In the Globe and Mail, Akaash Maharaj wonders if the LPC’s long time in office — and the resulting accretion of power-seekers rather than idealists — can be atoned for in time to regain the hearts (and votes) of Canadians:
There is no denying that the Liberal Party’s long association with domination made it a magnet for individuals drawn to power rather than to public service, a tool of Liberals of convenience rather than Liberals of conviction. The question that will confront its next leader is not whether the Liberal Party can rebuild its fabled political machine into one capable of waging an effective campaign; it is whether it can rediscover its ideals and return as a party deserving of our country’s trust.
If it is to have any hope of doing so, it will need to find the courage to resist the lure of comforting self-deceptions and the seduction of recent polls.
The party’s decline at successive elections was not due to some lapse in judgment by a rueful electorate that yearns to repent at the next opportunity. It was not a want of resources that can be remedied by a new crop of bagmen or ward heelers. It was not an absence of messianic personalities whose charisma could substitute for grassroots renewal.
The Liberal Party instead received a calculated rebuke from Canadians against the divisions and hubris they saw gnawing at it. It was dismissed by an electorate who concluded that the Liberal Party was no longer willing or able to deliver liberal policies or governance.
He then goes on to enumerate what the Liberal Party should be — and it’s a pretty fair list — but not what most people would associate with the Liberal brand, unfortunately. Since Stephen Harper has co-opted the position the Liberals used to occupy (both in the political and philosophical senses), there’s definitely room in the Canadian political spectrum for a party that believes “liberty is the highest political good, and that as a result, the first duty of government is to seek the greatest liberty for the one that is compatible with liberty for all.”
A party that truly believed and worked towards that would be a Liberal Party worth supporting. Maharaj seems to want the Liberals to become more libertarian … and I think that would be a great improvement.
Everyone “knows” that Fascism is an ideology of the extreme right, and Communism is an ideology of the extreme left. Benito Mussolini’s fascist state was bankrolled by big business and the Catholic Church to suppress the democratic demands of the workers in the wake of the First World War. Except that isn’t actually true:
… Mussolini was every bit as much as man of the Left as contemporaries such as Eugene V. Debs. He was what would later come to be known as a “red diaper baby” (meaning the child of revolutionary socialist parents). As a young man, Mussolini himself was a Marxist, fervently anticlerical, went to Switzerland to evade compulsory military service, and was arrested and imprisoned for inciting militant strikes. Eventually, he became a leader in Italy’s Socialist Party and he was imprisoned once again in 1911 for his antiwar activities related to Italy’s invasion of Libya. Mussolini was so prominent a socialist at this point in his career that he won the praise of Lenin who considered him to be the rightful head of a future Italian socialist state.
[. . .]
When the Italian Fascist movement was founded in 1919, most of its leaders and theoreticians were, like Mussolini himself, former Marxists and other radical leftists such as proponents of the revolutionary syndicalist doctrines of Georges Sorel. The official programs issued by the Fascists, translations of which are included in Norling’s book, reflected a standard mixture of republican and socialist ideas that would have been common to any European leftist group of the era. If indeed the evidence is overwhelming that Fascism has its roots on the far Left, then from where does Fascism’s reputation as a rightist ideology originate?
[. . .]
During its twenty-three years in power, Mussolini’s regime certainly made considerable concessions to traditionally conservative interests such as the monarchy, big business, and the Catholic Church. These pragmatic accommodations borne of political necessity are among the evidences typically offered by leftists as indications of Fascism’s rightist nature. Yet there is abundant evidence that Mussolini essentially remained a socialist throughout the entirety of his political life. By 1935, thirteen years after Mussolini seized power in the March on Rome, seventy-five percent of Italian industry had either been nationalized outright or brought under intensive state control. Indeed, it was towards the end of both his life and the life of his regime that Mussolini’s economic policies were at their most leftist.
After briefly losing power for a couple of months during the summer of 1943, Mussolini returned as Italy’s head of state with German assistance and set up what came to be called the Italian Social Republic. The regime subsequently nationalized all companies employing more than a hundred workers, redistributed housing that was formerly privately owned to its worker occupants, engaged in land redistribution, and witnessed a number of prominent Marxists joining the Mussolini government, including Nicola Bombacci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party and a personal friend of Lenin. These events are described in considerable detail in Norling’s work.
It would appear that the historic bitter rivalry between Marxists and Fascists is less a conflict between the Left and the Right, and more of a conflict between erstwhile siblings on the Left. This should come as no particular surprise given the penchant of radical leftist groupings for sectarian blood feuds. Indeed, it might be plausibly argued that leftist ”anti-fascism” is rooted in jealously of a more successful relative as much as anything else.
Walter Olson on the historically nasty confirmation battle that kept Robert Bork off the US Supreme Court:
Of course the confirmation critique that makes it into every Bork obituary isn’t Heflin’s or Johnston’s. It’s Ted Kennedy’s blowhard caricature, intended for northern liberal consumption, of “Robert Bork’s America” as “a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, school children could not be taught about evolution,” and so on.
Never in memory had a judicial nomination been fought in such language. Why?
As a constitutional law scholar, Bork had distinguished himself even among conservatives for his scathing critique of the Warren Court, which he accused essentially of having made up constitutional law as it went along.
To organized liberal groups, on whose behalf Kennedy was acting, this was the next thing to a declaration of war. Yet they couldn’t exactly come out and defend making up constitutional law as you went along as their own vision for the high court.
Instead, they served up a steady diet of vitriol and wild oversimplification, especially in TV ads and other messages delivered outside the confirmation hearings.
The Washington Post itself opposed Bork’s confirmation, yet nonetheless editorialized against the “intellectual vulgarization and personal savagery” to which some of his opponents had descended, “profoundly distorting the record and the nature of the man.”
Ronald Bailey discusses a study which confirms what every con man already knew: smart people are easier to fool.
People reason chiefly to persuade others that they are right, not to find out what is true.
So claim Hugo Mercier, a postdoctoral fellow in economics and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dan Sperber, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at the Central European University, in their provocative 2010 article, “Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory,” in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Now a new study by the Yale Cultural Cognition Project finds that people also use reason to convince themselves, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that they and those on their side are right.
[. . .]
In addition, both liberals and conservatives displayed ideological bias when assessing the validity of the cognitive reflection test. When climate change skeptics were characterized as open-minded, Republicans thought the test was nifty. When skeptics were branded as close-minded, more Democrats found the test results convincing. Thus, the study finds that the experimental “results were more consistent with a finding of symmetry than one of asymmetry with respect to ideologically motivated reasoning.” Ideology distorts both left-wing and right-wing thinking.
Do higher scores on the reflective cognition test temper political polarization? To get at this question, the study compared both liberals and conservatives who scored low on the reflective cognition test (the 62 percent of subjects who got no answers right) with liberals and conservatives scored higher (those who got an average of 1.6 answers right putting them in between the 80th and 90th percentile of the sample). In short, the researchers found that the higher either conservatives or liberals scored on the cognitive reflection test the more likely they were to judge the test as valid when its results supposedly confirmed their ideological views about climate change skeptics and vice versa. People skilled at systematic reasoning use that capacity to justify their beliefs rather seek out truth.
Kahan notes in passing that social psychological research has found that political independents and libertarians score better on the cognitive reflection than do liberals or conservatives (check your answers below). But before we libertarians and independents start patting ourselves on our collective backs for being the better systematic reasoners, could this simply mean that we are especially good at justifying our beliefs to ourselves?
I got the answers to all three test questions right, which means I’m even more likely to “fool myself” than the average person (according to this study, anyway).
TED, the “Davos of Silicon Valley”, which has refashioned itself into a global media company selling ideas in many forms, can often seem like it’s caught in an endless cycle of pretension and self-regard; an echo chamber in which people suckle polished platitudes from each other and call it deep thought. It’s also an echo chamber that – let’s face it – many people with soapboxes not-so-secretly wish they’d been invited to.
Evgeny Morozov, internet-famous hectorer of optimists, was pushing at an open door when earlier this month he published a long article in The New Republic hectoring TED for intellectual vapidity and pretension, peppering his piece with highfalutin’ philosophical allusions. The piece duly went viral, and thus it became official: contempt of TED is now hip, even de rigueur. Like owning an iPhone, or being enthusiastic about TED three years ago.
But hang on a second. Is TED noxiously pretentious? Yes. Is TED superficial? Of course. Does TED peddle a slightly messianic ideology even as it claims to be above ideology? Sure. But none of those things should obscure the things that are truly great about TED. Because TED is great. No, hear me out.
Cotto: One of the gravest concerns you have cited with the modern environmentalist movement is its increasingly ideological nature. Some might say that this, in fact, is a positive development. How would you beg to differ?
Dr. Moore: Ideology is negative in so far as it tends to divide people into warring camps with no possible resolution. My late Greenpeace friend Bob Hunter suggested early on that in order for environmentalism to become a mass movement, it would have to be based on ideology, or as he called it “popular mythology,” because “not everybody can be a Ph.D. ecologist.” I have never accepted organized religion and note all the evils perpetuated in the name of “God is on our side” I do believe in just wars such as the armed struggle to end apartheid. But that was not based on religion but rather on human rights.
For example it has become part of environmental ideology, as stated by Bill McKibben in the current Rolling Stone, that the fossil fuel industries are “Public Enemy Number One.” Oil is particularly vilified as evidenced by high-profile campaigns to stop pipelines, drilling, tankers, oil sands, and anything else to do with producing or transporting oil. Oil is responsible for 36% of global energy and is therefore the most important source of energy to support our civilization. If it is the aim of “environmentalists” to stop fossil fuel production and use, end fracking, end coal mining, end the use of oil, then they are promoting a policy that would have disastrous consequences for human civilization and the environment. If we stopped using fossil fuel today, or by 2020 as Al Gore proposes, at least half the human population would perish and there wouldn’t be a tree left on the planet with a year, as people struggled to find enough energy to stay alive.
[. . .]
Cotto: In the past, you have said that human activity is not the only cause for climate change. What do you believe is the greatest contributing factor?
Dr. Moore: First, we don’t know precisely how the many factors affecting climate contribute and interact in producing the earth’s climate at any given time. The cause of the onset of Ice-Ages, one of which we are presently experiencing, is a puzzle we don’t fully understand. I explain in my presentations that as a scientist who is fully qualified to understand climate change, I seem dumber than the people who say they “know” the answers because I do not profess to know the future, especially of something so complicated as the global climate.
One thing is certain, there is no “scientific proof” as the term is generally understood, that human emissions are the main cause of climate change today. Even the IPCC only claims that it is “very likely” (a judgement, in their own words, not a proof) that human emissions are responsible for “most” of the warming “since the mid-20th century” (1950). Therefore they are not claiming that humans caused the 0.4C warming between 1910-1940, but they are claiming that we are the main cause of the 0.4C warming between 1970 and 2000. Yet they provide no opinion as to what did cause the warming between 1910-1940. There is a logical inconsistency here that has never been addressed. It is also important to note that the IPCC does not speak of “catastrophe”, that is left to the fanatics and perpetual doom-sayers.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper cast out the libertarians several years ago. He’s more recently stamped out the last of the actual conservatives. So who’s left in the Conservative Party? Harperites and devoted non-ideologues:
It is time to retire the word “ideological” from Canada’s political lexicon. It doesn’t seem to mean anything anymore. In recent weeks, Tony Clement, a Conservative cabinet minister, has chided NDP leader Thomas Mulcair for “taking an ideological approach” to oil-sands development; Prime Minister Stephen Harper has deplored the New Democrats’ “ideological aversion to trade”; various New Democrats have accused the Conservatives of being “ideological” for their plans to contract out post-office services, eliminate Canada Revenue Agency counter service, cut funding for scientific research and limit health-care benefits for refugee claimants, which Liberal critic Kevin Lamoureux also deplored as “ideological.” Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae denounced the Conservatives’ entire “wrong-headed ideological agenda” — which is apparently “hidden” in various places around Ottawa, though he and Mr. Mulcair seem to have no difficulty discerning how awful and ideological it is.
I wonder how evocative the word “ideological” is to people who aren’t political junkies. Is it so bad, so uncommon, to have — as the Oxford dictionary defines it — “a system of ideas or way of thinking” that one regards “as justifying actions, especially one that is held implicitly or adopted as a whole and maintained regardless of the course of events”?
Among political junkies, the term is sometimes — though not always (see above) — meant to imply pigheaded rigidity. For a Canadian politician, that’s very bad. Weirdly, it’s also very bad when a Canadian politician changes his mind — the dreaded “flip-flop.” But is there any politician in Ottawa anywhere near power who can usefully be described as consistently ideological? Since the Reform days, Mr. Harper and his mates have been on a public policy magical mystery tour. Now they say whatever they need to say on Friday, contradict it completely on Monday, and think nothing of it. To call them ideological is to miss an opportunity to call them shameless hypocrites.
Rob Lyons reviews the new book by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu:
The fundamental question underpinning both those earlier papers and The Locavore’s Dilemma is this: if local food is so great, why did a globalised food system develop at all? The answer, as Desrochers and Shimizu argue, is that the creation of a worldwide trade in food reduced prices, increased variety and improved security of supply. If there is a problem with this world market in food, they argue, it is that it is not open or far-reaching enough.
The online eco-magazine Grist ran an interview with Desrochers earlier this month. In a follow-up piece, readers came up with responses to the interview. One of these responses provides such a neat summary of the arguments in favour of local food that it is worth repeating in full.
‘I am a local-food advocate for many reasons: Taste: An heirloom tomato picked that morning runs circles around a hybridised tomato picked two weeks ago in Florida and gassed so it turns red en route; Quality: the better the soil and the farmer, the better the food; Nutrition: food sheds nutrients after it is picked. The longer it takes to get to market, the less nutritional value it has, comparatively; Transparency: I like knowing how my food is grown and harvested. I visit my meat producer; try that at a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation]; Environmental: A minimisation of the use of chemicals that wash into waterways, creating algae blooms, choking out life, or killing beneficial insects, including honey bees; Sane stewardship: I like to support farmers who create more naturally fertile soil, which is better able to resist pests, floods, and droughts; Pleasure: I buy local food at my farmers’ market because it’s more pleasant to do so than going into an air-conditioned grocery store. I see neighbours, chat with farmers, taste before I buy. Economic: I want my food dollars to support my local economy; Humanity: Animals and humans are treated better on the small farms I know than they are on the large ones; I value green open spaces: Supporting local farms with my money encourages those farmers to maintain those green open spaces rather than selling off to developers.’
As Desrochers and Shimizu explain, these ideas are either not necessarily true, are matters of personal taste or, more often, are completely wrong. Instead, the authors argue, ‘the available evidence convincingly demonstrates that long-distance trade and modern technologies have resulted in much greater food availability, lower prices, improved health and reduced environmental damage than if they had never materialised. Indeed, more trade and ever-improving technologies remain to this day the only proven ways to lift large numbers of people out of rural poverty and malnutrition.’
Let’s take those arguments for local food, one by one, using (though not exclusively) the arguments in The Locavore’s Dilemma.
Charles Stross linked to this older post at Ribbonfarm discussing “how to think like a state”:
James C. Scott’s fascinating and seminal book, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, examines how, across dozens of domains, ranging from agriculture and forestry, to urban planning and census-taking, a very predictable failure pattern keeps recurring.
[. . .]
Scott calls the thinking style behind the failure mode “authoritarian high modernism,” but as we’ll see, the failure mode is not limited to the brief intellectual reign of high modernism (roughly, the first half of the twentieth century).
Here is the recipe:
Look at a complex and confusing reality, such as the social dynamics of an old city
Fail to understand all the subtleties of how the complex reality works
Attribute that failure to the irrationality of what you are looking at, rather than your own limitations
Come up with an idealized blank-slate vision of what that reality ought to look like
Argue that the relative simplicity and platonic orderliness of the vision represents rationality
Use authoritarian power to impose that vision, by demolishing the old reality if necessary
Watch your rational Utopia fail horribly
The big mistake in this pattern of failure is projecting your subjective lack of comprehension onto the object you are looking at, as “irrationality.” We make this mistake because we are tempted by a desire for legibility.
[. . .]
Central to Scott’s thesis is the idea of legibility. He explains how he stumbled across the idea while researching efforts by nation states to settle or “sedentarize” nomads, pastoralists, gypsies and other peoples living non-mainstream lives:
The more I examined these efforts at sedentarization, the more I came to see them as a state’s attempt to make a society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion. Having begun to think in these terms, I began to see legibility as a central problem in statecraft. The pre-modern state was, in many crucial respects, particularly blind; it knew precious little about its subjects, their wealth, their landholdings and yields, their location, their very identity. It lacked anything like a detailed “map” of its terrain and its people.
The book is about the 2-3 century long process by which modern states reorganized the societies they governed, to make them more legible to the apparatus of governance. The state is not actually interested in the rich functional structure and complex behavior of the very organic entities that it governs (and indeed, is part of, rather than “above”). It merely views them as resources that must be organized in order to yield optimal returns according to a centralized, narrow, and strictly utilitarian logic.
It’s a long post, but it is well worth reading. In a couple of throwaway examples, it rather cleverly ties the Indian caste system (as made “legible” by the Raj) and the entire Roman empire to Scott’s failure model.
I’m saddened to write that the great essayist and writer Christopher Hitchens is dead at the age of 62. He had been weakened by the cancer of the esophagus that he disclosed publicly in 2010 and the treatments he had undertaken to fight his illness. Reason extends its condolences to his wife, family, and friends.
As is clear to anyone who has read even a sentence of his staggeringly prolific output, Hitchens was the sort of stylist who could turn even a casual digression into a tutorial on all aspects of history, literature, and art. As a writer, you gaze upon his words and despair because there’s just no way you’re going to touch that. But far more important than the wit and panache and erudition with which he expressed himself was the method through which he engaged the world.
The Toronto Star has a small collection of quotations which do give a sense of the man’s range and wit:
5. About Sarah Palin: “She’s got no charisma of any kind, [but] I can imagine her being mildly useful to a low-rank porn director.”
6. “If you gave [Jerry] Falwell an enema he could be buried in a matchbox.”
[. . .]
8. About Mother Teresa: “She was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
9. “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”
[. . .]
12. About Michael Moore: “Europeans think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they’ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities.”
One of the reasons I despise tax policy is that it so rarely turns on the utilitarian aspects of taxes and instead focuses on political and social issues (a tax “rewards” one group or “punishes” another). Liberals fret about how “progressive” a tax regime is because their main concern is that the wealthy pay more than the poor; conservatives fret about “punishing success” by taxing the creators and makers higher than the cheats and deadbeats. The problem is that the word “fair” is interpreted differently depending on where you stand in the ideological spectrum: to me, “fair” means that I pay the same tax rate for my place in this Republic as any other citizen; to a liberal, I suspect that “fair” involves overtones of social justice and victim-hood and so on. But regardless of where you come down on taxation, I think it is important that every person pay at least some amount of taxes, just to provide a reminder that government isn’t free — and that the more government you have, the more it costs.
For a self-described man of the left, Brendan O’Neill is not afraid to critique leftist movements:
In the increasingly whiffy camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, amid placards declaring ‘The End is Nigh’, apparently a new kind of politics is being born. Young women talk about ‘politics starting again’. The media cheerleaders of the Occupy movement claim it represents ‘a substantive change not just to the nature of modern politics, but to the way in which it is done, demanded and delivered’. From New York to Madrid to Tokyo, the inhabitants of the so-called tent cities proudly declare themselves ‘citizens of a new world’.
Is all this occupying really the start of something new? No. And not only because on the rare occasion when the protesters issue a coherent demand they end up echoing ideas we’ve heard a thousand times before. (Their call for tougher independent regulation of the financial industry was pilfered from the Financial Times.) More fundamentally, their globally contagious protest represents the death agony of something old rather than the birth pang of something new. What we’re witnessing is the demise of the progressive left, but — and here is the Occupy movement’s twist — that demise is dolled up as something good, something positive, where instead of addressing the vacuum at the heart of modern left-wing thinking, the occupiers make a virtue out of it.
Around the world, the occupiers are adapting to the decayed state of radical left-wing thinking, moulding themselves around the organisational and political disarray of the left. All the negative things about the left today — the lack of big ideas, the dearth of daring leaders, the withering of organisational structures — are repackaged as positives. Leaderlessness is transformed into a virtue, the enabler of a fairer, more consensual form of politics. The absence of overarching ideology is sexed up as ‘liberation from dogma’. Even the thoughtlessness of the Occupy movement, both in terms of its lack of deep thinking and the way it has spread across the globe in a fairly thoughtless, meme-like fashion, is turned into a good thing: this is ‘unthought’, declares one observer, where creeds emerge ‘without much articulation of why they’re necessary, [almost] as reflexes’.
A tale of naivete about the Peoples’ Republic of China through the eyes of an American sympathizer:
The first time I tried to go to China was in 1967, the year after I graduated from college. My father was a radical leftist professor who admired Mao Zedong. And that influence, along with the Vietnam War protests — a movement in which I was not only a participant but an activist — led me to look at socialist China with very high hopes.
I was living in Hong Kong and wrote a letter to Beijing. A few months later I received a charming reply on two sheets of paper that looked like they had been labored over for days by a Red Guard with little English and a faulty typewriter. The letter explained that the Chinese people had nothing against me, but that I was from a predatory imperialist country and could not visit the People’s Republic. Before I left Hong Kong I bought four volumes of “The Selected Works of Mao Zedong,” and, rather grandiosely, ripped the covers off of them so that I might carry them safely back to the imperialist US.
In May, 1973, however, I got another chance. A year earlier, in April 1972, the Chinese ping-pong team had visited the US to break a twenty-three year freeze in diplomatic relations, and I had served as an interpreter. I made a good impression on Chinese officials on that US tour, in part because I led four of the six American interpreters in a boycott of the teams’ meeting with President Richard Nixon at the White House. (Nixon had ordered the bombing of Haiphong just the day before; to me, small talk in the Rose Garden just didn’t seem right.)
The local-food movement’s ideological parochialism would be dangerous if it were somehow enacted into law. But as persuasion, it tends to focus on the positive: the delights of local peaches and fresh cider, not the imagined evils of Chilean blueberries and prepeeled baby carrots. In this regard, it resembles the English Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. William Morris, who is remembered today more for his wallpaper and book designs than for his social theories, didn’t manage to overturn the industrial revolution. But he and his allies left a legacy of beautiful things. Pleasure is persuasive.