A Papal Bull from Daily Kos: On Permissible and Impermissible Sciences

Practitioners of the behavioral sciences will be pleased to know that an official blessing has come down from on high announcing that believers in the existence of human nature are no longer to be considered fascists and racists.  Writing for Daily Kos, one Erasmussimo announced the long-expected change in orthodox dogma as follows:

In the 70s and 80s, a strict intolerance for the racist abuse of science mushroomed into something entirely different: an ideological rejection of the notion that genetics played any role in human behavior. This school of thought was so dominant that many scientists were frightened away from any research remotely related to such matters.

But you can’t deny reality.  As one scientist wrote, “Evolution didn’t stop at the neck.” Human mental evolution was strongly influenced by selection pressures, which manifested themselves in human behavior. Genetics really does influence behavior, but it took a while for scientists to re-assert that basic principle. Two scientists, Cosmides and Tooby, began an extremely rigorous program of experiments that demonstrated beyond question that there were oddities of human cognition that could not be explained by any environmental factors. They christened their field of research “evolutionary psychology”. For many years they attracted considerable opprobrium, but their research was flawless and now evolutionary psychology is a respected field of research.

Au contraire, my dear Erasmussimo!  The reality that “Evolution doesn’t stop at the neck,” was denied quite successfully by psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists alike for a period of several decades, and was the prevailing orthodoxy, not only in the 70’s and 80’s, but in the 50’s and 60’s as well, in spite of that denial being palpably ludicrous to any reasonably intelligent 10 year old.  Indeed, our unfortunate Erasmussimo seems to have compounded his mistake by completely swallowing the Pinker “big bang” myth of evolutionary psychology, according to which the field sprang forth in all its glory from the mind of E. O. Wilson, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, with the publication of Sociobiology in 1975.  For example,

The eminent scientist E.O.Wilson was the world’s leading authority on the behavior of ants when, in the 1970s, he proposed that evolutionary selection pressures acted on behavior as well as the body, leading to genetic factors in behavior. His work with ants demonstrated the basic concept beyond question, but when he extended his ideas to humans, he triggered a shitstorm of outrage, and was treated quite badly. Wilson’s work was impeccable, but because it was distantly analogous to the racist IQ claims, his ideas (which he termed “sociobiology”) were lumped together with that odious ideology.

As I’ve pointed out before, Pinker’s “big bang” fairy tale can be easily debunked by anyone who takes the trouble to read Man and Aggression, edited by Ashley Montagu, which appeared in 1968.  A manifesto of the Blank Slaters, the last I looked it was available on Amazon for a mere 46 cents.  It documents the fact that there were several thinkers who insisted on the existence of innate human nature long before Wilson, including Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz, and that they also had the honor of being denounced as fascists and racists by the politically pure.  According to the testimony of the Blank Slaters themselves, however, by far the most prominent among them was not Lorenz but Robert Ardrey, a “mere playwright.”  That fact goes far to explain Pinker’s fabrication, which spares the sensitivities and gravitas of his academic tribe.  Read Ardrey’s books, along with those of Lorenz and several others who were challenging the prevailing orthodoxy during the 60’s, and it will become abundantly clear that, as far as the overriding theme of innate human nature is concerned, Sociobiology was anything but original.

Be that as it may, it’s still gratifying to know that the authors of the recent stream of books about innate human behavior are not under any immediate threat of falling under the interdict of the secular morality police.  Alas, we gather that not all fields of inquiry have been so fortunate from the title of Erasmussimo’s epistle:  Racism has a New Name:  HBD.  For the unitiated, the acronym HBD stands for Human BioDiversity, described by one of its practitioners as follows:

Human biodiversity is an acknowledgment that humans differ from each other in various ways because of our different genotypes. Differences include, but are not limited to, physical appearance, athletic ability, personality, and cognitive abilities.

Those who have sullied themselves by lusting after such forbidden knowledge need not complain that they were unaware that they were inviting excommunication.  The anathema from Kos was preceded by numerous rumblings from lesser lights among the secular clergy.  See for example, The Perversity of Human Biodiversity, a.k.a. “Scientific” Racism, the Steve Sailer Sucks blog (Steve Sailer is an arch-wizard of HBD, who, BTW, had the effrontery to sass back), the archive for the Human Biodiversity (HBD) Category at the Unamusement Park, etc.  In spite of this, apparently not all of them are in immediate danger of secular hellfire.  Kos is merciful.  As Erasmussimo puts it,

However, riding on the coattails of this respectable (evolutionary psychology) work is the HBD movement, populated mostly by eager amateurs rather than professional scientists. The HBD movement covers a broad range of ideas, from the genuinely scientific to the nakedly racist. At the scientific end of the range we have people like HBD Chick, who aggregate lots of evidence on matters anthropological and genetic as they relate to human behavior. At the other extreme we have Steve Sailor (sic), a conservative who promulgates racist ideas.

And how are we to distinguish who in the HBD movement are dangling like spiders over the flaming pits of hell (to paraphrase Jonathan Edwards), as opposed to those who are granted a respite to get their minds right?  As Erasmussimo explains, by their fruit shall ye know them:

There’s an easy way to differentiate the scientific side of HBD from the racist side: fixation on IQ. These people love to wring the IQ data for every ounce of scientific justification they can find for their racism. They analyze IQ scores by race, religion, gender, national origin, and lots of other factors; I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them hasn’t calculated the correlation coefficient of IQ score with aversion to broccoli. They triumphantly trumpet the results that support their prejudices and quietly ignore results that undermine their prejudices, such as the finding that national IQ scores are correlated with GDP per capita.

Paradoxically, at least for those unschooled in the holy mysteries, Erasmussimo leaves open the hypothetical possibility that these racists may actually be right:

Finally, I caution the reader to subordinate personal preference for scientific objectivity in this question. I fervently believe that “All men are created equal”, but I am willing to entertain the hypothesis that some men are born with lesser cognitive talents than others. If solid evidence arises that blacks are cognitively less capable than whites, then I shall accept the hypothesis and move on to asking how we reconcile scientific conclusions with political theory. So far, however, the evidence I have seen is completely inadequate to support the hypothesis.

It may not appear immediately obvious how such evidence, in the wildly implausible event that it exists, is to be forthcoming given that anyone who dares to investigate the matter is to be automatically denounced as a racist.  However, it’s not that difficult to understand.  Voltaire explained it in Candide, where, alluding to the judicial murder of Admiral Byng by the English, he wrote, “There is no doubt of it; but in this country it is found good, from time to time, to kill one Admiral to encourage the others.”

Ancient Greek artwork depicting Evolutionary Psychology emerging fully formed from the head of E. O. Wilson.

The German Media: “Freedom of the Press” from a Single Point of View

Niall Ferguson’s recent publication of an article attacking Obama in Newsweek generated a lot of useful data on the nature of political thought.  Consider, for example, the hundreds of comments left on liberal and conservative political blogs and websites.  They’re easy enough to find on Google.  On the former, the commenters are typically furious because of their conviction that Ferguson’s article is nothing but a pack of lies, and on the latter they are triumphant because of their conviction that Ferguson not only answered but demolished the charges of deception, and exposed his opponents as the real liars.  For the most part, the comments are morally charged, and seem to fully vindicate Jonathan Haidt’s point about the emotional dog with a rational tail.  To the extent that any of the commenters attempt to use reason at all, it is to vindicate intuitions about whether Ferguson is “good” or “evil” that are entirely predictable depending on whether they dwell on the right or left of the political spectrum.  There are virtually no instances of the apparent use of reason to weigh and balance the evidence before forming an opinion.  The more obsessed an individual is with politics, the more predictable his opinions become on any politically loaded issue.  If there is any good news in all this, it is that both sides are well-represented in the social media, at least in the United States.  The rare individual who is inclined to weigh the evidence on both sides and attempt to formulate an opinion informed by reason at least has easy access to both points of view.  The result is a salutary restraint on the ardent partisans of both sides that encourages them to occasionally temper their ideal worldview with doses of reality.  If only one point of view were represented, there would be an opposite tendency to replace reality with fantasy.

The German media provides a good example of how this works in practice.  As in the U.S., the social media in that country has powerful voices on both the “left” and the “right.”  There are pronounced differences among the partisans of both sides, particularly regarding issues of local interest.  However, as regards, the U.S., the message from both sides is remarkably similar.  This was very evident in the most recent of the periodic eruptions of anti-American hate in Europe that reached its climax during the final years of the Clinton and the first years of the Bush Administrations.  Coverage of the United States, whether in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the right or Der Spiegel magazine on the left, was uniformly anti-American and quasi-racist.  For example, Americans were universally stereotyped as prudish, religious fanatics, gun nuts, etc.  Occasionally the bitter attacks on the U.S. took up so much space on Der Spiegel’s website that it was difficult to find any news about Germany.  The anti-American wave only subsided when a few people on the other side of the Atlantic began to notice (and be shocked) by what they were seeing.  Apparently the big dogs in the German media concluded that, profitable though it undoubtedly was, they would have to tone down what had become blatant hate mongering if they wanted to preserve some chance of continuing to win prestigious international prizes for “objectivity.”

Today things are significantly more subdued although the media still throws a chunk of red meat to the Amerika haters now and then.  However, the one-sided nature of the reporting is still the same.  Consider, for example, the recent coverage of the Republican National Convention.  Whereas, after a brief honeymoon, the Obama Administration is now generally portrayed in the German media as merely ineffectual, the Republicans are decidedly bad guys who are typically described as “radical,” “extreme,” and “crazy.”  They are, of course, “racist” as well.  Thus, for example, there was heavy coverage of incident in which two unknown individuals threw nuts at a black CNN correspondent and told her that was how they “fed the animals,” but no mention of the seemingly more egregious racism behind the defacing of Republican Mia Love’s Wikipedia entry, and little, if any, notice of the fact that persons of color were prominent speakers at the convention at all.

Paul Ryan is described as an “extremist” in both the “rightist” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (“Ryan is known as a proponent of budget slashing and massive cuts in the area of social welfare”) and the “leftist” Der Spiegel (“Romney’s choice for Vice President has prepared a plan of battle that includes more explosive for America’s democracy than all (Sarah) Palin’s vices – nothing less than a declaration of war on America’s social solidarity”), based on either grossly distorted and one-sided portrayals of his record, or, more commonly, no evidence at all.  In spite of the fact that the federal budget proposed by Ryan calls for increased spending every year for the next decade and beyond, he supposedly wants a “skeleton state.”  In condemning Ryan, Der Spiegel goes so far as to provide its readers with a fairy tale version of “history” that would never pass the “ho ho” test if there were anyone around with an interest in bothering to challenge it:

Ryan sees himself as a tribune of the people.  He likes to quote Ronald Reagan’s remarks to the effect that, if the rich had more, their riches would “trickle down” to the rest of the citizens.  The result of this experiment is well known:  Reagan had to massively increase taxes in 1982, because the U.S. budget deficit had become gigantic.

In fact, Ryan couldn’t quote Reagan’s remarks about “trickle down” economics, because the term is a straw man used by his enemies.  English speakers can easily Google the facts about economics in the Reagan years, and see for themselves that the 1982 tax increase was not “massive” by any reasonable definition of the term, and particularly not when compared with the tax cut of 1981, that it represented a compromise in return for spending cuts, that there was a net overall decline, not increase, in the tax rate during the Reagan years.  Furthermore, in spite of tax cuts, as noted by economist M. T. Griffith,

As a result of the Reagan tax cuts, tax payments and the share of income taxes paid by the top 1% climbed sharply. For example, in 1981 the top 1% paid 17.6% of all personal income taxes, but by 1988 their share had jumped to 27.5%, a 10 percentage point increase.  The share of the income tax burden borne by the top 10% of taxpayers increased from 48.0% in 1981 to 57.2% in 1988. Meanwhile, the share of income taxes paid by the bottom 50% of taxpayers dropped from 7.5% in 1981 to 5.7% in 1988.

The “gigantic” U.S. budget deficit of 1982 was only about half what it is today as a percent of GDP.  The arguments and interpretations of the legacy of the Reagan years continue in the U.S. to this day, with lots of spin on both sides.  The point is that the version in the German media is generally a great deal more crudely one-sided than one typically finds in the U.S., even among the most ardent partisans on either side.  Only one point of view speaks with a significant voice in the social media.  “Fact checking” by the other side is not a concern, because there is no other side, other than a few brave but insignificant bloggers.

The Eastwood speech was another prominent feature of the convention that was portrayed one way by the Right, and an entirely different way by the Left.  In Germany, it was portrayed only one way, more or less in lockstep with the version you’re likely to find in the New York Times or Washington Post.  Which version you happen to prefer is beside the point.  The point is that, on this as on so many other complex issues dealing with the U.S., in Germany, you only get one version, and it’s usually a great deal cruder and tendentious than its equivalent here.

According to Marx, a monopoly of the social means of production in the hands of a single economic class is a bad thing.  In practice, it seems to me that a monopoly of the social means of communication on behalf of a single point of view may be a good deal worse.  That was the state of affairs that prevailed in the U.S. in the 60’s and 70’s.  With respect to “news” about the United States, it is a state of affairs that prevails in Germany, and probably a good number of other countries to this day.  Where such monopolies exist, formal “freedom of the press” is meaningless.  Keep that in mind the next time you feel like whining about Rush Limbaugh, Foxnews, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the right, or about George Soros, MSNBC, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the left.  As long as both of them exist, it’s a good thing.  They keep each other honest.

Yevgeny Zamyatin and “We”

To give you an idea of how up to speed I am on science fiction, I had never heard of We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, or at least not until I ran across an old review of the book among George Orwell’s essays.  In the review, which appeared in early 1946, he writes,

Several years after hearing of its existence, I have a last got my hands on a copy of Zamyatin’s We, which is one of the literary curiosities of this book-burning age… So far as I can judge it is not a book of the first order, but it is certainly an unusual one, and it is astonishing that no English publisher has been enterprising enough to reissue it.

The book was obviously rare and difficult to find at the time Orwell wrote.  Here’s how he describes the plot:

In the twenty-sixth century… the inhabitants of Utopia have so completely lost their individuality as to be known only by numbers.  They live in glass houses (this was written before television was invented), which enables the political police, known as the “Guardians”, to supervise them more easily.  They all wear identical uniforms, and a human being is commonly referred to either as “a number” or “a unif” (uniform)… The Single State is ruled over by a personage known as The Benefactor, who is annually re-elected by the entire population, the vote being always unanimous.

Orwell was sure the book had inspired Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, although Huxley denied it.  Be that as it may, it certainly inspired Orwell’s own 1984.  For example, the glass houses (telescreens), Guardians (though police), and Benefactor (Big Brother) are all there, and there are many similarities in the plot, including the ending.  That’s not to imply that 1984 wasn’t original.  Far from it.  The central theme of 1984 was the nature of totalitarianism, and what Orwell believed was a very credible totalitarian future, not in centuries, but in a few decades.  In We, on the other hand, as Orwell put it,

There is no power hunger, no sadism, no hardness of any kind.  Those at the top have no strong motive for staying at the top, and though everyone is happy in a vacuous way, life has become so pointless that it is difficult to believe that such a society could endure.

I would also agree with Orwell that We isn’t first rate as a novel, although it may just be because I’m put off by the abrupt, expressionist style.

Still, there are an astounding number of themes in the book that have appeared and continue to appear in later works of science fiction to this day.  For example, the loss of individuality in future dystopia’s,

You see, even in our thoughts.  No one is ever ‘one,’ but always ‘one of.’  We are so identical…

to be original means to somehow stand out from others.  Consequently, being original is to violate equality.

The Christians of the ancient world (our only predecessors, as imperfect as they were) also understood this:  humility is a virtue and pride is a vice, “WE” is divine, and “I” is satanic… Isn’t it clear that individual consciousness is just sickness?

The totalitarian ruler and his enforcers,

And to expel the offending cog, we have the skillful, severe hand of the Benefactor and we have the experienced eye of the Guardians…

They (the ancients) however, worshipped their absurd, unknown God whereas we worship a non-absurd one – one with a very precise visual appearance.

…and so on. And what became of this prescient but scarce book? As science fiction aficionados are surely aware, it is scarce no longer. It has been reprinted many times since Orwell’s time, and I had a much easier time acquiring a copy than he. I was intrigued to find that Zamyatin was an old Bolshevik. Obviously, after the Russian Revolution, he quickly discovered he was a “cog” who didn’t quite fit. We had the honor of becoming the first book banned by the Soviet censorship board in 1921. According to Wiki,

In 1931, Zamyatin appealed directly to Joseph Stalin, requesting permission to leave the Soviet Union. In his letter, Zamyatin wrote, “True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics”. With the encouragement of Maxim Gorky, Stalin decided to grant Zamyatin’s request.

By this time, Zamyatin had managed to smuggle We out of the Soviet Union and have it published abroad.  He was very lucky, after having pushed his luck so far, to escape the clutches of the worst mass murderer the world has ever known.  Fortunately, Gorky was still around to help him.  That great man, although a convinced socialist himself, probably saved hundreds from the executioner with similar appeals.  Zamyatin died in poverty in Paris in 1937.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

Freedom of Speech, Then and Now

In 1920, the famous Marxist Rosa Luxemburg wrote,

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken.

In 2012, speaking of Clear Channel Communications, which provides a variety of programs, including the Rush Limbaugh show, to the Armed Forces Network, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said,

I would hope the people that run it see just how offensive this is and drop it on their own volition.  I think that is probably an issue that should be left to the folks that run that network. … In other words, I’d love to see them drop it, but I don’t think I’d legislate it.

Gee, thanks Carl!  No doubt tears of gratitude should be running down our cheeks.  If you’ve ever wondered what kind of “progress” people are talking about in the context of “progressive” politicians like Levin, now you know.  When it comes to realizing that there’s no such thing as freedom of speech unless it applies to people who don’t think just like him, Levin doesn’t have a clue .  It was obvious enough almost 100 years ago, and to a Marxist, no less, but apparently Levin is a slow learner.

And what of Limbaugh?  The Left, in one of their signature fits of contrived virtuous indignation, is trying to silence him for a remark about a woman that pales to utter insignificance in comparison to the misogynistic bile their own paladins have poured on conservative women.  Why does it matter?  Because, whether you like his politics or not, Limbaugh has probably done more for genuine freedom of speech than anyone else in this country since H. L. Mencken resigned as editor of the American Mercury.  Before Limbaugh came along, individuals could say pretty much whatever they wanted.  However, the mainstream media had a virtual monopoly on what a Marxist like Luxemburg might call the “social means of communication.”  In other words, they controlled the “voices” that could actually be heard by a significant audience, and they saw to it that the ideological message that voice promoted had a relentless slant to the left.  Limbaugh was the first to succeed in making a genuine crack in that monopoly.  His lead was followed by numerous other conservative talk show hosts, and, eventually, Foxnews.

The country is better off for it.  Thanks to Limbaugh and others like him, freedom of speech really means something in this country.  Compare our situation with that of any major country in Europe, and you’ll begin to understand why there’s reason to be grateful.  Consider Germany, for example.  I happen to follow the media there rather closely.  They have big media on the “right,” like the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and big media on the “left,” like Der Spiegel, but they have nothing like Limbaugh or Foxnews.  As a result, the message as far as anything that really matters is concerned is surprisingly uniform.

For example, anti-Americanism in the media there expands and subsides, much as it does in other European countries.  During the most recent extreme, from about the last few years of the Clinton Administration through the first few years of the Bush Administration, anti-American hate reached truly astounding levels.  Occasionally, it was hard to find any German news on Der Spiegel’s website because the available space was all taken up with ranting diatribes against the evil Americans.   It didn’t matter whether you read Der Spiegel, or boulevard mags like Stern, or wannabees like Focus, or the FAZ on the moderate right, or the Deutsche National Zeitung on the brown-shirted fringe, or even if you only watched the news on TV.  The relentless, mindless anti-American bile was everywhere.

To their credit, a good number of Germans tried to push back.  Unfortunately, the only “voice” they had was a few little blogs.  So it is with most major ideological issues.  There are nuances and differences in tone between the “left” and the “right,” but the overall message is surprisingly uniform, particularly in the broadcast media.  Limbaugh put an end to that in this country.  When there is a slant to the news, it is immediately called out and recognized as such by loud and strong voices, regardless of whether it happens to be to the left or the right.  Hack politicians like Levin have always found that kind of genuine freedom uncomfortable.

One could cite many examples of the allergic reaction of the old media in Europe to the possibility that anyone who doesn’t “think right” might be heard by a significant audience.  The recent vicious “legal” persecution of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands comes to mind.  In the UK, the old media used their political water boys to resist erosion of their control of the message by Fox News, and Iranian Press TV was banned for “breaching the broadcasting code.”  They cheered loudly when the government went to the extreme of banning 16 people with some semblance of a public voice, including US radio talk show host Michael Savage, from entering the country.  If nothing else, Savage would have been a useful anodyne against the BBC’s relentless slanting of the news against Israel.  The UK once allowed pacifists a voice in her public media even as her troops were being evacuated from Dunkirk and she fought on alone against Hitler.  Obviously, times have changed.

In a word, be happy if Rush Limbaugh really irritates you.  If you can still hear him it means there’s still some semblance of freedom of speech in this country.

 

A Shooting and a Narrative

There is no such thing as news.  There is only narrative.  The significance of most of what passes for news is derived from the attention the media pays to it rather than its intrinsic importance.  A case in point is the remarkable, ongoing obsession of the news media on both the left and right with the shootings in Arizona.  In this case the feeding frenzy was set in motion by the left.  Even though there have obviously always been people on both ends of the spectrum who have no life outside of politics, I was still taken aback by their desperate attempts to seize on this issue like so many drowning men grasping at straws.  Evidently their resounding defeat in November was even more galling than I imagined.  They made no secret of the fact that they were waiting with bated breath for some incident they could construe as evidence of the “violent nature” of the Tea Party movement, conservative talk radio, and the rest of their pet bogeymen.  They admitted as much. As their reaction to the shootings makes clear, they were very eager indeed. They’re acting for all the world like so many Communists marching behind the coffin of a murdered “martyr” in days gone by. All that’s missing is the red flags.

Some examples of their overwrought reaction can be found here, here, and here, all based on zero evidence that there was any link whatsoever between the shooter and the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, or anyone else on the right. The “objective” CNN even went so far as to write a panegyric of Sheriff Dupnik, now infamous for his ham-handed attempts at political exploitation of the murders, as the soul of wisdom, complete down to everything but his birth in a log cabin.  I doubt we’ll be seeing more of the same from those quarters, as in the meantime the good sheriff has been giving off such a stench that even the stalwarts of the left have begun holding their noses.

The left’s seizing at this particular straw was, obviously, ill-considered.  Other than not bothering to come up with any evidence to back up their accusations, only to find out after the fact that there was none, they set their own hypocrisy on a pedestal for the right to take pot shots at.  After all, the left doesn’t commonly engage its opponents in reasoned discourse.  Its forte’s have always been demonization, virtuous indignation, and a style of “eliminationist rhetoric” all its own.  They gave the other side a perfect opportunity to point that out, as they did with relish, for example, here, here and here.

There is little that can demonstrate the extent to which the left overshot its mark in its crudely insensitive attempts to exploit the Arizona deaths and the grave wounding of Gabrielle Giffords than the reaction of the foreign media.  Germany’s for example, is usually reliably leftist, often taking its talking points directly from the New York Times.  It is all the more remarkable that the Washington correspondent of Der Spiegel, Marc Hujer, penned an article entitled “America’s Insane Debate,” in which he wrote, among other things, 

The very people who got so upset about the tone of debate in the past year, about the rhetoric of the Tea Party, the harsh words of the Right, the unabashed caricatures of Obama as Hitler, are now poisoning the debate themselves with shameless insinuations. Without learning the facts, they seek the guilty behind the attack, and commonly find them on the right, in the Tea Party, in Republican Party chief Michael Steele and Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin.

The language chosen by Sarah Palin and other Tea Partiers was doubtless raw and over the top, but doesn’t come close to providing any proof for the claim that they motivated the shootings in Arizona. Indeed, what is known about the shooter at this point gives no indication that he is a member of the Tea Party movement, or a fan of Palin, or that he has any clear political convictions at all. His favorite books included the Communist Manifesto, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and Peter Pan, a weird collection. However, there is no indication that his act was motivated by politics.

The massive criticism directed at Sarah Palin is delusional, and not just because it’s a baseless accusation. The attempt to weaken Palin in this way could accomplish the opposite.

That’s strong stuff coming from a source that’s usually reliably critical of the right, in the U.S. as well as in Germany.  The left in this country might do well to take heed for their own good.  Perhaps more worrisome than their baseless accusations is what they propose as a cure; a further dismantling of the Bill of Rights.  In this case their targets are the first and second amendments to the Constitution.  If the history of the last hundred years is any guide, we have more reason than ever before to continue to fight against any diminishing of those rights.

“Net Neutrality” Pro and Con

Here’s the pro:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/timothy-karr/obama-fcc-caves-on-net-ne_b_799435.html

and here’s the con:

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/255734/fcc-regulators-turn-their-eyes-internet-randolph-j-may

Both articles are useful if you happen to be a knee-jerk liberal or conservative looking for another board to nail onto the ideological box you live in.  They’re not so useful if you’re actually interested in understanding the issue of Internet regulation.  Both share a common feature of most of the articles that turn up on the Internet about topics that hit people’s ideological hot buttons.  Their authors talk right past each other. 

I used to like the New Republic back in the day when Andrew Sullivan was editor because its authors had the endearing trait of identifying and taking issue with their opponents’ most important arguments head on.  Meanwhile, Sullivan has drifted off into the la-la land of Palin Derangement Syndrome, the New Republic has morphed into a dull version of the Nation, and that kind of writing has become increasingly difficult to find. 

Meanwhile, I haven’t found any “Net Neutrality for Dummies” articles that are worth reading.  If you’re really interested in developing an informed opinion, I hope you like reading thick drafts of official documents.

Criticism, Self-criticism, and Thoughtcrime

Certain psychological types seem to persist across cultures.  For example, here is Stalin in a letter to writer and journalist Maxim Gorky:

We cannot do without self-criticism. We simply cannot, Alexei Maximovich. Without it, stagnation, corruption of the apparatus, growth of bureaucracy, sapping of the creative initiative of the working class, is inevitable. I know there are people in the ranks of the party who have no fondness for criticism in general, and for self-criticism in particular. Those people, whom I might call “skin-deep” communists… shrug their shoulders at self-criticism, as much as to say: … again this raking out of our shortcomings – can’t we be allowed to live in peace!

Of course, there were limits on the Communists’ fondness for self-criticism.  When Gorky criticized them in his paper Novaia zhizn’ (New Life) for their brutal excesses immediately after their seizure of power, they shut him down, and he was lucky to get away with his life. 

Here’s a similar bit from another variant of the worker’s paradise, Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution.  It’s from the book Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang, and describes the author’s experiences in one of the “self-criticism” sessions the Communists used to terrorize both adults and children (the author was 12 years old at the time).  She had called one of her friends by a nickname, and been overheard by one of the school bullies, who appropriately belonged to the “Red Successors,” a younger version of the Red Guards.  He dressed her down as follows:

It isn’t simply a matter of calling people by nicknames. It’s a matter of your looking down on working-class people… This is connected with your class standing Jiang Ji-li. You should reflect on your class origin and thoroughly remold your ideology… You’d better think seriously about your problems.

Moving right along to our own time, we find Greg Sargent addressing some similarly charming comments to Juan Williams in a column that appeared in the Washington Post.  Williams, you may recall, was just fired by NPR for what George Orwell once called Thoughtcrime.  Quoting from Sargent’s article:

The problem, though, is that in his initial comments he didn’t clarify that the instinctual feeling itself is irrational and ungrounded, and something folks need to battle against internally whenever it rears its head. And in his subsequent comments on Fox today, Williams again conspicuously failed to make that point.

Maybe Williams does think those feelings are unacceptably irrational and need to be wrestled with, and perhaps someone should ask him more directly if he thinks that. But until he clearly states it to be the case, there’s no reason to assume he thinks we should battle those feelings and work to delegitimize them.

Far be it for me to suggest that Sargent has anything at all in common with Stalin or Mao, or that his thought is otherwise anything but politically correct.  I merely suggest, based on admittedly anecdotal evidence, that there seem to be some psychological commonalities in human types that persist across cultures.  Apparently others have noticed the same thing.  Jim Treacher’s take in a piece he wrote for the Daily Caller was somewhat more emphatic:

It’s true, I haven’t heard Juan Williams call for the abolition of all crimethink. Thank goodness we have Greg Sargent of the Washington Post to remind us what’s permissible to think. Not what’s permissible to act on, or even to say aloud, but to think. How can we all be free if people are allowed to think in unapproved ways?

“Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime is death.”

A College Professor Licks Boot

Apparently VDH isn’t the only one to feel the wrath of the secular priesthood lately.  Inside Higher Ed gives us a foretaste of what freedom of speech will look like once we have achieved “human flourishing.”  Here’s the blurb;

Eau Claire Professor Facing Punishment for Anti-Gay E-Mail

Administrators at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire say they will punish a professor who sent an e-mail discouraging students there from holding a gay film festival because he decries “attempts to legitimize (homosexuals’) addictions and compulsions,” the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported. The student had sent an e-mail to a group of employees last month asking for faculty support in publicizing the Eau Queer Film Festival, a new event that took place last week. In reply, the newspaper said, Tom Hilton, chairman of the university’s information systems department, sent what university administrators characterized as a “hurtful and condescending” reply, saying that gay people, “our fellow humans, deserve our best efforts to help them recover their lives. We only hurt them further when we choose to pretend that these walking wounded are OK the way they are, that their present injuries are the best they can hope for in life.” Hilton told the Telegram Leader that he had worded his e-mail “very badly” and said that he was sorry and would cooperate if the university punishes him.

Charming! If only he’d asked for the “Supreme Measure of Punishment” it would have been a perfect caricature of one of Stalin’s show trials, with the unfortunate professor in the role of a Trotskyite.  As Instapundit puts it, “Academia, where dissent flourishes.” When the grab bag of evolved human emotions we share with other animals, and collectively refer to as Morality, are jury-rigged to run modern human societies, whether university systems or states, this sort of abject groveling must be the inevitable result.  The process of natural selection culminating in human moral behavior never took into account the fact that liberty and freedom of speech might someday be critical to our survival, allowing us to grope towards finding a way to accommodate  behavioral traits that evolved hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago in small groups of hunter-gatherers to modern societies that are utterly alien to that primitive world.   Good never comes without Evil, and rulers who would defend the Good must punish the Evil that threatens it.  In our day that Evil comes in the form of heresy, the expression of opinions that are out of step with the prevailing moral paradigm.  Perfect morality implies perfect tyranny.

Would you learn more about how humans can be made to grovel and live on the intellectual level of ants?  You need look no further than the morality-based utopias of the past and present.  Read, for example, Roy Medvedev’s account of Stalinism in Let History Judge, or Yuan Gao’s account of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, or observe the behavior of the current population of North Korea, or consider the manner in which dignified professors in academia are made to crawl on their bellies.  Those societies are the real face of morality-based “human flourishing.”  I personally don’t consider them immoral.  I have no objective standard on which to base such a judgment.  As an individual, however, I would prefer not to live in one of them.  If there are other individuals who agree with me, it would behoove us to consider how we might best live together in the future in societies that account for moral behavior, but don’t enshrine it.

Censorship in Philadelphia

The Internet has no equal as an enabler of Freedom of Speech. It provides access to public media to rich and poor alike, regardless of whether some publisher thinks he can make a profit from their work or not. Or at least it does outside of Philadelphia. The benevolent government there has decided to tax Freedom of Speech out of existence, or at least the Freedom of Speech of the little people who can’t afford it. You see, if you have any of those little display ads on your site, you’re in a “business for profit.” No matter that it costs money to maintain a website, and not one in a thousand of the sites that hosts the ads rakes in more than a fraction of that cost as “profit.” You still have to pay a “business privilege license” fee of $300. And, oh, by the way, you also have to bear the cost of documenting every penny of your income and expenses, because otherwise the city will just assume your income is pure profit, and tax that, too. It’s kind of like the “Fairness Doctrine,” but on a smaller scale and without the charade.

The “Israeli” Jack the Knife; Lying by Omission

I read four or five accounts of the arrest of serial killer Elias Abuelazam in the local and national mainstream media, and in none of them was he identified as other than an “Israeli.” Apparently the editors thought the fact that he happens to be an Arab Christian, and not a Jew, didn’t fit the narrative was not significant enough to mention. These people seem to believe they can still play the same games they did back in the 60’s and 70’s when they had an effective monopoly as gatekeepers of public information. It’s as if they haven’t noticed that times have changed, and there are now powerful alternative voices that will nail them every time. They keep losing credibility and market share, but it just doesn’t seem to matter to them. Perhaps they’ve finally tired of the “objectivity” charade, and have decided to content themselves with preaching to the choir.