Quotas are intrinsically divisive and discriminatory (in the worst possible sense) because the number of categories into which humanity can be divided is infinite: only some categories, therefore, can be favoured, leaving others resentful and liable to seek political redress as their supposed salvation. Quotas therefore not only politicise life but embitter political life itself. They formalise favouritism, thus reinforcing the very problem they are meant to solve. They necessarily inflate the role of government, for someone has to enforce them. Before long, the demand for equality (of a kind) undermines freedom because private associations are no longer able to make the rules they wish, a necessary condition for a truly liberal society in which government is not overweening or preponderant. The imposition of quotas is founded on the belief that everyone is a bigot unless forced by administrative fiat to be otherwise.
On a similar theme, Thomas Sowell on “fairness” and cultivated idiocy:
The front page of a local newspaper in northern California featured the headline The Promise Denied, lamenting the under-representation of women in computer engineering. The continuation of this long article on an inside page had the headline Who is to Blame for This? In other words, the fact that reality does not match the preconceptions of the intelligentsia shows that there is something wrong with reality, for which somebody must be blamed. Apparently their preconceptions cannot be wrong.
One of my constituents once complained to the Beeb about a report on the repression of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, in which the government was labelled right-wing. The governing party, he pointed out, was a member of the Socialist International and, again, the give-away was in its name: Institutional Revolutionary Party. The BBC’s response was priceless. Yes, it accepted that the party was socialist, “but what our correspondent was trying to get across was that it is authoritarian.”
Professor Lakoff uses the term ‘progressive’ freely. Now there is a framing metaphor if ever there was one. What person of goodwill could possibly be against progress, that is to say betterment of the human condition? So if you are a person in favour of progress – in short, a progressive – only the malevolent could disagree with you.
However, there is a rather large question begged here, namely ‘What is progress?’ There is rarely gain without loss, and loss can easily exceed gain. Human action has unintended and unforeseen consequences, sometimes beneficial, often not. Progress in society is not the same as progress in internet speeds… It is possible for reasonable people to disagree… Yet Professor Lakoff seems to use the term ‘progressive’ as if those he calls progressives brought about progress ex officio, as it were, merely by virtue of their self-designation. This is a form of magical thinking.
I’m reminded of the modesty of Mr George Monbiot, a man who also deploys the word ‘progressive’ as if it were a talisman, and who dismisses his political opponents as dullards struggling with “low intelligence” and racial phobias.
These posters and drawing hardly seem to be the stuff of Voltairian pamphlets. They do not renew the liberal flames in me. What should inspire one, though, is the response to them. It is alarming that our national media feels that it cannot publish a drawing of a cartoon man for fear of violent reprisals. If people are scared to show innocuous cartoons, how might they react to a novel that may provoke controversy, or to academic research that might inspire outrage? …If, indeed, Rory Bremner is scared to joke, or Grayson Perry to make art, how many commentators, novelists and scholars have allowed their thoughts to be repressed?
In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.” To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism.
As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments.
Feminism is not an idea or a collection of ideas but a collection of appetites wriggling queasily together like a bag of snakes… A useful definition is this: “Feminism is the words ‘I Want!’ in the mouths of three or more women, provided they’re the right kind of women.” Feminism must therefore accommodate wildly incompatible propositions - e.g., (1) Women unquestionably belong alongside men in Marine units fighting pitched battles in Tora Bora, but (2) really should not be expected to be able to perform three chin-ups. Or: (1) Women at Columbia are empowered by pornography, but (2) women at Wellesley are victimised by a statue of a man sleepwalking in his Shenanigans. And then there is Fluke’s Law: (1) Women are responsible moral agents with full sexual and economic autonomy who (2) must be given an allowance, like children, when it comes to contraceptives.
Enrol in a college you can’t afford. Take really easy, fun courses [e.g., Politicizing Beyoncé, or The Sociology of Hip-Hop: The Theodicy of Jay-Z]. Don’t worry about marketable skills. Blame society for the consequences (unemployment) of your attitude problem. Then demand the government (or your parents) bail you out. We guarantee you all the misery you could ever want.
The extreme egoism of communist leaders is a trait displayed throughout the history of the movement since Marx’s ridiculous insistence that only his socialism was “scientific.” Yet such is Jesse Myerson’s egoism that he imagines himself superior even to Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. At least they had the integrity to admit that the abolition of private property — the expropriation of the bourgeoisie — could only be accomplished by violent revolution, and that the victors of such a revolution would have to employ the methods of violent terror to establish their dictatorship.
Ponder the graph above. Sixty-nine per cent of Labour supporters would want a top rate tax of 50 per cent even if it brought in no money… This is a blog about the mind-set of people who see taxation, not as an unpleasant necessity, but as a way to punish others.
Should Benedict Cumberbatch say sorry for the slave owners in his family?
Not current family members, you understand. So far as I’m aware, Mr Cumberbatch doesn’t have some weird cousin with strangers chained up in the cellar. No, we have to project our agonising backwards in time, past parents and grandparents, and great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents – past centuries of people who are themselves strangers:
A newly appointed city commissioner in New York, Stacey Cumberbatch, told the New York Times last week that she believed British actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s fifth great-grandfather owned her ancestors on an 18th-century sugar plantation in Barbados. They “are related,” the newspaper noted, “if not by blood, then by geography and the complicated history of the slave trade.”
Which is to say, actually, not related at all.
The Cumberbatch case involves two high-profile individuals and so has had media attention, but these questions concern us all.
I suspect opinions on that point may differ.
For as long as structural inequalities persist, we cannot overlook how far the tentacles of history might reach into the present. The real challenge is to recognise, and address, how much the privileges of the past continue to benefit some, and wrong others, today.
We “cannot overlook” these things, you see; we must “address” them and weigh our privilege. Some more than others, it seems. So says the woman who gets paid to invent esoteric problems and then fret at length in print. But those “tentacles of history,” through which our “collective responsibility” is supposedly transmitted – and with it, lots of lovely, lovely guilt - reach an awfully long way, across continents, cultures and all manner of events. From the theft of sheep and chickens, and subsequent hangings, to all kinds of nepotism, tribal slaughter, imperial invasions and counter-invasions, the extinction of fluffy creatures and high seas piracy. It therefore isn’t entirely clear why an accountant’s line should be drawn so confidently at any given point, as opposed to any other given point. If the objective here is to search out some vicarious moral contamination, surely we should be thorough? If the game is genealogical guilt, why stick to mere centuries? We’ve all of history to play with. And what if a single family line includes both slaves and owners, lords and labourers, inventors of vaccines and kickers of kittens? What kind of retrospective moral arithmetic will untangle those knots?
California is running out of things in the present to tax, and its future does not look terribly bright, so it has resorted to taxing the past. A combination of judicial shenanigans and legislative incompetence resulted in California’s reneging on tax incentives that had been offered to some businesses — and then demanding the retroactive payment of taxes for which businesses had never been legally liable. Small-business owners, some of whom had sold their businesses years ago, suddenly got demands for taxes running well into the six figures. And, California being California, it had the gall to charge those businesses interest on taxes they had never owed.
We found all of the students who participated in our survey to be very bright and articulate. If they did not know the answer to any of the questions we posed, it is because they were never taught it in public school.
[Jonathan Rauch] talks about the idea of an offendedness sweepstakes. That essentially, if you make the argument that “I’m offended” is the ultimate trump card on what people are allowed to say, you shouldn’t be surprised that the standard for being offended gets lower and lower and lower. It’s only human nature that if you have a trick that lets you win any argument, you’re going to play it.
Lukianoff provides some vivid examples of this manoeuvre. If you want to see the kinds of people to whom it appeals, see also this.
Banksy is a cartoonist and social commentator whose works appear on buildings, bridges, and other constructions rather than in newspapers or in The New Yorker. He has turned himself into a Scarlet Pimpernel figure, whose aversion to public appearances has proved the best possible publicity. His work is often witty and pointed, though his choice of targets for satire is purely conventional and precisely what one might expect of a privileged member of the intellectual middle classes. Only in his manner of proceeding is he truly original. In other respects, his work seems that of a clever adolescent — one who is now approaching middle age.
Readers who followed this recent thread on Margaret Thatcher and her critics may enjoy Martin Durkin’s documentary, available on 4oD here, Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary. Durkin’s film not only offers a useful history lesson, it’s also a nimble shredding of quite a few leftist myths. Its highlights include contributions from Madsen Pirie, who really ought to be on TV more often, and some comically disingenuous squirming by Mary Warnock and Neil Kinnock. During the Kinnock interviews, pay close attention to Durkin’s right eyebrow. A lot can be said with an eyebrow.
The woes of being leftwing and insufficiently black.
One needn’t be a cartoon Tory to marvel at Decca Aitkenhead’s classic Guardian piece Their Homophobia is Our Fault, in which she insisted that the “precarious, over-exaggerated masculinity” and murderous homophobia of some Jamaican reggae stars are products of the “sodomy of male slaves by their white owners.” And that the “vilification of Jamaican homophobia implies… a failure to accept post-colonial politics.” Thus, sympathetic readers could feel guilty not only for “vilifying” the homicidal sentiments of some Jamaican musicians, but also for the culpability of their own collective ancestors. One wonders how those gripped by this fiendish dilemma could even begin to resolve their twofold feelings of shame. It’s important to understand these are not just lapses in logic or random fits of insincerity; these outpourings are displays – of class and moral elevation. Which is why they persist, despite getting knottier and ever more absurd. Crudely summarised, it goes something like this: “I am better than you because I pretend to feel worse.”
A black man buys truffles. The Guardian is thrilled.
This “new kind of spending” - buying overpriced fungus - is much more radical than buying Rolex watches, ostentatious cars or cases of Cristal champagne. It’s a thrilling development in “black identity.”
Academic Wrongthought™ and the narrowing of minds.
A study of 24,000 students conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2010 revealed that only 30.3% of college seniors strongly agreed with the statement that, “It is safe to hold unpopular opinions on campus”… The students were downright optimistic compared to the 9,000 campus professionals surveyed. Only 18.8% strongly agreed that it was safe to hold unpopular opinions on campus... As the sociologist Diana C. Mutz discovered in her 2006 book Hearing the Other Side, those with the highest levels of education had the lowest exposure to people with conflicting points of view, while those who have not graduated from high school can claim the most diverse discussion mates. In other words, the most educated among us are also the most likely to live in the tightest echo chambers.
My local publicly-funded galleries of contemporary work, one of which is a glorified coffee shop for two dozen middle-class lefties, can be relied on to disappoint - and to go on disappointing - precisely because there’s no obvious mechanism for correction. No box office takings to fret about, no bums on seats, no ghastly commercial metrics need be considered. And so the featured artists, or pseudo-artists, can expect taxpayers to serve as patrons, whether they wish to or not, while being immune to the patron’s customary discrimination between promising art and opportunist flim-flam. The expectation that one must be exempt from base commerce, and by extension the preferences of one’s supposed audience and customers, is an arrangement that rewards and encourages the peddling of drek. Yet Liz Forgan and her Arts Council associates would have us believe that an interest in visual culture, music, etc., should coincide with an urge to make others pay for whatever it is that tickles you, or for whatever is deemed to improve the species by Liz Forgan and her colleagues, i.e., People Loftier Than Us.
Claire Berlinski on Margaret Thatcher and her loftier enemies.
When asked why intellectuals loathed her so, the theatre producer Jonathan Miller replied that it was “self-evident” – they were nauseated by her “odious suburban gentility.” The philosopher Mary Warnock deplored Thatcher’s “neat, well-groomed clothes and hair, packaged together in a way that’s not exactly vulgar, just low,” embodying “the worst of the lower-middle class.” This filled Warnock with “a kind of rage.”
There’s more, so much more, in the greatest hits. And patrons are reminded that this rickety barge is kept afloat by the kindness of strangers.