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September 2012

The Cost of Purity

Or, Less Information is a Good Thing in an Argument, Yes?

From Theodore Dalrymple’s latest collection of essays, Farewell Fear. On dictatorial urges:

It is difficult now to imagine a modern university intellectual saying something as simple and unequivocal as “I disagree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.” He would be more likely to think, if not actually to say out loud or in public, “I disagree with what you say and therefore rationalise to the death my right to suppress it.” In public, he would be more circumspect, presenting a suppression of freedom as an actual increase in freedom; that is to say of real freedom, not the kind the leaves everyone free to sleep under a bridge. But he would know perfectly well in his heart that what he was after was power: the greatest power of all, that to shape, mould and colour indelibly the thought of others, a power to which he believes that he has a right by virtue of his superior intellect, training and zeal for the public good. 

Actually, some of our budding intellectuals do declare their censorious urges out loud and in public, as if such urges confirmed their own unassailable righteousness: “We no longer need to listen,” say these mighty radical thinkers. Nor will they permit others to listen to ideas and arguments they, our betters, deem improper - on our behalf, of course. 

Recently, I was reading for review a book by a woman, a “resident scholar in the Women’s Studies Research Centre at Brandeis University,” about the problem of ‘ageism’ in America… What is so striking to me about the author’s proposals for dealing with the problem is that she does not recognise that they conflict with freedom, and pose problems for the rule of law... If I wish to employ someone but cannot hire whomever I choose, for whatever reason that I choose, whether good or bad, I am not free: I must hire according to criteria that are not my own. The author might certainly argue that her goals are more important than that of freedom, and that fairness in one sense or another, in one field or another, is now more precious than freedom; but it is at the very least necessary to recognise that one is subordinating freedom to some other desideratum, or one will end with tyranny by default, as each enthusiast or monomaniac seeks to curtail freedom in his pursuit of his favoured goal. 

Very rarely do we find someone who is a university intellectual saying that “X is indeed a desirable goal, even a highly desirable goal, but the cost to freedom of achieving it is simply too great.” It would be an excellent thing in the abstract if no-one ever drank to excess (much less violence, cirrhosis, etc.), but a system of surveillance in homes to ensure that no-one did so would be odiously tyrannous. The author of the book to which I have referred would like to have all ‘ageist’ language expunged from films, radio, books, daily speech and even minds, on the grounds that many people have felt humiliated by it, that it reinforces stereotypes, and that stereotypes lead to bad treatment of the old. Even if this were empirically true (which might be doubted), what is being demanded as a principle here is language so anodyne that it could offend no-one, lead to no stereotyping, etc., for there is no reason to limit the cleansing of language to ageism. The attempt to rid the world of stereotyping is as totalitarian as it is in theory incoherent: for of course it relies upon the stereotyping of stereotypers, namely all of us. Show me a man without stereotypes and I will show you a man in a coma. But mere impossibility has never stopped intellectuals from proposing their schemes. 

The eliminationist zeal of much leftist rhetoric has been noted here more than once. Some of you will have seen this recent pantomime of activism – invoking “free speech” as a right to silence others - and its censorious consequences. Apparently, when the subways “belong to the 99%” no-one will be offended. Because controversy will not be allowed and then, hey, we’ll be happy. Some readers may remember the experiments in thought correction at Delaware University, where an acclaimed and coercive programme of “social justice education” was described by its proponents as a “treatment” – one intended to “leave a mental footprint on [students’] consciousness.” Others may recall Tufts University’s perversely named Islamic Awareness Week, which led to institutional censorship and denial of reality, with factual statements – none of which were challenged - being outlawed as “harassment.” 

Continue reading "The Cost of Purity" »

Friday Ephemera

This man is standing awfully close to a cascade of lava. // For ladies who fight crime. Or commit crime, stylishly. // Click then focus. (h/t, Brian Micklethwait) // A camera falls from space. // 30 metre whale kite. // Body modification, it’s not for everyone. // Curvature compensation and virtual anatomy. // Performing routine tasks with no arms. // Volcanic Iceland. // At last, off-the-shelf ready-peeled bananas. // It’s a belt buckle, it’s a beer holder. // Pig swing. (h/t, EBD) // How to remove a fish hook from your finger. // Morbid curiosities found in old newspapers. // Miniature New York deli, 21” long. // A monkey on a goat on a cup on a tightrope.

Elsewhere (73)

Thomas Sowell on tax and dogmatism

There was a time when Democrats and Republicans alike could talk sense about tax rates, in terms of what is best for the economy, without demagoguery about “tax cuts for the rich.” Democratic presidents Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy spoke plainly about the fact that higher tax rates on individuals and businesses did not automatically translate into higher tax revenues for the government. Beyond some point, high tax rates on those with high incomes simply led to those incomes being invested in tax-free bonds, with the revenue from those bonds being completely lost to the government - and the investments lost to the economy.

As President John F. Kennedy put it, “it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.” This was because investors’ “efforts to avoid tax liabilities” make “certain types of less productive activity more profitable than more valuable undertakings,” and this in turn “inhibits our growth and efficiency.” Both Democratic president Woodrow Wilson and Republican presidents Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush said virtually the same thing. This disconnect between higher tax rates and higher tax revenues is not peculiar to the United States. Iceland and India both collected more tax revenue after tax rates were cut. In Iceland the corporate tax rate was cut from 45 percent to 18 percent between 1991 and 2001 - and the revenue from corporate taxes tripled at the lower rate.

Related, this

You can only confiscate the wealth that exists at a given moment. You cannot confiscate future wealth - and that future wealth is less likely to be produced when people see that it is going to be confiscated.

A point that seems to have escaped the New Statesman’s class warrior Peter Tatchell. [Added via Anna in the comments.] 

And Heather Mac Donald on the parallel universe of campus ‘diversity’ spending:

The creation of a massive diversity bureaucracy to police the faculty for bias against women and “underrepresented minorities” can be justified only if there is evidence that the faculty need such policing. No one has yet presented a single example of UC San Diego’s faculty discriminating against a highly ranked female or URM candidate because of skin colour or gender. The opposite is of course the case: female and URM PhDs enjoy enormous advantages in the hiring market at UCSD and everywhere else.

As Mac Donald noted previously, UC San Diego has to scrape by with only the most skeletal diversity apparatus, including, 

The Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Centre, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Centre, and the Women’s Centre.

Clearly, that just won’t do. Catering to students’ colossal self-involvement is a full-time job. For at least 18 people. At one university. 

Feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments. 

Answers On a Postcard, Please

Perry de Havilland spies a whisper of presumption at a certain newspaper:

David Leigh thinks that broadband needs to be taxed to keep him in his job at the Guardian.

No, he’s not joking. After all, nobody loses money quite like the Guardian. You see, the left’s national newspaper is so good, and so necessary to the turning of the world, you must be forced to pay for it whether you read it or not. It’s what righteous people do. £100 million a year should just about cover it, according to Mr Leigh. Other Guardianistas have of course suggested similar measures.

And yes, it’s because they matter – sorry, care - so very, very much.

Friday Ephemera

How to levitate liquid with sound. // How to make a hot glass horse in no time at all. // Luminous dog leashes for walkies after dark. // How deep is your swimming pool? // Puffer fish carve geometric patterns in sand. All for lady puffer fish. // Prism glasses for tilted reading. // Buddhabrot. // Chocolate beer milkshake. // For readers who tire of humdrum carpeting. // Made of cardboard. // Fedor Yurchikhin’s snapshots from space. // An index of unused airfields. (h/t, Things) // Leftist teachers taking liberties, part 4,023. // The complete Indoctrinate U. (h/t, Mike) // Prisons and opera houses. // Liquid nitrogen meets 1,500 ping pong balls

Elsewhere (72)

Steven Pinker on collective delusion and dissent:

We look at these horrors retrospectively and we say, “How could everyone have been so… mad? On top of being evil, these ideas seem patently ludicrous. How can you have a collective delusion overtaking an entire society?” And it looks like one of the answers is, if dissenters are punished and can anticipate they’re going to be punished, then you might have a situation where no-one actually believes something but everyone believes that everyone else believes it, and therefore no-one is willing to be the little boy that says the emperor is naked. And this pluralistic ignorance, as it’s sometimes called, is easily implemented when you have the punishing or censoring of unpopular views.

Alan Charles Kors on speech codes, groupthink and the decline of the humanities:

I guarantee you that Reason [magazine] published on a campus would be defunded and that you’d be up on harassment charges every other week… I have always voted to hire people who think radically differently from myself, who are asking questions that I wouldn’t ask. The problem is that a lot of those people wish to clone themselves in their department and see voices that are dissident to their own orthodoxies as uncollegial… If you’re taking a course, the goal of which is to make you understand that you have false consciousness, that you don’t understand the way in which America has brainwashed and mystified your mind, and which has given us a faculty that thinks of its primary goal as the demystification of students who have been brainwashed and given false consciousness by consumer capitalist America, that is not of intellectual value. They are contributing to the very crisis of the humanities that they are bemoaning. 

And so, for instance, the Marxist pseudo-philosopher Nina Power rails against the “ideological devastation of the education system” and demands more public subsidy for Marxist pseudo-philosophers, while telling us that “everyone is equally intelligent” because, well, they just are. Of course one shouldn’t assume such people are interested in logic, reality or the testing of ideas, certainly not their own, despite all the blather about “critical thinking.” What they’re interested in – and determined to have more of – is power. Ideally expressed by making students credulous, conformist and pretentiously resentful

And Thomas Sowell on government interference, irrational taxes and how to create an economic crisis:  

To be a masterful politician you have to have a lot of brass. It takes an incredible amount of brass for Bill Clinton, who was the biggest factor in creating the housing boom that led to the bust that brought down the whole economy, [to blame Republicans for that crisis]. It was during the Clinton administration that the federal government forced lenders to change their lending standards, which had been in place for decades and had made real estate one of the safest investments around, to bring those standards down in order that they could get the numbers that they wanted for low income, minority mortgage applicants. Attorney General Janet Reno, under Clinton, threatened lenders with legal action from the Justice Department if their numbers - in terms of minority groups and income levels of people who were approved - didn’t fit her preconceptions. The Housing and Urban Development programme, under Clinton, made law suits against lenders, charging them with racial discrimination based solely upon statistics. The government was forcing people to lower the lending standards that had existed for years, and [afterwards] they said, “Well, the problem was greed.” You don’t satisfy greed by lending to people who can’t pay you back. 

Feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments.

The Pure Ones Will Guide Us

Novelist Joan Brady is outraged. So much so she felt compelled to share her indignation with Guardian readers:

In 1993 I became the first woman to win the Whitbread Prize, and it changed my life. Money! One winner blew it all on a swimming pool for the family’s French villa. Not me. Mine paid off my debts: there are few joys in life to beat clearing the slate.

Yes, I know. Bear with me. The outrage is coming.

I suppose I should have given some thought to where the money came from. I didn’t.

What, pray, was the source of this dirty, dirty money that freed Ms Brady from debt? A company that promotes cock fighting, orphan hunts or live kitten peeling?

The shortlist was awarded at the Whitbread brewery – which meant I could hardly avoid knowing it had something to do with beer – but how was I to know that Whitbread saw the whole excitement as just an advertising gimmick?

Yes, trembling readers. A brewery chain. And in return for their chunk of cash Whitbread hoped for some… publicity. The fiends. Brewery chains, it seems, don’t in fact exist solely for the benefit of Guardian-reading novelists. And it gets worse.

I didn’t learn the truth until a few years ago, when a transformation took place in some distant boardroom. Whitbread, a vast multinational corporation,


had just acquired the coffee business set up in Lambeth by Bruno and Sergio Costa, and with pubs declining, coffee looked like the future of the hospitality business.

Beer and coffee. And hospitality. Will the depravities never end? No wonder Ms Brady feels morally soiled. 

Literature is supposed to be independent...

Of what, economics? Isn’t winning a large cash prize - say, around £30,000 - a way to be independent, to write more books – and to pay off one’s debts? 

It’s supposed to be a statement of an individual view of the world, not a corporate tactic… Costa is strong-arming its multinational way into small towns and villages all over Britain.

Yes, even in Totnes, Devon, where, Ms Brady tells us, not everyone is happy about the new arrivals. Especially, and unsurprisingly, other coffee shop proprietors

Corporate juggernauts mowing down local communities is a part of modern life. Powerful, ubiquitous international brands that are convenient and familiar but dull as hell: that same smell, that same taste, that same plasticky look and feel. This kind of commerce has nothing to do with the lives of people except to chew them up and spit them out.

They’re selling coffee, remember. Which people choose to buy, having walked in voluntarily. So far as I’m aware, Costa doesn’t employ press gangs of burly men to prowl the streets in search of coffee-drinking prey, while armed with clubs, tasers and heavy nets. 

Continue reading "The Pure Ones Will Guide Us" »

Friday Ephemera

Coital amusement boxes and other vintage erotic toys. // He can do this faster than you can. // “Ulric Collette explores the genetic, visual similarities of family members.” // Danish rabbit hopping championships. // Dubai from above. // Irridescent berries. // Make your own rockabilly Batman cowl. // Squid car. // Where planes are right about now. // People waiting for a tube train. // Paris, 1914. (h/t, drb) // Apple pie moonshine. // Symmetrical portraits. // Chart of note. // “The Monthly Exorcist is a defence against the aggressive promotion of magic and occultism.” // How to streak at a sporting event and get away with it.

Burglars Have Feelings Too

Thanks to Dan at Monday Books, I discovered that Theodore Dalrymple now has a regular column called The Hilarious Pessimist. One to bookmark, I think. 

Here’s a taste:

The arrest of a couple in Melton Mowbray for shooting at four burglars, wounding two of them slightly, drew the following comment from Pam Posnett, councillor for Melton North: “I feel sorry for the residents who were put in this position, I also have sympathy for the people who broke in, in so far as how the situation was handled…” Was Pam Posnett thinking of her electoral chances when she said this, calculating that there were at least as many criminals in Melton North as ordinary householders, and that therefore it was advisable for her not to come too firmly down on the side of householders against burglars? Even more alarming, however, was the manner in which she expressed herself… Nothing corrupts (or bores) so completely as the passive voice, and Pam Posnett speaks of people being put in situations, and of situations that were handled, as if no one were doing either the putting or the handling. Thus there is nothing to choose, morally, between the putters and the handlers, for all is a matter of fate, not action.

Incidentally, a new collection of essays by the good doctor appeared in my mailbox earlier this week. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so I can’t tell you that it’s good. Just that I expect it will be.