developed a lump in her left breast. For something like a year, I insisted she had to go to a doctor—free, in Canada—and get it checked. She wouldn’t do it. I could not understand it. It seemed suicidal. She said it was because she was afraid.

Finally, seeing no other option, I told her I would leave her if she didn’t go and get it looked at.

So she finally went.

It was cancer.

She died of it.

Had she gone sooner, she almost certainly would be alive today.

This reveals the nature of narcissism. It is a fixed habit of refusing to confront any unpleasant reality. It is based on fear. It is an addiction, like alcoholism. A typical alcoholic drinks so he can forget for a time some unpleasantness and disappointment he perceives in his daily life. But a narcissist relies on lies in the same way a lush relies on the bottle—and he lies to himself just as much as to others. He builds up an imaginary world, in which he is king, and tries to live in it. It is an addiction.

A narcissist will therefore deny anything they do not want to be true, to avoid facing it. This most obviously includes bad, immoral things they have done. At least, this is what will be most obvious to others, the victims. They will twist things and twist things in their mind until they can convince themselves it never really happened, it was not their fault, someone else did it. Probably their victim did it himself. This is useful to a narcissist in itself, because it gives him permanent carte blanche to do as he likes without regard to others.

But the lie is the real essence of the condition, and the lie will also and just as likely be about anything else that strikes the narcissist as unpleasant to face. A teen pregnancy; child molestation in the family; a business failure; any personal imperfection. Or a cancerous tumor. Anything they do not want to be true, they will convince themselves is not true.

This spreads immediately to their family, if they are a parent. Nobody else dares say what is going on. Because if anyone does, the narcissist becomes, in effect, hysterical, out of their fear of having to face what they have taken such infinite pains to avoid facing. They will become violently hostile to anyone who seems to shatter their carefully constructed delusions. My first wife, for example, once she learned she had cancer, switched immediately to blaming me for giving it to her. I suppose in her mind I gave it to her because I was the one who made her go to the doctor.

And so you get a dysfunctional family, all living a lie, pretending to lies of all kinds, and all walking on eggshells. Everything is a trigger or a tripwire. Adult Children of Alcoholics speak of “the elephant in the room,” but in most dysfunctional families, over time, there come to be many elephants in the room nobody is supposed to acknowledge.

Now, realizing how this works, I begin to wonder about my mother. She died of cancer too. I wonder if she was herself a martyr to narcissism. Not a narcissist herself, but a key member of a narcissistic, dysfunctional family, in which the denial of any unpleasant realities was standard procedure. The essential enabler.

I have been told that, when she went to see a doctor, the tumor was advanced. The doctor was surprised that she had not come earlier. Usually, he said, by that point the pain is great enough to suggest some urgent action.

Perhaps she did not dare say anything, or do anything, that might imply something as unpleasant as cancer. Perhaps not because she was herself so afraid of the cancer diagnosis, but because she knew the effect it would have on the family. It was an unpleasant reality. That would have been unacceptable.

Perhaps narcissism is the real cancer, and it is killing both bodies and souls around us every day. And making its sufferers, like the woman described in Quora, die in agony.