Playing the Indian Card

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Post-Education Academy

I see my old alma mater, Queen’s University, is advertising for two new faculty members in my old department, Religion. One is for an expert in “Religion and Social Justice.” A full faculty position—that means at least three courses per term. The other is for an authority on “Contemporary Jewish Religion and Globalized Identities.”

Back in my day, when you took a course in religion, you studied religion: Buddhism, Judaism, Islam. Now you study politics.

I find this entirely disturbing. To be honest, it makes me feel physically ill. One of the reasons I majored in religion when I did was because it seemed to be the one place where you could escape contemporary political jive and groupthink and cultural biases and study the eternal things, the things that are really important, from a crosscultural perspective. Now that last portal to true learning is apparently slammed shut.

Not incidentally, when you study “Religion and Social Justice,” you are studying religion from an entirely modern and Western perspective.

This is especially troublesome because academia is profoundly conservative. If you set up a chair or a department in some area, that area will necessarily persist for the rest of that person's career, because their career depends on it. And they have tenure. And they then get to choose their own replacement. Accordingly, once a bad idea is bought into, it is hugely hard to get it out. Marxism continues to be all the rage in academia, and still growing in influence, forty years after the Berlin Wall fell, and 65 years after Khrushchev publicly revealed the sins of Stalin. Nobody takes Freud seriously in the real world of psychiatry--yet his theories, long disproved, still dominate whole departments in the Humanities.

It will take generations to repair this blunder, if we ever do.

And the last sentence on the Religion department web page is “We are situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.”

Which is an ahistorical lie. When the French founded Fort Frontenac, the nearest Anishinaabe (Algonquin) settlement would have been over 160 km away, in Quebec past Renfrew. The nearest Hadenosaunee (Iroquois) settlement would have been over 130 km in the opposite direction, around Syracuse, NY. Either group might have passed through, but it would have been a very long journey, of weeks, on foot without roads or by canoe. So they would not have come by often. Certainly neither would have recognized any rights of the latter to the land.

I see other departments have gone just as political, and, apparently, hard left. Geography is seeking a faculty member who can teach “Black Geographies,” a cross-appointment with the department of Gender Studies. The Philosophy department is advertising a position in “Philosophy of Race.” As if there ever was such a thing, outside of Nazi Germany. Political Studies wants profs in the areas of “Indigenous Politics,” “Gender and Politics,” and “Politics of Race and US Politics.”

It is not as though these are just the most egregious examples picked from a larger list, either. In each of these departments, these are the ONLY positions advertised.

The current state of the academy, it seems, is beyond parody. And this is an old established school with supposedly high standards, not some diploma mill.

Where is one to go any more to get an education?

And how did we come to be so racist that race (and gender) is now the only thing we see? 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Political Sheep and Goats

Tom Mulcair

A variety of voices in the NDP are taking Tom Mulcair to task for supposed disloyalty to his replacement as leader, Jagmeet Singh. I think unreasonably.

I may or may not be a good judge of character, but some politicians strike me as straight shooters, and many or most do not. Most only parrot party lines and seem intent to con. I have always felt this distinction was more important than ideology. Morality comes first.

Mulcair has always struck me as one of the good ones. His very reputation for anger demonstrates his sincerity. His recent frankness as a commentator suggests I am right. All he has said is that Singh will have trouble holding on to the leadership if he does not win his byelection, and that he knows of several sitting members who intend to retire. If that is disloyalty, his colleagues are demanding dishonesty. I would take careful note of who is calling him out, and avoid supporting them in the future.

Here are some other politicians who have always seemed to me genuine: Daniel Patrick Moynihan is the model of the type. Maxime Bernier is the best current example. The NDP was foolish to dump Mulcair; the Tories were foolish not to go with Bernier. It is harder to find a Liberal example, and there is reason for this. As Canada’s “natural governing party,” it has fewer prominent members who are there out of conviction, as opposed to desire for power. The last prominent example I can think of is Bryce Mackasey. Anyone else even remember him? Minister under Trudeau pere.

On the other side, a few always struck me as terminally insincere: Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton, Paul Martin Jr.

Of course there are grades and shades between the two extremes, say Nixon on the one side, a zero, Moynihan on the other, a ten. More good guys: John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Jerry Brown, John Kasich, Eugene McCarthy, David Lewis. More listing over to the dark side: Brian Mulroney, John Turner, Ed Broadbent, Bobby Kennedy.

And no, I do not place Trump in the insincere camp. What people don't seem to get is that, while he "lies" all the time, he does not lie to deceive. That makes all the difference. At the same time, he does not seem driven by any conviction. He's a pragmatist.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Noble Savage at the Lincoln Memorial

The Covington Catholic High School saga continues. Glenn Beck and Ben Shapiro have both released YouTube videos showing them shaking with outrage about the way the high school kids have been treated in the media. I have never seen either of them this worked up. I wonder if a watershed has been reached.

Nobody seems to have noticed, but the Noble Savage myth has played a major part in this fiasco. The original and fraudulent story was taken entirely from the testimony of Nathan Phillips, the “native elder,” and the video he supplied.

Surely, under normal circumstances, news outlets would have checked it. I was taught two basic rules of journalism: first, in any controversy, always get statements from both sides. Second, for any assertion of fact, get three sources. Obviously, in this case, neither rule was followed. By the biggest names in journalism. Why?

Because, I suggest, the informant was an Indian. The Noble Savage myth clicked in. Because Indians are considered perfectly natural beings, it follows, everyone supposes, that they cannot tell a lie. That would imply a post-Eden, fallen consciousness; Indians are still in the Edenic state, incapable of sin. They cannot lie any more than a woodchuck can.

This is why, back in the 19th century, Indians were regularly used to peddle patent medicines, and the medicines themselves were usually claimed to be Indian herbal remedies. In fact, there is no Indian tradition of herbal medicine. But if an Indian says it works, it must be true.

A con artist who is also an Indian can make hay forever on this popular prejudice. A con artist who is not an Indian is liable to say they are, to reap the same benefit: Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan, the real author of “Black Elk Speaks,” the author of the famous speech attributed to Chief Seattle; Grey Owl, real name Archie Belaney. Not to mention any current Democratic presidential contenders.

So everyone took Phillips’ claims about what happened, and about being a Vietnam War veteran, as necessarily true. Not just the media, but almost everyone who saw the original story, including just about everyone on the right. The bubble probably burst only because one of the students made their own statement on their own initiative on social media, finally inspiring someone to go back and check.

I doubt any of it could have happened were an Indian not involved.

And while this gives great benefits to dishonest Indians—who can, for example, claim anything they want in treaty negotiations, and the courts will uphold their version—it does great harm to most Indians. Because the corollary of being an innocent forest creature is that they supposedly cannot think for themselves, have no free will, and so for their own safety cannot be given the responsibilities of an adult human.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

White Privilege

Readers may have been following the current “fake news” surrounding the boys of Covington (Kentucky) Catholic School, in Washington for the March for Life. Initial media reports were that they had surrounded and harassed an old Indian man there to protest for Indian causes.

And absolutely everyone immediately condemned them. Not just the big outlets like the New York Times and CNN; also right-wing sources like National Review. The school’s principal apologized. The mayor of Covington apologized. The bishop of Covington apologized. People on Twitter were openly calling for the kids, 14 and 15 year olds, to be beaten up or killed.

And it turns out they were just minding their own business, waiting for a bus home. They were first harassed with racist taunts by a group of black militants, calling them “crackers,” “school shooters” and the like. Then the Indians marched right into them and the old guy started banging his drum and chanting loudly right under one kid’s nose. Another Indian next to him told them all to “go back to Europe.”

And mostly all the Catholic schoolkids seemed to do was keep smiling, stay calm, and try to ignore them.

All of this you perhaps already know.

I bring it up because it illustrates the true “white privilege.”

When the original story broke, everyone condemned the kids—just kids--without hearing their side of the story, or taking the trouble to see extended video of the action. Why? Apparently simply because they were white.

Even the short clip on which all the original condemnation was based was perfectly ambiguous. It showed the old Indian nose to nose with a Catholic kid. But who was getting into whose face? Who approached whom, and who was simply standing their ground? That you cannot tell.

The kid was smiling and avoiding eye contact. The old Indian looked angry, and was loudly chanting and banging on a drum. Even in the absence of other evidence, it seems to me that the more reasonable judgment would be that it was the old Indian who was being aggressive.

Nevertheless, everyone immediately and unquestioningly condemned the white kid.

There’s white male privilege. It is the “privilege” of being assaulted by anyone while you are simply minding your own business. It is the privilege of being blamed, possibly your life ruined, just for standing on a corner in public. Nobody listens to your side—you are condemned on sight without trial or defense.

By comparison, blacks in the video visibly exploit the privilege of being openly racist, spouting absurd and prejudiced conspiracy theories about whites killing blacks to harvest their organs. Without being called on this by anyone.

Indians have the further privilege of being believed without question no matter what they say. Nobody even bothers to check their assertions, although it is standard journalistic practice to do so.

White males have only the privilege of being blamed. Of course, why not, they are in control of everything, right?

That myth simply allows them to be scapegoated at will.

Just as were, once, the Jews.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Our New Religion and Its Failure

Over the last couple of years or so, I have been working on two books on the topic of depression and anxiety. Working titles: The Truth about Dragons and The Book of Consolation.

In the course of research and writing, I have sadly apparently lost two of my oldest and most valued friends.

The first will not respond to my emails since I disagreed with him over Freud. I do not clearly recall what the exact point of disagreement was; I disagree with Freud on almost everything. I believe it was on Freudianism calling itself “depth psychology.” Since it saw everything psychic/spiritual as a direct reflection of physical things, I think I argued that it actually greatly lacked depth in comparison to a religious approach.

My second friend to shun me actually accused me of moral mendacity for dissenting from Abraham Maslow’s existential psychiatry. Since then he will not respond to emails. My point was that, in saying concurrently that the key to mental health was finding a meaning in your life, and that there is no meaning in human existence, Maslow had no place to lead a patient but permanent despair. A meaning you just make up is meaningless. This is why existentialism has mostly evaporated as a philosophy.

That they would end a friendship of many years over such matters made me wonder. What is going on here?

And here is what I think is going on. Modern psychiatry or psychology is a religion. To them, I had become a heretic. People now rely on their psychologies as their world views, and so feel deeply disturbed if they are challenged. The entire universe is at stake.

Psychology/psychiatry generally pretends to be scientific, but that was never true. Broadly speaking, there has never been any decent scientific evidence for any of the psychiatries or psychologies we have seen come and go over the last century or so. They are visibly held to for reasons other than evidence or experiment. Nor do they work as philosophies: their approach is automatically ad hominem. Anyone who dissents from them is, in effect, declared insane. So they are adhered to neither for logic nor evidence, and cannot be challenged on either ground.

So the proper question is, how well do they work as religions; as comprehensive world views?

And the immediate evidence is, not well. Since we have generally shifted, as a society, away from traditional religious views and towards the psychiatries as substitutes, the incidence of mental illness has, by most accounts, skyrocketed. Suicide is also up. An international survey undertaken by the WHO suggests that rates of recovery for all kinds of “mental illness” are significantly better in the “underdeveloped” world—where folks are more apt to rely on religion rather than a pricey therapist. Other studies show therapists produce a worse or a no better cure rate than a layperson.

Some deficiencies of psychiatry or psychology are obvious. To begin with, they deny the reality of the psyche. Where do you go from there? They deny moral considerations, and morality is, according to long philosophical and religious tradition, if it is not self-evident, a key concern of human existence. They broadly avoid any consideration of a God, which is to say, of any inherent meaning in the universe.

It is a meagre, despairing worldview.

But it is our real religion nowadays, and not our nominal religions anymore.

In writing the first book, I contacted the Toronto Catholic archdiocese to see if I could get a nihil obstat—an official statement by the bishop that there was nothing in the book that ran counter to Catholic doctrine. They wrote back offering to have it looked over by a priest who was also a psychiatrist, to ensure that it was sound in psychiatric terms. When I specified that it was Catholic doctrine with which I was concerned, they said they could not help me. Nobody there was interested.

The New Testament understanding of mental illness is plainly that it is generally a matter of demonic possession. Casting out demons was the precise mission on which Jesus first sent out the apostles, and much historic evidence suggests that it is its legendary ability to cure mental illness that was the primary cause of Christianity’s spread through Europe, later through the Americas, and even today through Africa.

Yet the current protocol for exorcism in the Catholic Church is clear and firm that no exorcism may be contemplated until and unless all “natural,” that is, psychiatric, explanations have been ruled out, by the patient displaying some impossible supernatural knowledge. By, for example, suddenly being fluent in a foreign language, or showing knowledge of some secret matter. Or at least showing a violent aversion to religious objects.

This makes no sense in theological terms. Catholic doctrine holds that demons are real beings. Yet why would a real demon be so stupid as to do something to prove he is there? In order to get exorcised?

In other words, in case of doubt, faith is assigned to psychiatry and psychology, not to Catholicism. Even by the Catholic Church.

This is perhaps one reason for the rapid growth of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements within Christianity. They are the branch that still takes it all most seriously. And that performs exorcisms and healings.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Cohen on the Future

What did he see?

I think Leonard Cohen got it right when he said that the modern world is in the middle of a spiritual catastrophe.

I think he was right to say that the essence of that catastrophe is a lack or a failure of love.

And I think he believed, and I think he was right, that the most troubling and evident example of that absence of love is abortion.

“Destroy another foetus now

We don’t like children anyhow.”

In this regard, things are rapidly getting worse. We are everywhere dissolving into warring factions, with few or no bonds of common morality or common civility left.

Perhaps Cohen was ready to die when he did die, as he said he was, because he did not want to see what was coming. Many, including his son, thought it was significant that he died on the very eve of Trump’s election as US President. (This does not mean that the problem is Trump; it could as well mean Trump is a symptom and result of the problem. Indeed, it must, since Cohen clearly believed the problem long preceded Trump. And it might be the inevitable reaction to his election, as much as or more than the election itself, that was his concern.)

“I’ve seen the future, brother.

It is murder.”

Glenn Beck recently publicly said he instinctively or intuitively expects some great general war within the next few years.

Some say Beck is inclined to be alarmist. Kind of like spiritual click-bait. That may be so.

I have been inclined to be more optimistic, to feel that the forces of hate had by now become so blatant and blatantly wrong that there would be a natural and general pulling back to morality. That their very virulence suggested they were becoming desperate.

But then, I’ve thought that since the early Seventies. So far, I have been wrong.

Perhaps Beck and Cohen are right. Desperate hate may well take down everyone and everything possible before allowing its own defeat. It will go, but it may well not go quietly.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

White Supremacist Spotted in the Wild

Rep. Steve King

After much desperate searching and sounding of alarms, an actual white supremacist seems to have been located in the US.

Or, actually, no, not quite. It’s Rep. Steve King of Iowa, and what he actually said was that he did not see why the terms “white nationalist,” “white supremacist,” and “Western civilization” have become a problem. It does not follow that he would use them to describe himself. And he has since specifically denounced these attitudes on the floor of the House, and said they do not describe his own views.

But it seems to be the best we have.

So he has been publicly denounced now by Jeb Bush, Ben Shapiro, the National Review, Paul Ryan, the House Republican Whip, the Republican National Committee Chairman, Tim Scott, and on and on—all Republican or right-wing voices.

This reaction does seem over the top; on the other hand, I can understand it. Republicans and the right do not want to be associated with such views, even tangentially. Even if nobody actually holds them.

Neither do I.

Let’s look at them.

“White nationalist.”

Nationalism is always immoral. One has a right to feel attachment to the polity in which you were nurtured and raised, and you have some obligation to it for this. If it works well, you have a duty to protect it, for the sake of mankind. But beyond this, nationalism violates the basic moral principle of human equality.

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to glorify nationalism in certain contexts: we like and celebrate Cree nationalism, or Inuit nationalism, or perhaps Quebec nationalism, or Scottish nationalism, or Chinese nationalism, or black nationalism; or the many nationalisms implicitly celebrated by multiculturalism. It too often seems that our problem is with “whites,” rather than with nationalism. This is a vital concern; but it obviously is not helped by promoting white nationalism along with the others.

Secondly, there is no “white nation.” There is no “white” ethnicity. To be a nation in the ethnic sense implies a shared language, history, perhaps religion. In North America, where King lives, there is no distinction among Americans on any of these grounds that also corresponds to their skin colour. In Europe, those who share the skin colour, conversely, can have quite different languages and histories. Mostly Irish by ancestry, why would I want to identify as “white,” and consider myself ethnically the same as an Englishman? My ancestors fought against that for centuries.

“White supremacy”

This is a term that has no accepted definition. On these grounds alone, it should not be used.

If it means special rights for some based on their skin colour, it is of course immoral. It violates the principle of human equality. Unfortunately, we violate human equality all the time now by giving a variety of groups special rights based on their skin colour: affirmative action in all its forms. So again, it looks as though our objection is not to discrimination, but to “whites.” But advocating special rights for “whites” does not fix the problem. It makes it worse.

Some of those opposing Steve King have not helped the case at all, by making the argument that he is wrong on the grounds that non-whites have actually contributed a great deal to civilization. The problem is that, no, objectively, the contribution by people with “white” skin really has been disproportionate. Those arguing against the claim on these grounds have to resort to verbal tricks like defining Italians, Greeks, Slavs, or Middle Easterners as “non-white,” in order to then show that non-whites have been holding up their side. Define “white” as cognate to the scientific racial category “Caucasian,” and their arguments collapse. Some impressive stuff from China and Japan, but on the whole, Caucasians have indeed produced more than their numbers warrant.

But that is to get lost in the weeds. The doctrine of human equality does not imply that all humans are equal in all their abilities. To suggest so is transparently wrong. And just as humans can vary in individual abilities, they can certainly vary by group. For example, Caucasian Europeans really do have higher average IQs than sub-Saharan Africans.

This is not relevant. Human equality is founded on the fundamental premise that we are all children of God, created by him, and he must therefore love us equally. We are all equal in our intrinsic moral worth, but (of course) not in our abilities. We must all therefore treat one another respectfully and strictly as our individual merits warrant.

“Western civilization”

Seems innocuous, but again, I think it is a harmful concept. The proper distinction is between civilization and barbarism. And the path to civilization is simple: civilization is, broadly, technology for living. To become civilized, you select the best option available for whatever you need to accomplish, from whatever the source. Not to do so is to willfully remain less civilized. To speak of “Western civilization” is implicitly to violate this principle, and so to advocate barbarism.

Because of natural geographical barriers, civilization has over past centuries developed largely independently, and so differently, in different parts of the world. It has been somewhat different in Europe, China, India, or the Middle East. But now that we are all in communication, it makes no sense to preserve the distinction. Why would you refuse a better product because it is made in China?

I also believe that, as far as technologies for living go, the Judeo-Christian-Hellenic foundation on which European civilization has been built is more solid and seems to have been more productive over the long term than Confucianism and Buddhism, in the Far East, Hinduism in India, or Islam in the Middle East. I think that recommends it as a technology to be embraced everywhere.

Many in China and Africa are currently coming to that same conclusion. Just as many in Northern Europe or the Americas have in the past.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Democratic 2020 Field: Early Assessments

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

The wide Democratic field for the 2020 presidential run is actually a sign of weakness. Since there is little front bench, everyone has a shot. So everyone is taking it.

Joe Biden.

I hear Republicans fear him as someone who could win the working class Trump supporters. But what about the “#MeToo” thing? There are lots of stories. Maybe Trump gets a bye from his supporters, but would Biden?

Even if he does, I think it is bad strategy for a party in opposition to run a candidate too similar to the incumbent. Those who do not like Trump are going to want someone very different. Those who like him will like him better than a facsimile. It makes no sense to me to run a clown against a clown. I doubt such triangulation of candidate personality works.

Bernie Sanders.

He is not doing as well as many expected in the polls. Many thought a couple of years ago he would have the 2020 nomination in a walk, if he wanted it.

I am not surprised, His appeal last time was because he was a dark horse, and so he seemed fresh and new. The Democrats always crave fresh and new. But he has not worn well. People are tired of his mannerisms. It is hard for someone in his late seventies to look for long like a fresh face. He already looks like yesterday.

Elizabeth Warren

Has established herself as utterly insincere, very much in the mold of Hillary Clinton, and keeps reinforcing the impression. Since everyone is tired to tears of Hillary Clinton, she would be a bad choice, and one the Dems are not likely to want anyway.

She would be immensely vulnerable to Trump’s mockery. I’m sure he would love to face her. I doubt the Democrats want to watch that bloodbath.

Beto O’Rourke

The fact that he is suddenly considered a top-tier contender shows how weak the Dem bench is. Being a congressman is not traditionally sufficient qualification. Having just lost a state-wide contest ought to make him look less plausible, not more. If the Dems run him, they are virtually telegraphing “We’re a bunch of losers.”

Many like him because he’s photogenic, and he’s from the South. So’s Lassie.

And so was John Edwards.

Kamala Harris.

I give her the inside track currently for the nomination. She’s young, she’s new, she’s fresh, she’s photogenic, she ticks the special interest group boxes that Democrats love to tick. She contrasts well with old, white, male, macho Trump.

But she’s relatively inexperienced, and yet be defined in the public mind. That makes her vulnerable to some blunder during the campaign which may derail her, like a Howard Dean, a Gary Hart, or a Michael Dukakis.

Cory Booker.

Rumour says he’s an empty suit. He looks and sounds like one.

Hillary Clinton.

She’s been making noises. It would not look pretty on her legacy. How much respect does anyone have for Harold Stassen? She would be crushed in the early primaries. Everyone is tired of the Clintons.

Michael Bloomberg.

He might make a decent showing in the primaries; enough to be a kingmaker. He obviously has the money to make a good run. But he’d be running up the Democrats’ right side, and that does not seem to work for anyone in the primaries since Bill Clinton. The Democrats, to their downfall, are not in a moderate mood. Didn’t work for Jim Webb, didn’t work for Joe Liebermann, even though Liebermann looked like an ideal candidate.

If he won the nomination, in the general, he would not be a clear contrast with Trump. Two New York millionaires, neither of them strongly ideological. He would be a poor choice for the Democrats.

Michelle Obama

Not necessarily a rap against her personally, but this would be over the top dynastic politics after running Hillary Clinton. I think she could make a good run, in the primaries and against Trump, but I hope she does not do it. Now, everyone loves her. They soon wouldn’t if she got her hands dirty in electoral politics.

There are a hundred others, but I have other things to do. Any one of them, given the Democratic party’s love of fresh faces on dark horses, could suddenly pole vault into contention, just as Bernie Sanders did.

But I have my eye on one dark horse in particular:

Tulsi Gabbard.

Rep from Hawaii. Not traditionally qualified, as a congresswoman, but attractive nonetheless. Young, photogenic, ethnic. She just got herself some exposure by writing an op-ed piece accusing her fellow Democrats of religious bigotry for suggesting membership in the Knights of Columbus should disqualify any lawyer from sitting on the bench.

Yes, it has gotten her screams from many Democrats, the K of C having been suddenly declared, like just about everyone else, a far-right hate group. In the words of one leftist condemning Gabbard for her stand, it is “an extreme right-wing anti-choice anti-LGBT all-male organization.” But Gabbard is perhaps protected from the worst of the left by being female and ethnic—she is Hindu—and having aggressively backed Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton last time.

And surely there is still a constituency for sanity even in the Democratic Party. It is traditionally the party that the Irish, the Italians, the Hispanics, voted for. It was, more or less, historically the Catholic party, the party that nominated Kennedy and Al Smith. Do they really want to commit suicide by alienating what was historically their largest constituency outside the South?

I think Gabbard may be making a smart move early. She’s triangulating the way Bill Clinton used to; the way he did with his “Sister Souljah Moment.” The Democrats may well be too stupid now to follow her on this, but if not, Gabbard might have a shot with stands like this at uniting the urban elite with the lunchpail crowd and re-establishing the old Democratic coalition.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

News of the Future

In case you missed it, Samsung just followed Apple in declaring a big and unexpected revenue shortfall. And the cause seems to be the same: Chinese consumers have stopped buying smartphones. They have apparently also stopped buying cars.

It might be just that the market has reached saturation point. But that seems an unlikely explanation, for a drop so sudden and so big. Put this together with the swift and severe crackdown on dissent reported by YouTube vloggers, and China’s current sabre rattling abroad, and I conclude that China is facing serious trouble economically. I suspect that, lacking transparency, there is a lot of smoke and many mirrors in China’s economy. And things could collapse quickly.

In other news, several respectable forecasters have reported recently that 25% of colleges and universities in the US will be gone within the next ten years. Some say 50%. Moody’s says 25% of private colleges are now running in the red. Traditional tertiary education is about to go the same way as the press. First, there are now better and cheaper alternatives online. Second, they have lost their comprehension of their original mission, and have become self-perpetuating parasitical cliques.

You’d think that, faced with tightening budgets, the colleges would do the obvious, and start cutting out administrative jobs, which do not relate to their core mission or the quality of what they are doing. But this is the reverse of what they have been doing: in recent years, more and more of their budgets have been going on administration, and where they have cut is on actual teaching, by using more adjuncts and hiring fewer permanent faculty.

Monday, January 07, 2019

My Leftist Political Views

There has been a lot of crazy talk of late about everybody and his Aunt Matilda being suddenly “far right.” And of the far right and alt-right as being a dangerous and growing movement. So they say of Gavin MacInnes, and he has been banned from Patreon for his supposedly intolerable thoughts. So they say of Sargon of Akkad, and he too is now banned by Patreon. Yet to me, their views have seemed pretty centrist. MacInnes is just a comedian who tends to say things that are refreshingly politically incorrect, who is himself married to a native Indian woman; and Sargon is a  moderate liberal. Similarly, Jordan Peterson, or Lindsay Shepherd, both of whom always thought of themselves as on the left, have found themselves declared to be thought leaders for the far right.

Ok, so I did this test online, of my own views. It’s at Political Compass.

Turns out I am myself almost as close to the exact centre of the spectrum as I could be. Tending slightly to the libertarian and the left. Not on the right, let alone far right or alt-right. On the left.

But then, I watched Sargon of Akkad do the same test in a YouTube video, and he came out not that differently: somewhat more libertarian than me, and a bit over on the right, but still close to the centre.

So what gives? Is their compass broken?

Apparently not. The same site evaluates political parties, and it actually puts me to the left of the Canadian Conservatives or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton.

I think the contemporary left must be so out of touch that they are branding views in the political centre and even on the moderate left now as “far right,” and, worse, trying to silence them.

And one of the reasons they are trying to silence dissent is precisely how reasonable this dissent is. They do not want people to hear these voices, because they would be too likely to agree with them. In the meantime, largely as a result, the average submissive low-information voter has a completely false idea of what the right is actually saying.

It amount to an attempted coup. I hope for all of us they do not succeed.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Twelfth Night

Today is Epiphany, the last day of Christmas. So I guess it is my last chance to slip in some Christmas music.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Pope Francis on Hypocrisy

If it has been accurately reported--a big "if"--Pope Francis has said in a recent homily that it would be better to be openly atheist than one who attends mass daily, yet does not demonstrate love for your fellow man.

There is logic to the claim. At least the atheist does not cause scandal and bring the religion into disrepute. Jesus himself railed against religious hypocrisy in the New Testament.

Still, in pastoral terms, supposedly Francis’s talent and chief concern, this seems the wrong message. True enough, scribes and Pharisees would prominently attend synagogues purely for the sake of social status. They were not sincere about their faith. The same might be true of a Catholic who attends mass regularly.

The problem is, in these times, few are likely to attend mass daily or even weekly for the sake of higher social status. Society as a whole is at present far from impressed by such things. Throughout the developed world, attending a Catholic mass risks social stigma, rather than prestige. It is counter-cultural behaviour.

Granted, within their own mind or within a small group, they might be acting hypocritically. Still, this seems a secondary worry, and all but counterbalanced already by the moral courage required, and the value of the moral example.

Instead, given the present social and intellectual climate of hostility to Catholicism and religion, it seems to amount to publicly undermining the faithful. The implicit message—surely at least the message the world will take from it—is that sincere faith and being observant is less than worthless. Best to avoid it altogether; you are only risking hypocrisy. All that matters is doing good.

In practice it seems an argument against religion and in favour of secularism, or perhaps, to use Francis’s own quoted term, atheism. And it must plague the conscience of the scrupulous, who will always fall short of moral perfection, moral perfection not being available to us mortals. So, since they are not morally perfect, and are painfully aware of this, must they avoid the mass and the sacraments, for fear of being worse than an atheist?

Pope Francis may only be being misquoted--as so often in the past. Still, he bears some blame that he seems to so often leave mistaken impressions. That is hardly pastorally sound. If he is unreliable on the theology, and unreliable on pastoral matters, where are we?

Friday, January 04, 2019

Predictions for 2019 and Beyond

France in the year 2000, as predicted in 1899.

Worth ignoring, of course. My predictions are always wrong, just like everyone else’s.

To begin with, let’s assert that things are getting better year by year.

Apparently this is not obvious. My leftist friend Xerxes wrote a New Year’s column saying everyone is looking to 2019 with fear and trepidation. Oddly, just as those who now call themselves “liberal” do not believe in individual liberties like free speech or the right to life, those who now call themselves “progressives” do not believe in progress.

That is, in the end, the most prominent dark cloud on our horizon: the modern left. They are actually working against progress, against civilization, against the future. They are now aggressively trying to shut down dissent.

The good news, though, is that I think this is near or beyond the tipping point at which they are doing no more than to discredit themselves in the popular mind. They demands have come to openly defy common sense. These are now the thrashings about of a dying beast.

A quick overview, then: the poorer parts of the world are broadly rising rapidly out of poverty. The proportion of the world that is desperately poor is declining rapidly. Famine, not long ago a fact of life, is now increasingly rare. We are defeating the worst diseases, one by one, and life expectancies are obviously rising—with a tragic reservation in the case of addictions and “mental illness” in the developed world. Farewell polio, tuberculosis, smallpox, scarlet fever, and so on.

The Twentieth Century was an era of near-apocalyptic wars. The Nineteenth was better, thanks to Pax Britannica, but there still were almost inconceivable bloodbaths: the US Civil War, the Taiping Rebellion. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the threat of any new major war has receded; we seem to find ourselves in one of the most peaceful periods in history. Granted, there are local horrors in the Middle East; but on a much smaller scale than we saw even during the Cold War. Granted, many fear the rising power of China. But so far, that has only been an economic competition. With benefits to everyone.

You will say, as Xerxes did, but what about global warming? Nothing else matters, since the world is all about to end from global warming.

But even here, things have gotten better. All my life, the world has been about to end in a great ball of fire. In grade school, they tested out the air raid systems, and everyone was making their emergency plans and building bomb shelters in their back yards. The end was bound to come at any moment.

In my final year of high school, our biology teacher made us all read Erlich’s The Population Bomb. In university, the Club of Rome released The Limits to Growth. We were solemnly warned by all our profs and teachers that, at some point in our own adulthoods, the world would no longer be able to feed itself. We would run out of all resources. We would be fighting to the death for the nearest source of potable water. A friend decided that his only hope was, on graduation, to emigrate to New Zealand.

And this is not to mention the dire and immanent effects of depletion of the ozone layer, which would kill us all with skin cancers, and acid rain, and mass poisoning from DDT, not to mention an almost limitless list of other industrial pollutants, and the impending ice age.

And now all we need to worry about is the earth getting warmer? And the pollutant is—carbon dioxide? Sounds like a good deal to me.

It also does not help my lack of confidence in the future, of course, that all of these earlier predictions of imminent doom seem to have been wrong. Self-evidently, we are still here. The price of most raw materials has actually declined since these dire predictions were made in the Sixties and Seventies.

Peak oil? Oil production is way up; it is the price that peaked and started to decline.

Running out of arable land, and the inability to feed such a large world population?

Do you know which country, excluding city-states, is the most densely populated in Europe?

The Netherlands.

Do you know which country is the world’s second largest exporter of food?

The Netherlands.

Obviously, we are nowhere near running out of agricultural capacity to feed the world population. Which, in any case, seems poised to tip into general decline.

So on to the future.

The rise of social media has made all governments less stable, just as the development of the printing press did in its day. We have seen the outburst on the streets of Paris most recently. On the whole, this is a very good thing. It forces democratization and greater equality.

And it makes the survival of either authoritarian regimes or regimes out of touch with their populations more doubtful.

The first current regime that comes to mind in this regard is China.

There are lots of signs that the Chinese leadership itself feels vulnerable. Xi has been cracking down and shaking sabres. It is inevitably an unstable, threatened regime that shakes sabres; consider the former juntas in Greece or Argentina.

I also cling to a fantasy that regimes that are transparently built on false premises are not likely to last more than a human lifetime—as with the Soviet Union. That is, they are not likely to long survive those who first created them, and who are therefore deeply committed to the original fantasy. Once they all die off, someone is going to notice that the emperor wears no clothes. By that measure, China is due for its morning wake-up call. The legitimacy of the government has of recent years hinged on growing prosperity. A bump in that road could bring it all crashing down. Demographics say a bump is due.

Iran ought also to be at high risk. The fall in the price of oil, and the reimposed US sanctions, cannot help.

Russia’s position is also dicey. There have been prior signs of upheaval. But these things are also unpredictable. Who expected the riots in France?

The fall in the price of oil should also force Russia to stay closer to home; there is an economic pothole in their path as well. The future for Saudi Arabia likewise looks grim. This also means sources of funds for Islamic terrorism, and Islam’s prestige in poorer parts of the world, should decline. Put it all together, and the new and greater availability of oil and natural gas should spontaneously reduce many of the political/military/security troubles in the world. A lot of troubles with insurgencies in Africa and South America ended with the loss of funding from the old Soviet Union. The troubles in Northern Ireland seemed to fizzle when Gaddafi in Libya pulled funding for the IRA.

Speaking of which, the government of Cuba is probably in big trouble. They were in a pickle when the Soviet Union fell, got a lifeline from oil-rich Venezuela. Now this surrogate sponsor is also bust. The Obama administration stupidly (or disloyally) threw them an undeserved few extra years by lifting sanctions, just as they did for Iran. But it is not likely to be enough.

I expect a hard Brexit, for reasons given in this blog previously. It is not in the interest of the Brussells bureaucrats to give Britain a better deal than a hard exit would. But as soon as the UK is out, they will be back at the table to make a sensible trade deal. There is already news that Ireland has gone to the EU with a tin cup seeking financial support in the case of a hard British exit. When and if this happens, Ireland will be the biggest loser. Then the calculations change: if the EU still insists on not dealing reasonably with the UK, rather than discouraging others from leaving, they may force an Irish exit as well.

I expect the Liberals to win the next Canadian election, slated for the coming year. I think that there is a potential populist revolt in Canada, as we have seen in France or Britain with Brexit or Trump’s election in the US. But there is currently no clear Canadian electoral alternative that could be a vehicle for it. Neither Scheer nor Singh have the guts for this. They are typical Canadian nice guys not about to raise any ruckus. Bernier might have, as Conservative leader. As leader of a new party, he might make gains, but not enough in one run to take power; just enough to split the opposition.

The Conservatives are, on the other hand, a dead cinch to return to power in Alberta. Trudeau will soon face a wall of provincial intransigence. This is where the real opposition will form.

In the tech field, Apple’s recent revenue warning confirms my longstanding prediction: it’s going moribund without Steve Jobs. I expect a slow decline from here on out. It’s living on the prestige Jobs banked.

Facebook is toast. It never had much to offer, to my mind. Nor was Mark Zuckerberg some visionary who was ever going to be a font of new ideas. The Facebook concept itself was taken from others. He’s just a wheeler-dealer, who has had a remarkable run.

Patreon has pretty obviously publicly slashed their own wrists, and is likely to go down fast. Twitter faces similar problems, for similar reasons: trying to censor their users. That’s not likely to work in a free market situation, and one in which the economic bar for new entrants is rather low. You cannot bank too heavily on established user base. Ask Nokia, or Blackberry, or America Online, or MySpace, or Internet Explorer. They are both going to be remembered mostly as fascinating case studies in business schools.

I used to have a pretty good idea of what technical innovations were likely to appear next: when the digital revolution was younger, it was ridiculous how many great opportunities were just lying there, and nobody had gotten around to them yet. Now the future is less clear, at least to me. I did not see driverless cars coming, nor delivery drones.

I think 3-D printed houses and buildings ought to become a thing. The economies look compelling.

One sector that has been clearly crashing out is retail. Main streets and malls are shuttering, as purchasing goes online. Nevertheless, main streets and malls perform a vital social function, and I expect they will reincarnate accordingly. But they will look more like farmers’ markets, featuring local crafts and produce, targeting unique local tastes. It is the chains and franchise operations that have most to fear, and the result may be better for community.

I expect education to move almost entirely online. Again, the economies seem obvious. If universities and colleges are still doing reasonably well in North America, it is largely as a kind of travel experience, like the old Grand Tour done by the English aristocracy, most appealing to foreigners wanting a taste of American life. They tend to sell themselves to students on the quality of campus life.

When education proper goes online, people will be able to shop around for the best option for each course, and study on an as-needed basis, not having to move or devote long years to not earning an income. If institutions like Oxford or Harvard survive, other than as travel experiences or finishing schools, it will be as evaluators, providing tests and certifications of acquired knowledge. You go to take the proctored test, or to present the thesis.

Everyone has been worrying for some time about jobs disappearing as a result of these many innovations. Some forms of work will indeed go, but the evidence seems to be that unemployment is going down, not up. This was predictable in theory, and so should continue. Automation makes things cheaper; people then buy more things; on balance, then, more jobs. Nobody fifty years ago would have believed you could get someone to pay good money for bottled water, or pay five bucks for a fancy cup of coffee.

Manual labour was mechanized long ago. Now it is the professions that are going to be in increasing trouble. Here is a case of an elite amassing power, prestige, and wealth on the premise of special knowledge. Since WWII, indeed perhaps since the turn of the century and the Progressive Era, there has been an over-emphasis on formal education and on relying on “the experts.” Every job wanted to constitute itself as a profession. It has all been oversold and overbought.

That seems likely now to suddenly be thrown into reverse.

Like the printing press, the Internet and the digital revolution democratizes knowledge. Suddenly everyone can read; suddenly everyone has the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. As a result, the claims of and the need for the professions are less tenable—exactly like the claims of the clergy at the dawn of the Reformation. Many professions are being exposed, now that the information is more widely available, as mostly smoke and mirrors and loud quacking noises; journalism and teaching being two examples. A lot of what others do can be more efficiently done by computer: searching the law books for legal precedents, medical diagnosis, much accounting; all that filling out of forms of all kinds. You may still need a human operator, but not years of study.

In the long run, I think everyone will gradually become some kind of artist or craftsperson or planner or manager. Just less boring, repetitive work.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Good Thief

There is a surprising bit in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur in which one of the Knights of the Round Table is approached by a priest to do confession and penance. And the knight responds that as a knight errant he has little need for the sacrament; because the sufferings of his station are so great.

Yet this seem theologically right. Any suffering we face in life serves as payment for sin. 

Otherwise how else to interpret what Jesus says on the cross to St. Dismas, the Good Thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Dismas is a sinful man. He himself admits that he deserves his punishment. Yet Jesus says he will spend no time in purgatory. He seems to make a special point of saying so.

The reason must be because he has already received full punishment for his sin on earth. As Dismas puts it, “the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes.”

This also makes better sense of many of the Beatitudes, in which Jesus suggests that those who mourn, those who are poor, those who are persecuted, are blessed.

Worth remembering in hard times.