Please comment. All non-spam comments will be accepted, even if you disagree with me. Note that I sometimes post comments made here into other versions of this blog.

They’re All Wrong

August 15, 2018 Leave a comment

Some political commentators are predicting the imminent demise of New Zealand’s libertarian party, Act. And many people might be celebrating this possibility, but I’m not so sure. First, some background…

New Zealand was a bit late in entering the neoliberal revolution which was started mainly by Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK, but when we did take that route in 1984, we took a more pure and extreme path, especially compared with the highly controlled, protectionist, and socially conservative policies we had up until then.

Oddly the National Party, which is theoretically a socially conservative and more business oriented party, was replaced with a Labour government which traditionally is far more socialist, but had been hijacked by a new libertarian group. So a moderately right-oriented party practicing socialist policies was replaced by a traditionally center-left party with extreme libertarian ideas.

After the revolution started it was kept going by both parties for many years, and it is only recently that neoliberal (I’m using the words neoliberal and libertarian loosely to mean the same thing here) economic policy has been rejected because of the harm it causes.

So there was rarely a lot of room for a true libertarian party to exist, because those policies had been adopted to varying degrees by both the center-left and center-right, and now that those bigger parties have backed away from libertarian ideology there is still no great need for one because most voters don’t want libertarian economics any more.

That means that, apart from on a few occasions, Act has always struggled to exist here, just like true libertarian parties have struggled everywhere, even in the US where they might be thought to be more acceptable. In fact, it is only through an arrangement with Act’s closest ally, National, that they have any influence at all.

And Act seems to attract odd people to its ranks. Successive leaders have all been a bit eccentric, and the current leader, David Seymour, is no exception. But I quite like him in many ways because he has fresh ideas and it not too constrained by what is considered politically correct or pragmatic.

So, while I reject libertarian economic dogma (pro-privatisation, small government, low tax, user-pays, anti-intervention) in broad terms, I do recognise that there is a lot of value on some of those ideas and that the libertarian political philosophy has a place in our system.

But it is unlikely I would vote for Act, because being well to the left politically I sometimes feel like a vote for the Green party is more worth considering. But then I see some of their more outrageous policies and philosophical perspectives and I think, can I really vote for a party which supports an idea like that?

In recent times the most annoying types of Green beliefs, to me, tend to be in the area of political correctness. If you follow this blog you will know this has been a theme of recent posts and that I have “gone to war” against PC recently. This makes voting for parties on the left more difficult.

In reality, I would prefer not to vote for the right or for the left. As I have said in earlier posts, it is really a matter of choosing the least bad option, and that tends to be the center-left for me.

That’s why I think direct democracy would be a far better fit for my political philosophy. Each major issue could be voted on, and if a new idea which I like is more right oriented when I helped vote in a party of the left, I wouldn’t regret my vote (and potentially the other way around with left and right reversed).

In that way we would get a mix of policies instead of having to accept the preference of the party currently in charge. Of course, it would still come back to a popularity contest, and one where there would be no guarantee that ideas I preferred would succeed, but that’s just an inevitable consequence of living in a democracy. That can’t be avoided, unless I found a way to become supreme dictator, and governments operating on those principles haven’t been conspicuously successful in the past!

But under either a direct or representative democracy there is still a need for a mix of ideas. As well as the moderate parties of the left and right, we need the more specialist and extreme groups to be represented. That includes libertarianism, populism, environmentalism, indigenous rights, and even anarchy, neo-Marxism and – dare I say it – neo-fascism. Let all the ideas, however extreme, interact to give the best results.

So, if Act does disappear I won’t be celebrating. I think libertarian economic policy has been responsible for many of the problems the world faces today, but they also have some good ideas, especially in their support for maximum individual freedom. And every other party I know of, no matter how far from my beliefs they appear to be in theory, has some policies that I like.

In the end, in some ways they are all right. But also, they’re all wrong.

Advertisements

A Trillion is Too Much

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

I have seen a few recent comments on Apple’s latest achievement of becoming the world’s first trillion dollar company (based on stock value, or something more technical than that, maybe). Some people are impressed, but are not putting too much weight on it, because as we all know, when it comes to share value it’s easy come, easy go. Others are saying this is bad news, and that is the more interesting idea, I think.

Before I start I should declare a “conflict of interest” here, because I am an Apple “fan-boy”, at least to the extent that all my computer products are made by Apple (and I’m talking dozens of them), I do support for Apple hardware, and I program using an Apple-based platform.

So you would think I would be celebrating that Apple has been so successful. Well maybe a bit. I think it’s good that Apple has reached this milestone before other companies I have less admiration for – like Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet (Google) – but I still object to corporations having so much wealth and influence on principle.

So yes, despite being a strong Apple advocate I still don’t like the fact that they have more value that almost every entire country in the world apart from the top 16 (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Spain, UK, and US).

And almost as soon as Apple acquired all this money and power (because the two are always related) they demonstrate why they shouldn’t have it by banning Alex Jones’ Infowars material from their platforms, specifically his podcast feeds. Of course, it’s not just Apple who are stifling free expression, because Facebook and YouTube are also blocking this material.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: first, Alex Jones is a crazy conspiracy theorist who is completely insane and wrong about everything; and second, these private companies have the right to support or reject anyone they want to.

But are either of these points really true? Sure, Jones does promote some pretty wacky conspiracies which I think are almost certainly false, and his personality borders on maniacal, but there is also a lot of material on his site which isn’t anything to do with crazy conspiracies. Also, sometimes conspiracies really do exist, so we shouldn’t automatically write them off every time. And even if we did, isn’t he entitled to an opinion even if most of the evidence seems to show he’s wrong?

And regarding the rights of corporations to make their own decisions on who they stop from using their services. In a purely libertarian, free market model this might be true. But we all know how dangerous that model is, so there are restrictions on what companies can and can’t do. And manipulating the political system (and a case could be made that this is an example of that) is something they should be avoiding. The Americans don’t like the possibility that Russia influenced their politics. Why is it any better that large corporations could do the same?

I’m going to do a blog post on alternative news sources in the near future, so I won’t say too much about the importance of sites like InfoWars here. But what other problems are there with corporations getting too big?

Well they undoubtedly stifle innovation, both directly and incidentally through their mere existence. For example, surely there has been a place for someone to create a really good word processor for decades now. Why hasn’t it happened? Because that ugly, confusing, unreliable, slow piece of junk called Microsoft Word is the standard which everyone uses (well, almost everyone, because I don’t use it). Why has it become the standard? Because Microsoft has got too big and has too much power, especially in large organisations.

How much better would the world be if all word processing documents had to save their files in an open standard form which everyone could use? Then we could use whatever word processor we wanted and still exchange files with everyone else. Even people who like Word (do they really exist?) would probably admit that having viable alternatives, especially for specialised purposes like writing academic papers or technical documentation, would be a good thing.

And I know that the Word format (especially the newer XML based format) isn’t totally opaque and that most programs can convert to and from it, but that process is rarely perfect, which makes using Word the only practical solution for many.

So, are big companies the best place for innovation to be nurtured? It doesn’t seem that way, because many new products are initially developed by small companies which are acquired by bigger ones to use in their systems. Apple’s Siri is a good example. Some would say that progress on that has stalled since Apple bought it.

What other disadvantages are there of big corporations? There is the phenomenon of being “too big to fail”. This has been a prominent issue with financial institutions in the past where their failure would have been so detrimental to economies as a whole that government bail-outs were the only option. Apparently the CEOs of these big companies are enthusiastic about free markets and minimum government intervention until events like the Global Financial Crisis happen, then welfare suddenly becomes quite attractive!

If we had many small companies doing this work instead of a few big ones it would be possible to let the worst examples fail and have others take their place. After a while the crazy financial practices that lead to the GFC would be eliminated.

What about the claim that these big corporations employ a lot of people? Well yes, that is true, but how many people do they put out of work? As big companies force out small ones and move production to cheaper facilities overseas I suspect the net change in employment is negative. I haven’t found any reliable stats supporting this, but logically it makes sense.

Finally, do big corporations do things that smaller companies couldn’t do? I don’t think so, although this is also difficult to evaluate using real facts. You might make a case to say that a huge corporation like Apple has the abilities all in one place to create a whole ecosystem of products and services that work well together, and that several smaller companies couldn’t quite do it as well.

For example, I often make voice recordings on my Apple Watch which syncs to my Mac laptop, iPad, and iPhone, through iCloud. All of these are Apple services and they work well together. It could be that separate companies might not be able to get it all working together quite so well.

But even here, if standards existed which any company could follow it would make interconnectivity possible, and it might work even better than what Apple can do by itself because each company would be concentrating on making their part of the system work as well as possible instead of being part of a bigger entity which might not emphasise one small but important component enough.

So, I think on balance we would be better off if the size of companies could be limited. Of course, how that could be done fairly and practically is the big question. But I figure the first step is to admit the idea is good in principle. Because a trillion really is too much.

Left-Wing Nut Jobs

August 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Left-wing nut jobs are really starting to get out of control. OK, after that inflammatory opening sentence, I need to explain one thing: I am definitely well to the left politically. But I am not a left-wing nutty extremist, because I am also fact-based, and prepared to look at all controversies with some degree of nuance.

I don’t see any issue as simple black and white. I don’t think any person’s point of view is simply right or wrong, because everyone has some good and bad aspects to their beliefs. And I think the only way to gain a better understanding of different perspectives is to listen to those who have alternative views.

And the more different the other person’s views are to yours, the more important it is that you should listen to them. If you only listen to one side of an argument that is a virtual guarantee that you will be horribly mislead into a state of certainty where no certainty exists, and to a state of ignorance because you refuse to even consider a lot of new knowledge. And, in my experience, certainty and ignorance is a dangerous combination.

Free speech has been a common theme in my recent posts and with good reason. Every day it seems that the subject is in the news, and every day the nutty left seem to be more bold and more certain they are right. And, as I said above, an ignorant group who are totally certain they are right is a dangerous thing, especially when they also have an attitude of moral superiority which is completely undeserved.

I should clarify another point here: I don’t think the extreme left are nuttier than the extreme right. Both are dangerous in different ways, and both are totally convinced they are right, even though any fair appraisal of their beliefs makes it very clear they are wrong on many points. But currently extreme left views are being supported by the orthodoxy and it is those on the right – and some who are actually relatively moderate right-wingers – who are being repressed by potentially extreme and violent people on the left.

The latest example is where Don Brash – a former leader of our most popular political party and former leader of our libertarian party – had an invitation to speak at a university Politics Society meeting cancelled.

The current leader of ACT (the libertarian party), David Seymour has called for the resignation of Massey University vice chancellor, Jan Thomas, who cancelled the meeting on “security grounds”. Seymour said that “After veiled threats from a left-wing thug in a letter to the vice chancellor, she capitulated this morning and prevented Dr Brash from speaking on ‘security’ grounds.”

So the message here seems to be that if you want to prevent ideas you disagree with being presented all you need to do is threaten violence. But only if the threats come from the left, because I could almost guarantee that if a left-leaning speaker was threatened by a right-wing group, the university would stand up for that speaker and do as much as possible to allow the event to go ahead.

The VC of Massey has a clear bias here, because she has said that she supports free speech on campus but is totally opposed hate speech. The problem here is that opposition to “hate speech” is just too convenient a way to stop opinions you simply disagree with. I have heard Don Brash speak on many occasions and he is polite almost to a fault. He genuinely believes in the causes he stands for and if that can be interpreted as hateful then I think, yet again, people are becoming offended far too easily.

Universities used to be a place where different views could be expressed and discussed, in fair and reasonable ways, but not any more. So I don’t think Seymour’s call for the resignation of Thomas is too extreme. She is entitled to her view, but she isn’t entitled to repress other views. An example needs to be made. A line drawn in the sand. This is a modern, free, democratic nation and free speech is amongst our highest values. At least, it used to be.

The far left really do have an incredibly strong emotional reaction to these issues though. They really do sound like giving alternative views any exposure is an existential threat which they cannot tolerate. Why? Do they think they cannot answer these threats fairly? Do they think vast numbers of people will be persuaded to follow a political view they disapprove of? Or are they really offended emotionally rather than engaging with the subject intellectually?

Here’s the way I see it. Someone says: “what you say offended me”. I say: “OK. How can I help you get over that defect in your personality?”

But why do I care? After all, I have said I identify with the left politically. Shouldn’t I be happy that it has this power? Well, no. Because the left has become what it has always despised in the right: it is dogmatic, authoritarian, inflexible, and ignorant.

And I don’t want to belong to a political movement which is so intellectually and morally corrupt. So I officially renounce my membership of the left today. But there’s no way I will be joining the right, so I guess I will just become another member of the vast majority who are totally disconnected from politics, because there’s no one making any sense.

Actually, I probably won’t totally leave the left. I will probably continue to advocate for left-wing causes, like fixing the environment, minimising climate change, improving inequality, and reducing the power of corporations. But I will also battle just as hard against the extremists in my own camp. I will mercilessly ridicule and criticise the social justice warriors, the post-modern neo-Marxists, and the left-wing extremist who threaten violence against anyone, even those I should traditionally disagree with.

Micro-aggression Macro-offence

July 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Few people would support a society which deliberately gave one group privileges which others didn’t have, for no reason other than tradition or favouritism. Few people would support a society with arbitrary rules which applied to some groups and not others. And few people would support a society where one group could reduce the wellbeing of another group for no good reason.

I think I need to give some examples. Not many people would say that women shouldn’t be allowed to be prime minister or president (depending on the political system in place). Very few would say that you must pay men more than women for the same work. And hopefully almost no one would say it is OK for white people to own black people as slaves.

These are all examples of prejudice and bias which have been part of various societies in the past, and some might even still occur in less progressive countries today. But they don’t exist in more “civilised” nations like most of Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

Yet people still seem to think they do.

Listening to many political pressure groups today you might think we are still living with the rules which were in place over a hundred years ago where clearly racist, sexist, etc rules existed. These people can’t support their beliefs with any real evidence so they must invent something new instead, like microaggressions.

Microaggressions are apparently harmless comments or actions which one person does and another person reacts to negatively. Sometimes the person doesn’t even react immediately but realises they have been a “victim” only later when a friend or colleague tells them. Sometimes they might realise decades later.

Here are some examples…
To a female CEO: “Can I speak with your boss?”
To a man who’s a nurse: “Wow, you don’t see many male nurses.”
To an LGBTQ intern: “Huh, you don’t sound gay.”
To a non-white colleague in a mostly white office: “So, where are you from? I mean, where are you really from?”

Now in every case you could say that there is an assumed attitude of inferiority, but you could equally easily say that a very innocent interpretation is also possible.

For example, it is unlikely that anyone would walk into the CEO’s office and ask the person sitting behind the CEO’s desk where their boss was, no matter what gender they were. But in an ambiguous situation that error is quite understandable.

And, it’s true, there aren’t many male nurses. That makes them more interesting than female nurses in some ways. Is it not OK to discuss their reasons for taking that career path?

And saying someone doesn’t sound gay is hardly the worst insult in the world. With the ambiguous gender roles we have today, many people find these situations uncomfortable, and that response seems relatively innocuous to me.

Finally, asking someone about their home country is often just a way to show interest. When I am overseas people sometimes detect my accent and want to talk about New Zealand. Why would I be offended?

We are all told not to blame the victim, and that’s not really what I am doing. Actually, I am. I’m blaming both the victim and the perpetrator because they are both to blame. It’s almost impossible to interact with another person without either unintentionally doing something which might be construed as negative, or having such an artificial and contrived interaction that it really just isn’t worth the trouble.

In other words, being too aware of microaggressions is itself harmful. It makes normal human interaction too hard, and people who are looking for them will always see them, even if they don’t really exist.

I have been involved in a few examples of this phenomenon myself. People have accused me of making racist and sexist comments which they were offended by, for example, when all I was doing was criticising a comment they had made. The fact that the person was a member of some sort of “underprivileged” group was purely coincidental.

So if I said something like “no, I’m sorry, but your response there indicates you don’t really understand the science involved” to a woman I might get the response “oh right, I could never do science because I’m a woman”.

Or if I said “I don’t think you should be able to control the way that other person uses their land” to a Maori I might hear “yeah there you go again, another white person oppressing the native people”.

But I would never use either of these statements specifically against women of Maoris and I have used them many times in other contexts. In fact, now that I think about it, I have used them far more times against white men.

So these are not really examples of aggression, or even microaggression. Well, to be honest there probably us a small element of aggression in some of my comments, but that is really the nature of debate in many cases. I get far worse things aimed back at me – things which are clearly far more aggressive – but I just laugh them off. In fact, I use them against the person by calmly pointing out why they are wrong.

So I am going to say “get over it” to the “victim”. And that’s another word I think has lost all meaning today. Everyone is a victim or a survivor of abuse. Sure, there are some situations where those words are warranted, but today it seems that the slightest negative experience makes someone a victim and then a survivor, no matter how minor the original incident was.

It’s really rather pathetic and it is damaging to both parties involved. The person who is accused of initiating the aggression often faces severe consequences, sometimes as much as loss of their job or position in society. And the person who is the target of the aggression wastes time worrying about how they should respond, when simply ignoring it would be better for everyone.

And it promotes a perspective of victimhood. It seems today that in order to get any attention you have to be the victim of something. If you are a woman you must be the victim of the patriarchal society, or of some sort of male sexual assault (a perspective encouraged by the hysterical narrative of the current “metoo” fad). And if you belong to a native society or a minority racial group then you are the victim of colonialism and racism.

There are undoubtedly issues for all of these groups, just like there are issues for people not in the groups. The big difference is that people outside the “cult of victimisation” just ignore these trivial offenses get on with life.

For every group who is apparently disadvantaged due to offensive comments by their oppressor I will show you a group just as oppressed who has done really well. In the end, it is not the attitude of the oppressor which causes the problems, it is the attitude of the oppressed.

Reality vs Fantasy

July 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Most people who know me will be aware that I am quite a skeptical – some say cynical – person when it comes to subjects that might be classified as pseudoscience.

For example, a while back my wife was being treated for a back injury and it was suggested she should try acupuncture. I was with her and sat in the same room while she was being treated. I agree that acupuncture has a bit more credibility than other “alternative treatments”, like homeopathy, but it still doesn’t have that much.

And when various other forms of “woo” – such as cupping – were also used I was even more skeptical. But I just sat there and said nothing because I thought, why not be respectful give it a chance? Of course, it didn’t work and all well designed studies of conventional acupuncture support that conclusion.

But many people – even a lot of doctors – are quite positive about it. Why? The same applies to all those other forms of pseudoscientific, alternative, and superstitious beliefs. Why do so many people believe them?

Maybe it’s because the supporters of this stuff are often very good at presenting it in a positive way. Even I sometimes find myself wondering whether a new phenomenon being described might be the rare exception to the rule. That is, maybe it is something genuine instead of another example of fakery and delusion.

I found myself almost being lead down this path when listening to a podcast featuring an interview with “UFO researcher” Steven Greer. I have been interested in UFOs for may years now, and at one point I even took theories which claimed they were alien visitors quite seriously. But since being exposed to skepticism by a university lecturer who studied paranormal psychology – and more recently listening to a lot of skepticism podcasts – I have been fairly sure that there is now no good reason to accept this theory.

So why did I find myself questioning my previous disbelief, and why did I eventually back away from the precipice? Well, Steven Greer is a quite skillful speaker, and obviously an intelligent and knowledgable person. Anyone who knew very little about the subject would find it difficult to avoid the allure of his convincing style.

And, as I said, I almost felt that way too. Until he started discussing a few issues I knew something about. Then I knew that, while he surely had great knowledge in the area, it was very one-dimensional. He knew all the evidence about any phenomenon which supported the UFOs are aliens view, but he either didn’t know, or just neglected to mention, the much greater amount of evidence which showed that more conventional interpretations were possible.

But if I hadn’t known about the conventional explanations and the evidence supporting them, I would have had no reason to doubt him.

I see this happening in other areas too, and not just in controversial fields like UFOs. Even perfectly mundane news articles suddenly become questionable when something I know a lot about is under discussion. For example, I consider my knowledge of computers and astronomy well above average (maybe not quite expert level – I must retain a suitable level of humility here) and in almost every case when I read, view, or hear articles about these subjects I see numerous simplifications, biased reporting, misleading statements, and just plain errors.

Of course, this leads me to wonder whether, if I had advanced knowledge in all areas, would I notice errors in every mainstream news report? I suspect the answer is yes.

I do have to say here, that the extent of the problem is often not that severe. Sometimes I think an article might give a good overview and be basically correct, despite making a few questionable claims. But other times I see a bias or a series of errors which lead to a conclusion which is totally contrary to the one I have. Of course I could be wrong, but I usually look at these situations as more a cause for doubt rather than outright rejection.

It’s actually not that difficult to check the accuracy of most material. We have the internet, and a search will usually provide plenty of material on any imaginable subject. Naturally, it is important to be selective about sources, and by that I mean to look at sources which disagree as much as agree with your interpretation, as well as treating sources with little credibility with less seriousness.

So back to the the case of the UFO expert I started talking about above: he claimed the most impressive evidence supporting his theory was presented in his documentary “Sirius” which included graphic footage of a supposedly humanoid entity of “unknown classification” gained through DNA sequencing. He claimed that the best explanation is that it is of alien origin.

But I knew that this skeleton, which was found a few years ago in Chile’s Atacama Desert, had a whole DNA genome analysis which determined that it was a female human fetus that had 64 unusual mutations in 7 genes linked to the skeletal system. So it was just a severely deformed human.

So what he, himself, said was his most convincing evidence was easily disproved. Does that mean that all the other evidence is also unconvincing? Not necessarily, but it should make the default position of skepticism more reasonable. Remember, that if I hadn’t had this knowledge beforehand I might have found this quite convincing, especially in association with all the other material he had.

Another piece of “strong evidence” he presented was the famous Roswell Incident. This is often quoted as one of the best cases supporting alien visitation, but I have also heard conventional explanations which seem to fit the evidence far better and don’t include the requirement for aliens behaving in bizarre and unfathomable ways. Occam’s Razor clearly dictates that the conventional explanation is the best one to accept.

On a completely different topic, a friend recently recommended a diet video, which described a new diet which claimed to cure cancer, treat diabetes, lead to weight loss, etc. The diet was recommended to him by a health professional (in mainstream, not alternative, medicine) so why wouldn’t I take it seriously?

I tried to start with a neutral view, because there is reasonable prior probability that diets can be helpful, as well as some good research showing they can work. But where diets work there tends to be several complicating factors: that they work in very limited ways, that they work for some people and not others, and that they rarely work as a complete cure.

So I went to Google and searched on reviews and studies of the diet, which gave lots of negative reviews. So it seems like the diet isn’t well supported by evidence, but who would know without checking?

Also note that the support of a health professional should not be treated as strong validation of anything outside their immediate area of expertise. Doctors (and nurses, medical technicians, and other health professionals) usually aren’t scientists, and they seem to have a very poor ability to appraise the merits of the various fads and fashions in the area of natural and traditional medicine.

Being skeptical about every new thing might seem like a negative way to view the world, but it really isn’t. People who believe every new thing they see must be quite exhausted by the excitement by now! Or maybe the constant stream of new “discoveries” is just taken for granted by these people. I, on the other hand, find genuine new discoveries very exciting and I can afford to do that because real stuff only comes along a few times a year, unlike the fake stuff which seems to appear every day. Yet again, reality is so much better than fantasy!

Free Speech Again

July 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Free speech isn’t free if only speech which is acceptable to some self-appointed referees of social norms is allowed. And criticism of any speech which hasn’t even been heard yet seems more than a bit unfair.

If speech is going to be criticised, that criticism shouldn’t be based on subjective and poorly defined concepts such as it being “hate speech” or being “racist”, “sexist”, or “Islamophobic”. All of these have definitions which are unclear to begin with, and even when more precise formulations of their definitions are used, they rarely fit in with the actual content of what is being criticised when it is examined fairly.

So given all of these issues I think there should be a very high bar to reach before speech can be shut down. And if the speech comes from a person or group which the censor would normally disagree with, then they should be even more careful about condemning it. Because when they want to suppress an idea for subjective, emotional reasons it becomes just too easy for them to convince themselves that they are really doing it for good, sound, objective reasons.

If the opening to this post sounds familiar it might be because you have also read my earlier post from 2018-07-12 titled “No Free Speech” concerning the attempted blocking of Canadian political activists, Lauren Southern and Stephan Molyneux. The reason I felt the need to continue the discussion on this is that the whole thing just hasn’t gone away.

In fact, it has actually become quite interesting. First, the group “Free Speech Coalition” has proceeded with legal action against the Auckland mayor for blocking the use of a council facility to host the speakers. Second, numerous commentators have spoken out against the visiting speakers, even though superficially at least, public opinion seems to support their right to speak. And third, the speakers have been granted entry into New Zealand, so the event can proceed if a new venue can be found.

I recently read one opinion in a mainstream news site which epitomises the problem. The commentator, Glenn McConnell’s, points included the following: “the best way to defend free speech is by saying something worth listening to” and “Instead of wasting their time protecting racist speakers, the likes of Don Brash and Chris Trotter could have been doing something useful. Ironically, they could have been proving to us the importance of free speech” and “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.”

It’s extremely interesting how this commentator claims that in order to gain the right to speak you must first have something worthwhile to say, then goes on to make the most ridiculous, convoluted, inane arguments which themselves shouldn’t be allowed under the rules he is advocating.

But that is really the problem with the PC left: they are so confident of their own alleged morally superior positions that they cannot see that they are at least as bigoted, uninformed, and unreasonable as the people they criticise. Unfortunately, in the current climate of extreme political correctness, their opinions are just given a free pass, while far more reasonable contrary opinions are suppressed.

So let’s look at his three main points individually…

First, “the best way to defend free speech is by saying something worth listening to.” This is blatantly absurd. So who gets to decide what is worth listening to? No doubt, his allies who value political correctness above truth. And how can we shut down a discussion based on its content if we haven’t even heard what that is yet? It’s like some sort of dystopian regime where you are found guilty of a crime you might commit in the future. True oppression doesn’t just come from the right, apparently.

Second, “Instead of wasting their time protecting racist speakers, the likes of Don Brash and Chris Trotter could have been doing something useful. Ironically, they could have been proving to us the importance of free speech.” It’s not clear exactly what he is suggesting here. But it is interesting that the two people mentioned on on opposite poles of the political spectrums, showing that this isn’t a pure left verus right issue. It is specifically political correctness which is the cause of the problem here, which is massively concentrated on the left, but there are still some leftists (like Chris Trotter and myself) who have a shred of rationality left. Also, note the use of the term “racist” which is just like an argument in itself, even when unjustified. Maybe the whole article should have just consisted of that single word, because that seems to be sufficient for the unthinking supporters of this sort of view.

Finally “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Really? Well surely when we see something we disagree with we should criticise it strongly. After all, that is what McConnell himself is doing. Surely this represents a new height of hypocrisy, even for a person like him.

So, yet again, the politically correct arbiters of moral certitude have massively failed by doing exactly what they accuse the other side of. No doubt Southern and Molyneux have some degree of unpleasant and irrational content in their material, but it is becoming increasingly clear that fascist tendencies are not confined purely to those on the right!

War and Peace

July 17, 2018 Leave a comment

A minor controversy has broken out recently here in Dunedin. It involves a memorial garden dedicated to World War I conscientious objector, Archibald Baxter (who just happens to be a somewhat remote relative of mine). Opinions have appeared in the local paper suggesting that a memorial to someone who refused to fight is disrespectful to those who did, and especially to the many New Zealanders (16,697 of them) who didn’t return from the Great War.

Although there seems to be a strong opinion against a memorial to a pacifist, there seems to be what is maybe an even stronger opinion that war should be avoided, and that World War I in particular was the most extreme example of barbarity and stupidity. Words such as “debacle” and “travesty” are often used to describe the unprecedented and pointless slaughter.

So if the vast majority people agree that war in general should be avoided, except in extreme circumstances, and that the reasons for World War I in particular were inconsequential, then why would there be such a strong objection to someone who refused to have anything to do with it?

Well, one opinion is that Baxter was a coward and just didn’t want to fight. But his activities before and after the war seem to indicate a genuine dedication to pacifism. And in many ways taking a stand against the establishment was a more courageous action that simply going along with what was expected.

After all, many people who did go to war thought it would be little more than a bit of an adventure where the enemy would be quickly vanquished and they would return before the end of the year with plenty of exciting tales to tell. It was only when they arrived on the killing fields of France and Belgium that the true horror of the situation became apparent.

Few people would say that those who did fight in Europe – half a world away from their peaceful home in New Zealand – and especially those who died there, should not be honoured in some way. Even if the reasons for the war itself, and the often incompetent way it was executed by senior military leaders was worthy of little respect, the innocent victims do deserve to be recognised and admired.

But that doesn’t mean that a person who took a genuine stand against the war, and suffered as a consequence, shouldn’t also be recognised. There is room for recognition of both forms of sacrifice, and one shouldn’t negate the other in any way.

If there was any real enemy who should be disparaged in this debate it is the politicians and some senior military leaders who caused the war in the first place, and whose actions lead to far greater death and destruction than should have been necessary.

There are plenty of memorials to those who fought and died in wars around the country. And, surprisingly, attendance at commemorations of the two World Wars (and others) has increased in recent years. So there doesn’t seem to be any real chance for the sacrifice of those who did fight being forgotten. But I often wonder whether that does, even to a small extent, glorify the option of violence. A single memorial garden to an individual who opposed war surely won’t make any real difference to the greater picture.

We still have a national day to commemorate the people who were lost in wars. We don’t have anything to remember those who tried to stop that happening. Surely this is not too much to ask. I hope this is not another example of the “industry of grievance” where people become offended by something just because of some incredibly superficial disagreement with it.

Think about it: if everyone had done what Archie did and refused to obey orders to kill other human beings they had no real disagreement with, then the whole sorry mess could have been avoided. But if everyone did the opposite and lined up to kill and be massacred in their millions by simply obeying the orders of some incompetent upper-class general, then how is that a good thing? By the way, I know that the characterisation of generals as incompetent members of the upper class isn’t always fair, but it makes a good rhetorical point!

So in summary, I say that we should be honouring the conscientious objectors as much as those who fought. In the end they both required a certain amount of courage, but one also required a greater amount of individual thinking and commitment to ideals. I’m proud to count Archibald as one of my ancestors, not just because of his commitment to peace, but also because he thought for himself, something I pride myself on as well.

I hope the memorial garden is treated with appropriate respect once it is built and I hope that it is something people will reflect on as much as our war memorials.