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Drivel, 2017

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Banning the Niqab   (October 20, 2017)
 

We note that Quebec has passed a law which requires that those providing and receiving government services must do so with faces uncovered. The law is meant to foster "religious neutrality" – but as many have pointed out, it is obviously aimed at those who wear the niqab and burka.

A number of European countries ban such face-coverings; Denmark is about to join Austria, France, Belgium, Germany, and Bulgaria.

In Canada, a country devoted to the principle of multiculturalism, it is not surprising that we have seen cries of outrage and horror at the Quebec law.

We think that these critics speak as if we lived in an ideal world.

In that world, we imagine that the argument would run as follows: Canada is a country in which freedom is important. If people wish to cover their faces – or even if they are compelled to by others who subscribe to an oppressive and totalitarian ideology – the government has no say in such matters. In a land of freedom, the government must not – with the exception of public nudity -- legislate how people dress.

In that ideal world, therefore, it would also be possible to criticize the wearing of face-coverings and the philosophy upon which it is based. Shopkeepers would be perfectly justified in banning masked potential customers from their establishments. Police would be able to require that citizens show their faces, and government workers would feel free to refuse service to those wearing masks. It would be absurd to allow citizens to testify in court wearing masks. Ordinary citizens would have no hesitation in expressing their displeasure that some adopt a stance of superiority, and exhibit a disdain for the established customs of our society. In that ideal world of freedom, the wearing of masks would soon be seen as thoroughly impractical, and would die out very quickly.

Alternatively, of course -- in that ideal world -- perhaps the manifest advantages of face-covering would be seen by all; the custom would spread like wildfire, and only a few cranky oldsters would resist the new fashion.

But that is the ideal world. In the real one, there is no such freedom.  Although everybody knows that the wearing of masks during ordinary social interactions is ridiculous, divisive, and subversive, it is politically incorrect to say so. The wearing of face-coverings is accompanied by a strongly encouraged "tolerance," which appears to be well on the way to enforcement. The federal government has signalled its approval of the niqab by allowing it to be worn by those engaged in a citizenship ceremony. Further, the government has recently passed a motion, M-103 which condemns "Islamophobia." "Islamophobia" is not defined – but, logically, it would appear to be directed at a fear, dislike, or hatred of Islam. True, there has been no actual enforcement, as yet, but the motion, chillingly, links "Islamophobia" with "hate speech." We do not think that it is alarmist to suggest that "Islamophobia" may soon find a happy home in a prohibited list maintained by Human Rights Commissions.

The reason for this pressure to ensure "tolerance" is that the government is committed, ideologically, to multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is doubtless an idealistic response to the aggressive nationalistic wars of the last century. The problem is, that it fails to take account of the fact that cultural values can be antithetical, and hence incompatible. The idea that a religion should not be criticized cannot be reconciled with the concept of freedom of speech. There is no happy middle ground of compromise between the notion that religion should control government, and the idea that government should be secular.

But logic is never the strong point when an ideal must be maintained. The ideal of multiculturalism, the infinite tolerance which it implies, the happy harmony which will result -- all these are behind the need to promote and ensure "tolerance."

 

It is always suspicious when we are urged to believe in the unbelievable. The degree of pressure seems likely to be proportionate to the degree of absurdity involved.

Let us consider the real world -- and some of the reasons why the wearing of niqabs and burkas should be discouraged.

First, there are practical reasons.

A significant portion of the human brain is devoted to facial recognition, and the reading of facial expressions is an important factor in ordinary human interaction. A facial covering interferes with that interaction. The person who is masked is, in fact, adopting a position of superiority, claiming the right to read faces, while denying that same ability to others. Masks, then, are inegalitarian and divisive.

As divisive elements, they are barriers to social harmony. It is difficult to imagine how harmony is served by having some citizens wear masks which impede engagement with others – and which prevent participation in many social activities common in our society. We imagine that playing tennis in a burka would be somewhat non-competitive. The wearing of masks, then, is a practical factor in preventing integration and social harmony. The proposition that a community can be "half-slave" to a repressive religious ideology, and "half-free" from it -- seems decidedly daft.

The failure to integrate, we might point out, is not likely to be trivial. There is no point in encouraging ghettoes of citizens whose views of the conduct of life are diametrically opposed to those of the larger, encompassing culture. This has been the case in a number of European countries, and the results have been -- shall we say -- less than optimal.

Another practical difficulty is that our society does have some concern with preventing criminal behaviour. Security cameras are used to record the activities of citizens in public places. The effectiveness of such cameras is, once again "less than optimal" -- when citizens wear masks. Anyone deciding to rob a jewellery store, would seem well-advised to wear a burka or niqab in the pursuit of that enterprise.

Beyond such practical matters, there are symbolic reasons to oppose the niqab and the burka. Without the practical reasons mentioned, these might not be decisive. We can imagine, for instance, that a Swastika armband, as symbolically offensive as it might be, is more benign than a niqab – simply because the armband covers the arm, rather than the face. It functions as a symbolic statement rather than as a physical barrier to social interaction.

The Islamic face-coverings may have two entirely different symbolic implications.

If they are worn freely and deliberately – they are symbols of a disdain for the culture in which the wearer finds herself. The wearer is, in effect, flaunting a large, raised middle finger to the larger community.

Paradoxically, if the covering is worn under duress, it is a symbol, not of disdain, but of oppression.

The oppressive factor is a coercive ideology which demeans women – which has no place for the idea of gender equality.

Indeed, the burka and niqab may be seen as symbols of the totality of the religious and political ideology which is incompatible with our own. Is it really wise to approve of the symbols – the propaganda – of an ideology which opposes freedom of speech, secular government, and gender equality?

Weighing the concerns of the ideal world against those of the real, we must favour those of the real. We think it is important to send a symbolic message that the burka and niqab are unwelcome in our society. Only in this way can we take the first steps towards the integration of masked Muslim women into the greater community. We are not sure we would ban them on a bus ride, but it would seem reasonable to ban them during interactions with representatives of government. In the private sector, we would certainly hold it legitimate for shopkeepers to deny access to potential customers wearing masks.

Which would you choose? -- a government which seems determined to enforce an inappropriate tolerance, and maintain an unhelpful, subversive cultural division -- or a government which seeks to encourage the abandonment of divisive, inegalitarian, and symbolically offensive religious masks?

With such a choice, our decision is not at all difficult.

 

 

 

 

Comedy and Political Correctness          (September 23, 2017)

 

A number of people have noted that comedy is threatened by political correctness.

The latest is Mel Brooks:

We have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy. It’s not good for comedy.

Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. "Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, always telling the truth about human behavior. (Breitbart News, September 22, 2017)

 

Indeed, we see political correctness as the new religion – and laughter and piety have never made good neighbours. The old religion – Christianity – has always been pretty serious, and there were times when witch jokes were probably not advisable. But at least Christianity was wise enough to put the attainment of heaven at a considerable distance. You had to die to experience it – and the afterlife – not having much in the way of a Communications Department – could be portrayed as perfection without any negative two-star consumer reviews.

Political correctness goes much further – it attempts to realize a heaven on earth. In that heaven, equality reigns, self-esteem is the chief good, and facts are required to put their cloaks over puddles, so that feelings may have a safe and dry passage.

It is impossible to fault political correctness for its intentions: who would not wish everyone to have a happy, successful life involving universal adoration and supreme – but equal – confidence?

Unfortunately, political correctness contains the seeds of its own failure. Before it can come into full bloom, a very great deal of reality has to be ignored, and large numbers of people have to keep their mouths shut. The concerted aim for perfection, alas, necessarily involves coercion. Coercion and perfection are at odds: if you can only attain perfection through coercion, perfection is compromised from the get-go.

Now – what happens when pious coercion is put in the same room with comedic irreverence?

We have always thought that Stephen Leacock’s explanation of laughter to be most compelling. He thought that it had its origin in the cry of triumph when caveman "A" smashed the skull of caveman "B" with a rock.

Laughter is not always that cruel – but we think that it always involves a triumphant perception of incongruity: "Laughter is a spontaneous cry of triumphant perception. The cause may be a word with a double meaning -- an incongruous circumstance -- or some absurd human pretension. The triumph is all; it is agnostic with respect to feelings."*

Immediately, we can see that comedy and political correctness are from different planets. Political correctness comes from a heavenly planet of feelings – a soft, cozy ball of warm fluff, where a serious kindness, mixed with a certain element of concerned trepidation --laced with delicacy -- floats over the entire orb.

Laughter – sharp-eyed – with a pitiless, cruel, and distinctly non-egalitarian lineage, occupies a rugged planet of mountain and abyss – suffused with the distinct odour of burning and sulphur.

 

Feelings and laughter are mongoose and cobra; they don’t even go to the same pubs.

When laughter is enjoying itself, observing the man in top hat and fancy dress slip on a banana peel, everything is spoiled when it is realized that the man has broken his leg, his career as an acrobat is over, and his aged mother will be forced to eke out her days in the Charity Ward of the Bide-a-Wee Rest Home.

Sometimes feelings make a pre-emptive strike: as Mr. Brooks points out -- gas chambers or the deaths of children at the hands of the Nazis are too emotionally powerful for the comedic impulse to arise.

There are different kinds of comedy – but the type most at odds with political correctness is satiric. The whole purpose of satire is to criticize – with at least the ostensible purpose of alteration or correction. Political correctness holds that everything is equal to everything else. There is nothing to criticize. Criticism implies that some things are less worthy than other things, and this is simply not in the mathematics of the heavenly planet. "A" is always equal to all the other letters. Any equation you care to write will turn out to be correct – in the same way that all mathematicians are equal and indistinguishable from one another.

Now – political correctness is absurd, and has very little to do with the real world. The perceptive reader might be impelled to ask – why is not political correctness a fit subject for satire and parody?

There are two answers to this question. The first is that political correctness is so absurd that any attempt to parody it is likely to be taken seriously.** When the compliment "I love your shoes" – directed to today’s powerful woman – is considered a microaggression – and when a safe space is provided equipped with puppies, chocolate, and crayons for university students experiencing the angst of coping with the election of Donald Trump – where is the room for parody?

The second answer is the same one – but put somewhat differently. Satire depends on a "satiric norm" – a commonly agreed on set of values by which absurdity may be judged.

What seems to have happened is that political correctness is so widely accepted, so mainstream, that no one can take a few steps back from it to make a judgment. To criticize political correctness, you have to believe that things aren’t equal, and feelings sometimes need a good hurting. Now who could possibly maintain things so unkind and cruel?

It’s just not politically correct.

Of course, one day, things may change: "We are waiting to see the point at which political correctness simply devours itself – is paralysed in a web of contradictions and impossibilities – or subsides beneath an incoherent sea of infinitely parsed microaggressions. (We are not holding our breath.)" ***

Slapstick and puns remain. It is possible to joke about one's own personal foibles -- or those common to humanity at large – but for the time being, satire – which is critical – which suggests that some things are better than others – is pretty much dead.

 

 

*Observation # 971

**Poe’s Law: "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake it for the genuine article."

***Observation # 1103

 

 

 

 

 

The AVG Experience (August 26, 2017)

 

Warning: The following is suitable for adults only Some readers may find the following content depressing. Anyone prone to illusions of any kind – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the probity of internet security providers – would be advised to switch to more cheerful topics covered on this site – such as "The Current Prospects for Nuclear War," "Dying Young," or "What to Expect from a Major Solar Flare hitting Earth."

If you are quite sure – we will proceed.

Last May, we actually purchased an internet security protection service from AVG.

We did so with some reluctance. It is one of our primary aims to pay as little as possible for as many things as possible. "Nothing" is our most attractive and sought-after price. Until May, we seemed to have managed to get free protection for short periods of time, and then, upon expiry, obtain further protection by simply asking – like Oliver Twist – for more. We left Twist in the Dickensian dust. It seemed as though we could get more – for free – forever.

We do not remember the exact circumstances – but, for some reason, last May, we grew convinced that our free ride was coming to an end.

We consulted a friend. We will not name him here, but simply refer to him henceforth as Computer Guru – CG for short. CG, we should note, has an even greater dedication and skill – if that is actually possible – in the matter of avoiding unnecessary costs -- than we do. In addition, he knows something about computers.

We asked him: "Do we actually have to pay for internet security?"

His answer was: "Yes."

Everything faded to black. When we regained consciousness, we asked CG whether he had recently been discharged from a mental institution. He denied it, saying – yes, you have to pay for internet security protection.

Let us draw a protective screen over the angst that followed. There is no point in dredging up unpleasant memories.

Let us, instead, play the tape of our miserable existence forward – to this very morning.

We decided to "save" a current Word Perfect page to the grand repository of completed items in that system. It is something that we have done countless times on this very computer since 2009.

On this occasion, an AVG window popped up saying that it had detected someone attempting to alter a Word Perfect File. It asked whether we wished to "block" or "allow" the "app."

Our immediate thought was to BLOCK this awful AVG thingey that was interfering with our normal procedures. Naturally, we pressed "block."

This, of course, was the wrong response. From that moment, any time we attempted to "save" or retrieve an existing file, Word Perfect was the prim and unforgiving governess. It said: "You are not allowed to perform this function." There was no escape. It did not allow us to change our mind, to repent, or to do extra work in scrubbing the toilet for a return of privileges. Our goose, as they say, was cooked.

 

We are not particularly resourceful in such circumstances. We briefly considered suicide. Then we tried deep breathing and thinking of happy childhood memories. All we could think of was the time our little brother got run over by the milkman’s cart. We wondered whether, in fact, there was a life after computers. Website be damned! We can take up philately or the study of ancient languages. We could start a new religion, or take up golf.

It was no use.

We called AVG.

The nice lady there took control of our computer. She temporarily disabled AVG in order to prove that, indeed, without AVG, Word Perfect had resigned its rτle as governess. It was, once again, the simple housemaid willing to "save" or "retrieve" on request. We did not even have to ask nicely. A simple, unexpressive mouse-click – and she would obey our every command.

Well – that was valuable information. AVG was the culprit. Now, could the nice lady at AVG return us to the fateful window and let us ALLOW Word Perfect to do, without demure, its accustomed chores?

Or could she give the AVG system a good talking to – a good tweak of the ear – so that it would stop misbehaving?

Well, actually no.

Then nice lady at AVG gave us two options:

1. Take the computer to a technician who would "reset" it. The cost would be unpredictable.

2. Allow the nice lady – or one of her minions – to fix the problem.

With respect to the second option, a "simple fix" – for $79 – would not suffice. The best option was the complete package which would fix and refresh the computer, wash the windows, and take out the garbage for a year. A mere $199.

The less expensive option – the "complex fix" – was $119.

Ever cautious, we said we would need to consider so important a decision at leisure. We pleaded stupidity, age, and general incompetence. We would need, we said, to consult CG.

We took that very action.

CG said we should make sure we had our AVG license number, and proof of payment. We should then uninstall AVG. Then, using our proof of payment if necessary, simply re-install AVG.

The proof of payment was not necessary. Even after the "uninstall," our computer retained a reference to the original installation. The system was re-installed, and everything seems to be fine.

Could it possibly be that the nice lady – who had temporarily disabled the AVG system – did not realize that a simple "uninstall" and re-installation was a cost-free option for our circumstance?

We will not bother to draw the obvious conclusions from this episode.

 

 

 

The Problem of assessing Islam – and those who claim it as their Faith. (July 28, 2017)
 

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. (Aldous Huxley)

We heard yesterday, on the CBC program "Q," an interview with Iranian-born comedian Maz Jobrani, conducted by Ali Hassan. Both men consider themselves Muslims.

Mr. Jobrani is upset that Muslims are not accurately or fairly represented in America.

He came from Iran in 1978; his family was secular, and he is not particularly religious. It is understandable, therefore, that his sense of being Muslim differs from that of those whose commitment to the faith is more robust. We are all inclined to see the world through the lens of our own experience.

Indeed, Mr. Mobrani has a "religious" cousin – who -- he says -- merely wishes to live his own life.

We have no doubt that this is true. There are many Muslims whose interpretation of their religion is benign.

We might note that Mr. Jobrani’s sunny outlook is not restricted to Muslims: he claims that immigrants to America are uniformly enamoured of the country and its culture.

However, we think that to pretend that all Muslims are like Mr. Jobrani and his cousin, is just as unfair as to claim that all Muslims are terrorists.

The great problem, as we have pointed out many times, is that Islam has no central interpretive authority. Thus, the religion depends on the words of the Koran and the Hadith. Unfortunately, any literal reading of those texts can be used to justify terrorism, and in general, the thrust of Islam is absolutely incompatible with modern western secular values.

 

 

Islam claims that it must not be criticized. It also holds that government should be subservient to Islamic values. Thus, freedom of speech and democracy are concepts entirely foreign to it.

Now, if no one interpreted these texts literally, there would be no problem. However, a significant number do. A fatwa was declared against Salman Rushdie. There was murderous outrage upon the publication of the Danish cartoons. Countries such as Pakistan have laws against blasphemy. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive. Iran hangs homosexuals.

The conversation between Ali Hassan and Maz Jobrani seems to pretend that such realities are irrelevant. In doing so, their cause is not advanced.

Indeed, this conversation represents much that is wrong with the attempt to come to grips with the threat which Islam poses. When secular Muslims pretend that there are no dangers in the literal interpretation of their religion, they are distorting the truth. Pretending that a problem does not exist is to ensure that a solution will not be found. A failure to face reality allows it to stab you in the back.

Feel-good sentiments and thoughtless buzzwords are no match for reality.

We were particularly upset to hear Mr. Hassan to characterize eating at restaurants representing different cultures as a cure for "racism."

"Racism" is a convenient buzzword used as an unanswerable accusation of moral depravity. Indeed, objecting to people because of their race is simply stupid. On the other hand, objecting to some cultural practices is not only sensible, but a moral imperative. Those who find abhorrent cultural practices such as cannibalism, slavery, stoning for adultery, female genital mutilation, honour killings, or human sacrifices to appease the Gods, are not "racist." They are making moral judgments which seem eminently valid.

This "lightweight" conversation – between two secular Muslims – simply illustrates one reason why dealing with the real threat of Islam is so difficult.

 

 

 

The Clash between Ideal and Real (July 11, 2017) 

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." (Aristotle)
 

The payment of $10.5 million to Omar Khadr has been controversial.

On one hand, there are those who focus narrowly on the fact that Mr. Khadr’s rights were violated when Canadian officials interviewed him in 2003 and 2004. As a result, Mr. Khadr is deemed worthy of an apology and an ostentatious payment of reparation. The claim is that Mr. Khadr’s previous involvement in terrorism is entirely irrelevant. In addition, there is an attempt to cast doubt on the circumstances of that involvement. It is claimed he was a "child soldier" – a mere puppet incapable of independent action; it is also questioned whether he actually threw the grenade which resulted in death and injury.

We must hasten to indicate that, even if Mr. Khadr’s previous actions were ignored, we doubt that $10.5 million is an appropriate sum for the violation of his rights.

According to an article in today’s National Post, 71% of Canadians disagree with the settlement. we suspect that they, like us, cannot help but see any violation of Mr. Khadr’s rights in the larger context: he was involved in treasonous activity in support of an evil ideology. Whether he was a puppet or not, he was a dangerous puppet, and to reward him is to send a message that terrorism is fine – as long as you are young enough. It is an encouragement to terrorist families: in case of doubt – send your fifteen-year-old to commit acts of terror: if he survives the deed – he will not be held responsible.

We think that these two views represent a typical clash between the perceptions in an ideal world – and those in the real one.

In the ideal world – a case cannot be prejudiced by prior context. In the real one, such extreme scrupulosity to be "fair" actually results in injustice. As Aristotle has noted – treating those things as equal which are not equal – results in inequality. To pretend that Omar Khadr is equal to Maher Arar is simply not fair.

Because "equality" is one of the ideals most commonly held to be desirable – it is interesting to consider some examples which show that often the pretence of "equality" leads to folly, to inequity, or both.

One prominent example is the notion that men and women should be equally represented in any given line of work. Thus it is frequently lamented that women are under-represented on Boards of Directors, or in the rτle of Chief Executive Officer. Conscious efforts are made to encourage women to become fire-fighters or auto mechanics. What this ideal of "equality" overlooks, of course, is that men and women are not actually interchangeable. While some women may, it is entirely possible that very large numbers of women do not actually want to run corporations – or become auto mechanics. Discriminating against one gender in favour of another – in the name of "equality" -- a favourite modern employment practice -- is neither fair nor productive.

This view, of course, is entirely heretical in the modern age – because it is not in accord with the ideal of "equality."

Another wonderful example – is the belief in multiculturalism. It is imagined that a blessed society can be woven out of "diversity" – with lots of different multi-hued strands, gaining strength from directional variation and vibrancy from variety. This assumes, falsely, that there is an "equality" of cultures which will enable people of entirely different backgrounds to live in happy and mutually respectful harmony.

What is overlooked is that every society depends on some degree of conformity – the ultimate in "diversity" is chaos. And sometimes strands are mutually exclusive – they cancel one another out: the belief that religion should not control government is not strengthened by the notion that it should. The two ideas are not equal; history has shown us that one is better – in terms of creating freedom, opportunity, and a higher standard of living -- than the other.

Thus true multiculturalism is not really workable – because ideas are not equal – some of them work better than others. The attempt to create a society in which people differ radically on fundamental issues is a recipe for conflict, not success.

Our final example is the United Nations. What a wonderful idea! Let’s get all the nations together and talk about things. We won’t hurt anyone’s feelings by saying that some nations are more worthy than others. We’ll just pretend that they are all equal.

Thus the most repressive of dictatorships is given the same vote as the most enlightened of democracies; the most primitive of nations is the equal of the most advanced, scientific, and sophisticated.

This is a recipe for disaster – and leads to such awful ironies as the appointment of Iran, in 2014 to committees concerned with the protection of women’s rights and human rights.

The United Nations should have been called The Civilized Nations. Using some objective measures of liberty and opportunity, some countries should have been placed in the first tier of nations, while others were relegated to lesser positions in a hierarchical arrangement. Those considered less worthy would, upon achieving certain standards, be permitted to advance towards the top tier.*

As it is now, the United Nations is scarcely useful, and is justly seen as corrupt and ineffectual.

We could discuss socialism – but we think we need go no further. We admit there is a powerful attraction to the idea of equality and other fanciful notions -- like free lunches and benevolent deities. And it is true that dreams and imagination are spurs to improvement. But ideals are for inspiration, rather than implementation.

Aldous Huxley said: "Dream in a pragmatic way." This is the best advice. But it is difficult to heed.
 

*We confess that our suggestion is, in itself, rather idealistic. Perhaps a few civilized nations could have got together first – and made it look so attractive that others clamoured to join. Membership would be conditional, and involve restrictions and incentives.

 

 

 

The Case of Omar Khadr          (July 7, 2017)
 

Men are not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen. (George Savile, Marquis of Halifax. 1633-1695)

Mr. Khadr has, apparently, received a sum of $10.5 million in settlement of a lawsuit launched on the grounds that Canadian officials had been – to some degree – complicit in his mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay when they visited him in 2003 and 2004.

As Howard Anglin argues in the July 6 edition of the National Post, the settlement seems abrupt. The government could have defended the claim for "years to come."

There are, of course, two views of Mr. Khadr. One sees his situation entirely in personal terms. Mr. Khadr was an innocent fifteen-year-old when he killed a U.S. army soldier and wounded another. He was too young to understand the significance of his engagement in the war as a treasonous activity. His subsequent oppressive treatment was unfair, and he should be seen now as a man more sinned against than sinning.

The other view sees Mr. Khadr in the context of an ideological battle. While it is true that he was brainwashed by his family, who espouse an evil ideology, he cannot be seen as a total innocent. He was fifteen, and caused death and injury in the cause of a pernicious ideology which is inimical to modern western democratic values. He was not acting under compulsion – but under conviction. Fifteen is young -- but it is not the same as ten. And then, instead of being shot as an enemy, Mr. Khadr was treated and saved. While it has been said that he has now rejected violent jihad, that was not the case for many years – at least until 2012. It seems a legitimate question whether his repentance is one of convenience rather than conviction.

Even if we subscribe to the first view, it would seem that a $10.5 million payment is somewhat excessive for a somewhat remote "complicity" on the part of officials.

In his article, Mr. Anglin suggests that the abrupt payment arises from the personal convictions of Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Trudeau has managed, conveniently, to suggest non-involvement by referring to the process as an irrevocable force of judicial deliberation. When asked about the matter, he replied:

"We are anticipating," he said, "like I think a number of people are, that that judicial process is coming to its conclusion."

 

 

We agree with Mr. Anglin that the settlement in such a controversial case would hardly have been made without Mr. Trudeau’s approval.

Indeed, it is entirely consistent with Mr. Trudeau’s view of the universe that he would not only subscribe to the first view of Mr. Khadr – as an unfortunate innocent – but that he would wish to engage in "virtue signalling." Mr. Trudeau’s philosophy is that the universe is a happy, multicultural place of tolerance and sunny ways. In that universe, there is no such thing as an evil ideology – for such a thing is too bizarre to contemplate. Thus, it is important to make excessive compensation in order to display a merciful magnanimity and a determined commitment to righteousness.

Mr. Trudeau has confirmed our long-held opinion of his wrong-headed, platitudinous, and ruinous gullibility.

The message he is actually sending is this: It's fine to be a terrorist in Canada -- it may even be highly profitable -- as long as you are young enough.

We – it probably comes as no surprise – tend to take the second view of Mr. Khadr. We think he is a victim of brainwashing – but not one entirely innocent. His case is not just important on a personal level, but on a symbolic one. He represents an evil ideology which must be resisted at every turn. We would be say that his present state of freedom represents a kind of simple and entirely adequate justice, considering all the factors the case. We see no need to signal a " justice" distorted and debased by an infinitude of mercy.

We might be more charitable if Mr. Khadr had renounced his ideology immediately on his return to Canada. But he did not – and we question his sincerity. Under such circumstances, there is no need to make an extraordinary reparation in order to signal a kind of exhibitionist tolerance. Let him prove himself from this time forward – with actions, not words.

Indeed, we understand that Ms. Speer, the widow of the soldier Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty to killing, and Layne Morris, who was injured, may seek to enforce a U.S. ruling of $134.2 million against Mr. Khadr made in 2015.

If that claim should be successful, we might conclude that our "simple justice’" has been done.

Were Mr. Khadr to pay the money in order to pre-empt the legal proceedings, our opinion of him might be significantly modified.

 

 

 

 

Some Ruminations on Blasphemy   (May 14, 2017)

 

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. ( Lucius Annaeus Seneca 4 B.C. - 65 A.D.)

Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt. (H.L. Mencken, 1880 - 1956)

 

That religion should be regarded by rulers as useful seems entirely reasonable. Rulers wish not only to rule, but to keep on ruling – and pretending to be a God, or, at the very least, to be on familiar speaking terms with Him – or Them – cannot hurt. As long as the "common people" believe that religion is true – it seems like a good idea to insist that the state is sanctioned and supported by religion.

And once it is established that the state draws upon divinity for its power, it becomes important that religion be considered beyond criticism. The idea of "blasphemy" becomes an important tool in keeping people thinking along the right lines.

In the present day, the link between Christianity and the state has been – to the great advantage of the state – largely severed. While the constitutions of advanced secular countries may pay lip service to "God" – it’s really just for show – a faηade of piety always adds dignity to any constitution. But no one reads – or no one admits to reading -- chicken entrails in determining an energy policy or the route of a new subway line.

With Islam, of course it is a different matter. The religion claims to be the source of all wisdom; the state, obligingly agrees.

Thus we are not surprised to see laws against blasphemy in Pakistan. It’s just what Islam requires.

But beyond being useful to rulers, it seems that religion has an inherent appeal to human beings, in that it claims infallibility. Thinking is so difficult, and it is a great relief if lots of really important thinking has already been done for you. Once you are assured of what God thinks, many things become perfectly clear. Facts, evidence, debate are no longer required. Further, absolute certainty allows you to attack those who think differently with assured ferocity, with the implacability of righteous indignation. There is great satisfaction in knowing, not merely that you are virtuous and right, but that others are wrong and completely evil. All the anger, hate, and frustration of life can be virtuously directed at the irredeemably perverse.

It is the wonderful black and white world of childhood thinking.

We have noticed two items in recent news concerning blasphemy. The first concerns Pakistan.

According to Breitbart News (May 12):

Voice of America reports that the state-run Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has sent text messages to millions of users warning them against uploading blasphemous content online or via text message. The same message was posted on the Telecommunication Authority’s website.

According to this article, the Pakistani government has been pushing for better enforcement of anti-blasphemy laws, and Facebook, always eager to be on the side of the right-thinkers. is now attempting to remove "blasphemous" content from its platform.

It is well known that attempts by legislators in Pakistan to modify such laws in the past have resulted in assassination. Salman Taseer, Governor of the Province of Punjab, who called for the amendment of laws making blasphemy a capital offence, was shot by his bodyguard.

And another, Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed because of his attempt to change the law.

There appears to be a considerable fondness, in Pakistan, for the idea that people with the wrong ideas should be killed. Recently, a journalism student in that country was lynched after being accused of blasphemy.

We know, of course, that Pakistan is not at the forefront of countries claiming enlightenment. It is still mired in the grip of the terrible religion of Islam.

What is more interesting, perhaps, is that blasphemy has been observed in Ireland.

Apparently Stephen Fry was interviewed on radio in Ireland in February, 2015. He was asked what he would say should he actually encounter God. Fry responded:

How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right.

It’s utterly, utterly evil.

Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?

Fry was then asked how he would react if he found himself locked outside the pearly gates.

He said:

 

 

I would say, "bone cancer in children? What’s that about?

Because the God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac."

(National Post, May 8, 2017)

Of course, Mr. Fry is simply pointing out the absurdity of the conventional view of God – who is at once omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent...which is obvious intellectual buffalo dung.

But – apparently – Ireland still has a Defamation Act which provides for a fine of twenty-five thousand euros for blasphemy.

In this case, a "concerned citizen" thought it was his "civic duty" to report comments which he believed were forbidden by the Defamation Act.

It should be recognized, perhaps, that "blasphemy" – a term used in the context of religion --is simply a particular example of a more general concept: cherished beliefs – especially those which can lay claim to virtue – require the protection of censorship. Once one has seen the light, and perceived virtue itself, then it seems only reasonable to stop people from expressing disagreement. By definition, those who disagree with light and virtue, are dark and evil. Who could object to the censorship of people with the wrong opinions?

Thus we should note that the former President of the United States, having drunk at the fountain of wisdom, declared that the future should not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. What he means by "slander" is not clear – but we suspect that it covers many things that others might consider to be facts.

What Mr. Obama was doing was reflecting the notion held by religious believers – that Islam should be beyond criticism – but also, perhaps, defending the fashionable notion that all cultures and religions are equally worthy: the wonderful world of political correctness.

Indeed, political correctness is a kind of religion. It expresses the belief in a wonderful kind of equality, which leads to the notion that harmony is the chief good: those who criticize ideas hurt the feelings of those who hold them; people with hurt feelings cannot feel equal. By this kind of argument – never articulated, but implied – censorship becomes eminently justifiable.

Thus, it is common at universities – where light and virtue have been perceived –that speech must be closely monitored, lest it trigger offense, and require immediate retreat of the offended to the haven of a restorative "safe space."  And any potential speakers on campus -- who might be critical of the received wisdom – are denied access, and become the subjects of indignant protests.

Similarly, the theory of anthropogenic climate change – although it has not been proven – has been accepted as a virtuous belief. The survival of the planet is at stake; those arguing that the computer models are faulty – that predictions have failed – they must be required to keep quiet. Which is more important: the saving of the planet, or freedom of speech?

Thus we have the infamous remarks of David Suzuki – that politicians disagreeing with the "consensus" about anthropogenic climate change should be jailed.

Thus "blasphemy" – the notion of absolute "taboo" – is widespread in society. It is probably safe to say that it always has been.

The psychological basis for the desire to censor others seems fairly clear. In an uncertain world, people crave certainty. No – we are not speaking of unpleasant certainties – death, taxes, and stupidity --we especially crave certainties that are soothing and calming.

Religion presents a view of the world which is reassuring. What appears to be chaotic, frightening, and dangerous, is not: it is actually the result of some ingenious central planning by the Creator; the plan is not always clearly evident, but, be assured – it is there – and all will be ultimately revealed in its ordered magnificence. Even the certainty of death is overcome by the benign certainty of an after-life of harp-playing, virginal titillation --or any other preferred pleasantness -- in the clouds.

Political correctness – a kind of secular religion – assures us that, beneath the apparent inequalities of life, is a bedrock certainty of equality. People, cultures, religions, are all equally worthy; hurt feelings are unnecessary; harmony is the true, achievable goal of humanity.

Similarly in climate alarmism – the religious branch of scientific enquiry – what appears to be frightening and disastrous – rising sea levels, tornadoes, and droughts – can be avoided by recycling, the use of solar panels, and a painless dismantling of industrial civilization.

"Blasphemy" it will be seen -- whether secular or religious -- is found only in areas of comforting belief. No one forbids criticism of the Theory of Relativity, the idea of heliocentricity, or the three times table. These are either matters of fact, or have no significant function of reassurance.

We deem blasphemous or unacceptable those opinions which contradict cherished and reassuring beliefs. The less certain we are of those beliefs, the more will we be anxious that they be protected from criticism. The call to censorship is invariably a sign of insecurity.

The prevalence of "blasphemy" may be taken as a measure of our dependence on beliefs which are unsupported by facts – our distance, in fact, from seeing things as they are.

 

 

 

Some Final (we hope) Reflections on Morality       (April 30, 2017)

Morality is not divinely revealed, but socially derived. It represents an adjudication between the desires of the individual and the requirements of the tribe. That adjudication may have some universal elements essential to survival, but it may also vary according to beliefs and circumstances. The moral values inspired by the belief that a good harvest depends upon the appeasement of the Gods with human sacrifice differ from those which arise from a belief in the efficacy of a well-designed irrigation system. The values of the tribe under constant threat of attack are unlikely to be identical to those of the tribe which co-exists peacefully with its neighbours. Morality is, essentially, utilitarian rather than holy. (Observation # 992)

We think that this recent observation might benefit from some elaboration. That morality is socially derived rather than divinely revealed is the only possible position for someone who does not believe in the Divine -- in the existence of a mysterious, human-like being who created the vastness of the universe, but is morbidly obsessed with how a particular kind of living creature behaves in the tribal societies which it invariably forms.

Those who do believe in a Divinity seem to assume that it cares not a whit for the extinction of the dinosaurs, or the mating habits of rabbits, or the spousal antipathies of female spiders. But – they believe that it has made up rules and regulations for human beings – a suspiciously large number of them about sex – and is keeping a record of their behaviour in anticipation of a final reckoning when they are dead.

The whole thing is so utterly bizarre and nonsensical, we are tempted to stop here.  There is no such thing as a                 "Divinity" – it is so obviously the creation of the human imagination.

But we have had this niggling notion that what is obvious to us has escaped vast numbers of our fellow tribesmen. We wanted to consider some specific implications of the belief that there is a God who has decreed a perfect morality.

We will ignore, for the moment, why pretending that morality comes from God is helpful – and why the concept of God is, in a sense, utilitarian in and of itself. We will refrain from pointing point out that every society needs rules and regulations -- that the unregulated tribe is a casual tribe; a casual tribe is unlikely to fare well against a united and determined one. Nor shall we state that religion is a useful device for helping to ensure that people follow the rules: if you don’t behave, God will get you. We will not note that blind and irrational belief – especially when an afterlife minimizes present danger – allows for a second chance – is likely to be a significant help on the tribal battlefield.

Now that we have noted – but ignored – those obvious utilitarian arguments – let us proceed.

Let us pretend – just for a moment – that the religious believers are correct. God is not simply a utilitarian construct: God’s in his heaven – and he has a plan. We will assume, for the purpose of this discussion that the plan is like that assumed by many Christians. It is a very detailed plan – but for the sake of simplification – let us take one of the most important, bedrock principles of that plan: human life is "sacred" – the taking of a human life is immoral.

Because we are ignoring utilitarian arguments, we will refrain from pointing out that this is a very convenient principle – since a tribe which allows indiscriminate murders is unlikely to prosper.

Instead, we will note how many practical loopholes there are in the principle that "life is sacred" – contradictions which people pretend not to notice.

First of all -- that "sacredness" is intra-tribal, not inter-tribal. War changes everything. Our lives -- we of the Pongo Pongo tribe -- are sacred; your lives – you of the Dingo Dango tribe -- are not only expendable, but their termination – as a means of ensuring Pongo Pongo survival and dominance --is devoutly to be wished.

Similarly, we would note that the Christian religion has never had a problem with capital punishment. All lives are sacred – but in the past -- crimes -- of varying degrees of severity -- from shoplifting to sheep stealing – have been punished by death. Life is not sacred when a crime has been committed. "Sacredness" is a less than permanent condition.

And, of course, killing in self-defence – rather than meek capitulation – is a perfectly reasonable exception to the rule. The life of the aggressor cannot be considered sacred.

In other words, the sacredness of human life is an admirable general principle -- which gives way to the practicalities of specific situations.

And isn’t it interesting that, in some specific situations, "morality" has changed over time?

 

The Catholic church still inveighs against contraception and abortion. The idea of "sacredness" is clear: God has a plan for propagating the human race – it must not be interfered with. But note how public opinion has changed – and with it "practical" morality.

In more primitive times, when there were higher rates of infant morality, and the benefits of children in the economic success of the family unit were clear, the proscription of limitations to family size made sense. In modern times, children are expensive; large numbers of them are more a burden than an advantage. It is perceived that unwanted children are unlikely to be happy. Thus "interference" with the Divine plan has become widespread. 

With respect to abortion, the Church position is entirely logical. Human life is sacred; life begins at the time of conception; preventing the progress of life to the time of birth is immoral. But abortion has become quite common. Essentially, people are rejecting the theory: life is not, in fact, sacred, or -- it does not begin at the time of conception. The "plan" is a theoretical one that doesn't work in practice.

With respect to contraception, the Church position is that God has a plan for human propagation -- and interference is immoral. But contraception is widespread – even among Catholics. People are saying the plan doesn’t relate to the practical aspects of their lives. Morality is being socially derived.

Similarly, Christian religions have taken a position against euthanasia. It is a wonderful way of upholding a niggling insistence on sacredness – of showing their power against those unable to fight back. If God’s plan is that you shall suffer for days, weeks, months or years with declining health and no hope of relief – then -- so the theory goes -- suffer you must. In recent years, more and more people have seen the cruelty – and impracticality -- of such a plan. Euthanasia for interminable suffering has become seen as more merciful than the principle of sacredness maintained in its divinely-mandated inflexibility. There is no "plan" – or if there is one – it is needlessly cruel.

The principle of "sacredness" has also suffered because of our increasing knowledge – knowledge which has disputed the notion of divine planning.

Human beings were not suddenly created with the mixing of a little dust. They have evolved: they are the products of a long history of evolving creatures. Man is not a sacred being – half beast and half angel; all life is constructed from the same building blocks. The history of evolution – influenced by random and chaotic events – from asteroid impacts to climate change – suggests neither careful planning nor sacredness. Frankly – from the evidence -- the universe simply doesn’t give a damn. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, he must also be very cruel.

In our view, the universe is a great mystery. Speculations about Gods and their plans are unhelpful in proportion to the certainties assumed. If Gods are necessary – let them be seen as expressions of pious hope rather as real autocratic meddling busybodies with inflexible plans for one species –which is only one among many – on a tiny planet -- in a remote corner of the universe.

The idea that human life is very important is still crucial to the functioning of society. But to say that it is "sacred" – in the sense that its importance is derived from a divine plan for the universe – is nonsensical.

There are those who fear that once the concept of God is abandoned, society will disintegrate in a morass of immorality. This seems unlikely.

Morality is socially derived, Chimpanzees have a sense of fairness. We doubt that this sense of justice comes from a belief in a Great Hairy Chimp in the Sky. Societies create Gods, and those Gods reflect the moralities already developed by the societies.

As concepts of morality change, so do religions, so do Gods. The Christian God of today is not the Christian God of the Inquisition.

We suspect that, were the reference point for morality not "God" – but "The noblest Aspirations of Mankind" – there would be no diminution in ethical behaviour.

If we are wrong, and mankind needs – as part of the utilitarian function of illusion – Gods – then we predict that those Gods -- and their "plans"-- will change as societies develop the moralities most suitable to their cultural and economic success.

Just as history has shown.

 

 

 

 

Some Ruminations about Morality,  Part II     (April 12, 2017)
 

We had intended to write about morality the other day – but became entangled in some other positions stated by Mr. Black in his recent attack on atheism in the National Post.

Today we will deal with morality.

Towards the end of his attack, Mr. Black deals with the relationship between atheism and morality. He thinks that, once belief in a Deity is abandoned, there is no foundational rock – certain and immovable -- for morality -- a "norm of social conduct."

I also wrote that the atheists are becoming steadily more aggressive, more generally dismissive of the supernatural tradition, while swaddling themselves in commendable precepts that are generally variants of the Golden Rule and other such formulations. These are fine, but they will not in themselves assure a norm of social conduct and they have already led to the ghastly enfeeblement of moral relativism.

It is comforting to think that there is a single morality which has been given divine approval. But surely this cannot be the case. As we have pointed out, Gods are multiple and various. They seem to have different opinions and priorities. Only if you can believe in a single, specific God, can you believe in a single morality.

So the argument against a single morality becomes, essentially, the same as the argument against a single, reliably proven Deity.

In fact – it seems much more reasonable to see morality as socially derived rather than divinely revealed. It represents an adjudication between the desires of the individual and the requirements of the tribe. That adjudication may have some universal elements essential to survival -- but it may also vary according to beliefs and circumstances. It is, essentially, utilitarian.

For example, it has been shown that Chimpanzees have a sense of fairness. Which is more likely – that their moral sense is inspired by a belief in a Great Hairy Chimp in the Sky? Or from the experience of what works in the success of the tribe?

For the atheist, Gods do not create Man; Man creates Gods. When a society imagines a God, it ascribes to that God the morality which is currently accepted by the tribe.

No doubt there is some sort of bedrock morality – some sort of conduct essential to the prospering of any tribe. The tribe which allows indiscriminate murder may be fatally – so to speak – weakened. But variations in morality are observed -- and societies manage to persist in spite of inferior* moralities. The tribe which believes that the best means of ensuring a good harvest is human sacrifice has a morality different from the tribe that believes that a bountiful crop arises from a well-designed irrigation system, and holds that human sacrifice is a needless cruelty. But both tribes may be viable.

Islam holds that apostasy is punishable by death; Christianity – in its modern form – thinks that apostasy is unfortunate. Once again – the issue is not theism – the issue is morality. Different theisms represent  different moralities. Lack of theism does not mean a lack of morality. The atheist will most likely reflect the morality of his cultural tradition.

Indeed, it eventually becomes clear that Mr. Black’s chief concern about atheism is that it leads to a failure to confront "sociophobic Islam."

 I also wrote that, indicative of our deteriorating societal moral confidence and cohesion is our cowardly indulgence of sociophobic Islam — we both under-react to the outrages committed by Islamists and incite the inference that this is what religion produces.

But, consider, once again, the logic. It is not necessary to be a theist to confront sociophobic Islam. It is simply necessary to have a different concept of right and wrong -- to support a different morality. That morality does not come from "God" – but from a particular tradition of morality. Yes, that morality may be associated with a particular religion. But you do not have to support the religion to support the morality.

Mr. Black attacks atheism – but that is only because he sees atheism as failing to uphold the morality which he thinks is important. There is no necessary link between atheism and the rejection of the morality of which he approves. Mr. Black's  legitimate desire for a certain practical outcome leads him into a questionable logical argument against atheism and in favour of theism.

We happen to agree with Mr. Black that the values found in sociophobic Islam are abhorrent. We would go further and say that, in theory – if not always in practice – Islam is abhorrent and utterly incompatible with the values of modern western democracies. The fact that it holds itself to be above criticism is absolutely antithetical to the concept of freedom of speech. That it presumes to reflect divine wisdom in political matters is directly contrary to the notion that there should be a separation between church and state. That it holds that unbelievers and apostates should be put to death is an outrage both to the notion of freedom of religion – and to any sane perception of reality.

We are appalled that Canadian politicians seem willing to condemn "Islamophobia" – when a fear of Islam -- considering its theory and often its practice -- seems entirely justified. We are similarly shocked that they seem to think the wearing of the niqab is appropriate at a Canadian citizenship ceremony.

But it is not fair to ascribe this sort of stupidity to atheism. This stupidity arises, simply, from a newer kind of morality; that new morality is called political correctness.

Political correctness is, in fact, the new religion. Unlike Christianity, which was sensible enough to recognize the difficulties of achieving perfection in the real world – and postpone it to an imaginary afterlife – political correctness seeks to enforce perfection here and now.

The "perfection" -- the informing idea behind political correctness -- is equality. The real world, of course, is founded on inequality – and that fact is everywhere evident. But this offends our socially derived sense of fairness. As co-operative members of a co-operative tribe, we seek equality. That is the wonderful – but unattainable -- ideal.

The French revolution sought liberty, equality, and fraternity. The United States Declaration of Independence holds that all men are created equal. What political correctness does – foolishly – is to attempt to bring such hopeful enthusiasm to reality.

Thus, in the religion – in the morality, if you will – of political correctness, people should not -- if at all possible -- be criticized. Criticism is hurtful of feelings; it implies a deficiency; a deficiency is not compatible with the idea of equality. Similarly, competition in general is frowned upon. The denigration of competition hasn’t reached the NHL yet – but the idea of giving out marks – or awards for academic accomplishment – is increasingly seen as inappropriate. Where there are winners, there are losers; but equality will not admit to the existence of either.

It follows, of course, that ideas should not be criticized – lest those holding them feel the sting of hurt feelings, and wither from the scalding breath of implied inequality. The whole premise of multiculturalism – much favoured in Europe and Canada – is that cultures are equal. The refusal to criticize Islam arises from the notion that – deep down – all cultures and religions are equally worthy.

It is all nonsense, of course. But it sounds so good! And what sounds good must be good! But to deny that – and to point out that inequality is the seed of all progress and that equality can only lead to stasis – a kind of death – risks social opprobrium. We are – or so it seems – half in love with the easeful death of equality.

What Mr. Black deplores is the refusal to criticize an inferior morality; logically, then, he should attack both the refusal and the inferior morality.

Thus, we would advise Mr. Black to cease his attacks on atheism. For that is not his true enemy. Atheism is not the enemy of morality -- because morality is not the child of theism. Moralities are not divinely proclaimed, but socially derived -- and demonstrably different. His true enemies are twofold: the morality of "sociophobic Islam" -- and the new morality of the new religion -- the great folly: political correctness.**


*The reader may legitimately ask: on what basis can we determine superior and inferior moralities? Our answer is that the criteria are essentially utilitarian. Dogma is seldom enough. Circumstances differ. The question may be: "What moral decision seems best to illustrate the golden rule?" -- or "What course will lead to the 'greatest happiness of the greatest number?'" It is entirely possible that those two general principles may be in opposition. For some moral questions, there are no easy answers; sometimes one must attempt to determine the lesser of two evils. Our best idea for a general principle -- at the moment -- is this: That morality is best which allows for the greatest liberty of citizens which is consistent with the well-being of the society of which they are a part.

**Political correctness may appear to be a superior morality. But if it doesn't work, it isn't.

 

 

 

Some Ruminations on Morality          (April 10, 2017)
 

Part I

The universe is just God, struggling to create Himself.   (Observation # 108)

Mr. Black has been at it again. We must assume that his tirades against atheism – our preferred response to the mysterious universe – have not been as convincing as he would like. Perhaps, then, he is making – what we hope is – his final appeal to the ungodly to change their ways.

Mr. Black can be deceptively reasonable. At first he admits that:

We have no idea how the universe, or any version of the life and context we know, originated. We have no idea of the infinite, of what was before the beginning or is beyond any spatial limits we can imagine, even with the great exploratory progress of science.

With this much we can agree. But believers -- alas -- can never let a decent mystery alone. Mr. Black goes on to say:

Miracles sometime occur and people do sometimes have completely inexplicable insights that are generally described as spiritual.... My contention is that it is more logical and reasonable to attribute these phenomena to the existence of a supernatural force or intelligence than either to deny that they exist, or to take refuge in the faith that they are merely aspects of our environment that we will eventually understand as we explore our planet and the contiguous universe.

Thus, the best way of explaining the inexplicable is not to reserve judgment, and wait for further knowledge, but to throw up one’s hands in despair, to give in, and say: "God did it."

But this is a solution less satisfactory than it might appear – especially with respect to the ultimate question of origin. For it does not answer the question: "But where did God come from?" "God" is simply a convenient black box into which all awkward questions are to be placed. There is a conspicuous "Do not Open" sign on the lid.

It also introduces many other awkwardnesses. Once you have proposed the "God" solution, nagging questions arise. "What is the nature of that God?" Or -- "There have been many Gods conceived in history. Which one do you prefer?"

In answer to the first question, we must reply: "By their works ye shall know them." God’s creation does little to assure us of that benevolence which the Christian religion, at least, assumes. Human beings are built of the same genetic building blocks as other forms of life. Thus we are part of a system in which most creatures – in order to survive – must kill other creatures. Further, species arise and are wiped out on a basis which seems chaotic and unplanned. A change in climate, the unfortunate landing of an asteroid, a virulent volcano -- and the fate of living creatures is forever altered.

The second question suggests the essential uncertainty about Gods: they are variable – and there is no reasonable evidence for the existence of any of them. They always carry the claim of universal validity -- but they are remarkably constrained to a time and a place. The reasonable person, we suggest, would be reluctant to express a belief in something hypothetical, variable, and unreasonably authoritative. If he were to express that belief it would be rather casual -- akin to saying: "Perhaps my luck will change next Tuesday."

Then, Mr. Black returns to a deceptive reasonableness:

I did not suggest that the probable existence of a supernatural intelligence required anyone to plunge into religious practice or worship of any kind. That is a matter of taste and people should do what works for them and avoid what doesn’t.

 

Fair enough. But if the belief in a "probable" supernatural intelligence does not lead to religious practice, what is the benign effect of such belief, and what is the great danger of failing to believe?

According to Mr. Black, the problem is that atheism represents a renunciation of the "roots" of our civilization:

As atheists renounce the roots of our civilization, they are troublesome passengers, and are apt to be less integral defenders of the West in time of challenge.

What Mr. Black implies is that, in order to defend our way of life, one must believe in a supernatural intelligence. The particular threat which Mr. Black mentions – and we agree with him – is from "our Islamist enemies."

But here, the truth about Mr. Black’s thinking is revealed. Islamists are not atheists. The main problem is not atheism, per se. If it were, then Islamic theism would not be a problem. What Mr. Black is defending is a particular kind of theism – the one which underlies the Judeo-Christian tradition. He does not want atheists to renounce their position in favour of Islamic theism, or Zoroastrian theism, but of Christian theism. Mr. Black may say that belief in a supernatural intelligence can be divorced from religious practice, but he does not believe that it should be divorced from the culture long associated with a particular kind of theism.

We suspect that what Mr. Black is trying to say is that irrational belief is a very important factor in all tribalism. The tribe driven by blind, irrational religious devotion is more likely to be successful on the battlefield than the tribe which is hesitant and uncommitted. Thus, if we are to resist the oppressive theism of Islam, we need an equally robust theism of Christianity.

We think that this may have been true in the past – when so little was known about the real world – and when tribes – and people – were gullible and more easily fooled. If it is still true today, then mankind seems irrevocably committed to irrational belief – and this – frankly -- we are unwilling to admit.

Surely, when we regard the types of societies already established in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and those existing and envisioned in the tradition of Islam, the superiority of one over the other is clear. An essentially secular approach to the organization of society simply works better than a religious approach.

We should not need an irrational belief to defend what the evidence shows is a freer, happier, more innovative and productive way of life for human beings. Atheism is not really the issue; commitment to the principles upon which successful cultures have been built -- is.

Indeed, we would claim that our modern western cultures have essentially renounced theistic belief in favour of secularism. One of the great advantages of Christianity is that it has become less certain, and less dogmatic. It has allowed the investigation of how the world actually works. The sun does not circle the earth; nor is man a special creation between beast and angel. Politicians do not consult clergymen before legalizing abortion, approving of euthanasia, or recognizing gay marriage.

We should not need an irrational devotion to a particular God in order to defend – not perfection, of course – but what works better than the alternatives.

We said that his was to be about morality. We will get there – in Part II

 

 

 

A further Monday Morning Rumination on the Wisdom of Conrad Black   (April 3, 2017)
 

Mr. Black has followed up on his wisdom of last week with an article entitled "The Schism our civilization faces" in the April 1st edition of the National Post. We assume he is not fooling us.

Mr. Black contends that the Enlightenment – or the "Age of Reason" beginning in the mid 18th century – has evolved towards the "complete dismissal of religion as contrary to reason."

However, Mr. Black notes that a "schism" has developed: "...the great majority of people in the West, and certainly in Canada, believe that there is some sort of supernatural spiritual force or intelligence" – while "the academic communities, the media, and the higher levels of government are almost entirely in the hands of atheists, and in many cases, aggressive atheists."

We cannot say for sure whether this schism is as clear cut as Mr. Black suggests – but let us assume that this schism does, in fact exist. First, we would note that majorities have no exclusive path to wisdom.

Second, as a committed atheist -- surprise, surprise -- we would say that atheistic elites are probably a good thing. While we understand that people like to believe in happy myths about reality, we are comforted by the fact that those in academia, and those running the government, are not likely to pay attention to such myths when trying to deal with the world as it is.

Mr. Black, however, makes this extraordinary statement:

Intellectually, the problem is that religion is essentially reasonable and atheism is unreasonable and the consequence of the militancy of contemporary atheism are not only unreasonable but offensive to reason.

To support this claim, Mr. Black points to the "obvious and indisputable:" "...there must be some force in the cosmos that causes spiritual insight, authenticated miracles, and is able to grasp the notion of the timeless, the limitless, and the fact that at some point in our past there was some sort of creation."

We are not sure that this sentence even makes grammatical sense. The last clause does not seem to be in parallel with the rest; it does not seem to have the subject "force."

Essentially what Mr. Black seems to be saying is that the universe is very difficult to explain. In this, we would agree with him. But we prefer to stop at that point. There may well be a "force" in the cosmos – but we are not certain of its nature. Certainly the existence of life – the transformation of matter from inanimate to animate – is extraordinary. But there are many forms of life on our planet – and quite possibly there are many other forms throughout the universe. We are not sure it is appropriate to assume the "force" has some particular concern with homo sapiens.

We -- who are simply the most intelligent of animals on our particular planet – like most of them -- survive by causing the deaths of other animals. The scheme is creative, but ruthless and competitive. It used to be possible to see human beings as special creatures between beast and angel – but with the discovery of evolution, and the fact that all creatures are built of the same building blocks – this view is simply no longer justifiable. The "force" is imaginative, creative -- but scarcely shows the benevolence that religious ideas suggest.

 

 

It is the great flaw of religion to leap to conclusions where there is no evidence. Atheism seems more reasonable because it holds that it is better to disbelieve -- rather than believe -- in things which lack any evidentiary basis. There is no evidence that there is a force in the cosmos which gives a damn about human beings -- or any other life form. Indeed, one of our observations is: "The universe is just God, struggling to create himself."

Mr. Black goes on to make an appeal to authority. He notes that our Judeo-Christian civilization inspired Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci – and "illuminated" the works of Shakespeare and "even Descartes."

That is fine – although we have always marvelled that Shakespeare’s works seem utterly free of Christian bias. The fact that great art or literature may have been inspired by religion does not make religion true.

Then Mr. Black expands on the notion that, without religion, everything falls apart. We are the victims of "hedonism and pagan spectacles." "Man becomes perfectible and takes the place of God."

As we have noted earlier, the appeal to religion as the source of morality is deceptive. The morality of any society is traditional – it is what has been found to work. It may be reinforced by the appeal to religious authority. But – since no one has ever – reliably -- seen, heard, touched, or talked to God – God is simply not the source of any ideas about morality. Morality is not divinely inspired; it can be changed – and is changed – to better reflect the difficult balance in society between justice and mercy.

The changing attitude towards sexual mores is an example. If the Catholic ideas of God-decreed heterosexuality and permanence of marriage do not reflect the realities of the human condition, they will change. If, as a result of that change, society dissolves into "hedonism and pagan spectacles" – lo, and behold – the society will either disintegrate or find a new, more reasonable accommodation between private desires and social stability. That will not, however, be a return to the strictures of 20th century Catholicism.

Man does not become "perfectible" – but he takes on the task of deciding what rules of conduct best address the inherent conflict between the desires of the individual and the success of the group.

Once again – we turn, as a reference point -- to the other social animals. One way or another, they manage to achieve a workable level of social harmony. The chimpanzees do not seem to need a Great Hairy Boss Chimp in the sky to guide them.

Finally, Mr. Black sees the "silent majority" of believers eventually speaking out and overcoming the "elitist sniggering."

What nonsense. Mr. Black longs for the certitude of religion – the great and glorious days of old; but religions are simply speculations pretending to be revelations. They have their origins in the past, when relatively little was known about the real world.

We may need myths to live by – but they will be developed as societies attempt to cope with the realities of the human condition. We need not defer to the "authority" of the ignorant past. We must determine what is most consistent -- now -- with the noblest aspirations of our civilization.

 

 

 

 

A Rambling Sunday Afternoon Dissertation on the Wisdom of Conrad Black     (March 26, 2017)

 

It is always a wonder to us that there are intelligent people who can believe in religious hypotheses of the world. It seems so patently obvious to us that religions are myths made up for a variety of purposes – and that none of them can be taken seriously.

As some clever person has pointed out – all those who believe in the validity of a particular religion, suggest -- in so doing -- their disbelief in all the rest. The atheist is hardly to be condemned – he simply extends his disbelief to one additional religion – the one so cherished by the believer.

When there have been so many religions throughout history, who would presume that only his singular and cherished religion – most likely adopted, without much deliberation, from his native culture – is the one blessedly correct?

It is so entirely nonsensical, that we can state with some certainty that religion has nothing to do with rationality. It is obviously a special type of insanity. Our best guess is that it is a reflexive response of the human brain. That brain has been shaped by evolution – and that brain is only partly rational. The brain has developed not to be independent, and rational, but to be conformist, and gullible. This has been necessary in order to make the tribe successful. Tribes full of independent thinkers simply would not work – tribes need few leaders, and many willing followers.

Religion is an especially important unifying element for the necessarily conformist tribe. In the heat of battle, blind irrational belief will take you farther than cold calculation, or prudent hesitation. If you think God is on your side – and if you think that if you die he will reward you in the afterlife – you will act more boldly than if you think there is no helpful Divinity -- and no reward for noble self-sacrifice.

It seems quite reasonable to argue that – while all religion is rubbish – the human brain has developed with a capacious and welcoming Rubbish Reception Centre.

We say all this in preface to a consideration of some remarks made by Conrad Black in the March 25th edition of the National Post. He is discussing the perceived misdeeds of two senators, Lynn Beyak and Don Meredith. But, towards the end of his article, he begins to pontificate on the "dehumanization of our civilization."

He argues that, in the past, people recognized their limitations – the human mind cannot conceive of the infinite – the problem of "what there was before there was anything." And this is consistent with the recognition of "some sort of supernatural intelligence."*

He laments that now, "academia, the media, and the governing elites are almost entirely atheistic."

With this last, we tend to agree – and fervently thank God that this is the case. We would be most upset to think that the elites should base their perceptions of reality on the claims of some ancient religion.

But Mr. Black goes on to make some very peculiar statements. He seems to associate atheism with the notion that mankind is perfectible. "Since there is no supernatural intelligence, men can become gods, as the ancients, especially the Romans, tried to show."

We certainly do not see the connection between atheism and the perfectibility of man. Most atheists, we suspect, see men as perfectible as all the other animals – in other words, not at all.

Mr. Black then says he is not advocating religious practice, merely "reflecting on Dostoevsky’s assertion that if there is no God there is no right or wrong -- not because of fear of fire and brimstone, but because of the rτle of the human conscience."

Frankly, we find this all a bit muddled.

The assumption that concepts of right or wrong flow from the idea of God seems less likely than the idea of God flows from the concepts of right or wrong.

 

 

Of course, that contention is based on our primary assumption: that Gods are created by human beings – not the other way around. Since we have no objective perception of the reality of "God" – but we do have an objective perception of the reality of "people" – we think ours is the stronger argument. Which is the most likely: that the unseen and unknown created the seen and the known -- or that the real created and imagined the unreal? Do we live in a world of goats, or of unicorns? One of our facetious comments about religion is that, if man were made in the image of God, God must have started as a single-celled organism. It is far more reasonable to say that Gods are creatures made in the image of man.

Man is so self-centred and self-absorbed – that he can only imagine Gods with very human characteristics.

But he also creates them with very human moralities. Societies which create Gods will make their Gods reflect the morality of the times. The morality was there first; the Gods came afterwards. That is why the morality of Christianity is being currently modified by modern perceptions of human sexuality. That is why Islam is so much at odds with modern western culture: it clings to the moral perceptions of the seventh century.

The appeal to religion as the source of morality is a deception. In fact, the appeal is to a moral tradition which has been dressed up – conveniently -- as divinity.

We are not aware of the passage by Dostoevsky to which Mr. Black refers – but we find the reference to "fire and brimstone" and "the rτle of the human conscience" confusing.

We agree that an argument can be made for the idea of God as a reinforcement of morality – using the notion of "fire and brimstone." It seems reasonable that children can be frightened into morality by the threat of God’s disapproval.

We are not convinced, however, that such threats are necessary. From personal experience – we would say not. When we were about four years old – we were told not to touch the dish holding candies on the dining room buffet. We were not threatened with fire or brimstone. It was simply a "rule" dictated by our parents – who seemed to be pretty much in control of the universe at the time.

We never did touch them – nor would we dream of doing so. Indeed, we gained a considerable sense of moral virtue from obeying the "rule." God seemed to have nothing to do with the rule.

But – perhaps a better argument – how is it that other social creatures manage to survive? It is difficult to believe that the idea of "God" can be conveyed without language. The animals must be at a singular disadvantage by being unable to frighten their young with tales of fire and brimstone. And yet social animals manage to teach their young what will bring success and what will bring failure.

It has been observed that chimpanzees have a sense of fairness.**Where did this concept come from? The Great Hairy Chimp in the Sky? Surely not. This suggests that ideas of morality are socially derived, not divinely imposed.

We suspect that if human beings were brought up to aspire to the noblest aspirations of our species – there would be no decline in morality.

We think that the contention that, without God, there is no morality – is nonsense. The "human conscience" arises from the circumstances of human society.

We should -- but we cannot -- resist taking a parting shot at the nature of the "supernatural intelligence" that Mr. Black seems to think is so important. That entity – whatever it is – seems highly over-rated. Rather than the "source" of all morality – that imagined intelligence seems to be thoroughly amoral. The whole of existence is based on an inescapable scheme of necessary murder. The "nature" created by the paragon of wisdom and benevolence is, as Lord Tennyson noted, "red in tooth and claw."

We remain unconvinced by the wisdom of Mr. Black.
 

*The supernatural intelligence does not, of course, solve the problem of  "what there was before there was anything." It  simply sounds authoritative -- like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain. It hopes that no one will ask the awkward question: "but where did the supernatural intelligence come from?"  

**http://www.livescience.com/26245-chimps-value-fairness.html

Post script: We do not pretend, of course, to be able to explain the mysteries of the universe. We simply believe that it is unhelpful to leap to conclusions about supernatural intelligences and their possible or probable thought processes.

 

 

 

 

Weathering the Language Wars in the Climate Debate                    (March 11, 2017)

 

It has been our impression that the phrase "global warming" has gradually been replaced by the term "climate change."

Indeed, according to an analysis of Bloomberg stories, the two terms were used equally often in 2008, but that "climate change" appeared more than twice as often as "global warming" by 2015.

A poster on the National Post commentary thread has assured us that it was the Republicans in the United States who pushed for the use of "climate change"– because it sounded less threatening, and that alarmists are often unhappy with the term – precisely for that reason.

Our own view is quite different, of course. Whether Republicans, Democrats, or Martians were initially in favour of the term "climate change" – the fact of its popularity seems entirely in favour of the alarmists – and we suspect they are enthusiastic users of the phrase.

That is because, for an embarrassingly long time – it must be nearly twenty years now – greenhouse gasses have gone up – but the predicted global warming has been absent without leave from the alarmist barricades.

A stern warning of the dire consequences of "global warming" becomes irritatingly vulnerable if one of the sheep in the herd should baa out the question: "What warming?" Far better to speak of the dire consequences of "climate change." The meaning is the same, but the words have changed: the "climate change" mail will deflect the spear of easy derision.

Here are two scenarios which illustrate the "advantage" of the use of the term "climate change" – as opposed to the more accurate, "anthropogenic global warming."

 

SCENARIO ONE – CLIMATE CHANGE

Alarmist: The greatest challenge we face today is the implacable force of climate change.

BMOP: (Baffled Member of the Ordinary Public) Yeah, I guess so.

David Suzuki: We have selected a cave for you to live in – #394 – it is near Smooth Rock Falls, and it is full of bats.

BMOP: Huh? How come?

Barrack Obama: You admit that climate change is our greatest challenge. Start Packing.

BMOP: But what has climate change got to do with moving to a cave near Smooth Rock Falls – full of bats?

 

Al Gore: Shut up and repeat after me the words of our Dear Leader – May his Name be Ever Blessed – Maurice Strong – "Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?"

BMOP: Baa! Baa! "Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?"

John Kerry: That’s better!

BMOP: Can I take my appliances with me?

Premier Wynne: The Ontario Government is not in a position to supply caves – especially those full of bats – with hydro. And if we were, you would find it’s too expensive anyway. I have been jogging along country roads to fight climate change for years; the least you can do is move to #394.

BMOP: Will I ever get to come back?

Dalton McGuinty: It’s highly unlikely. As soon as you move, we’re putting a windmill at the bottom of your garden. The noise from those things will drive you to distraction.

BMOP: Are you sure this drastic action is actually necessary?

J. Fledermaus, U.N. Agenda 21 Special Rapporteur in charge of Global Cave Allocation: Who do you think you are? This is a global phenomenon. We are saving the planet. If you don’t shut up and start packing, we’ll send you to #10,578. It’s in Patagonia, and it’s full of Patagonian bats.

BMOP: "Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?"

The Club of Rome: Yes. Democracy is toast. Nationalism is dead. We have pre-selected experts who will run the caves efficiently and provide everything needed – from bat repellent to excellent recipes for Droppings Soup.

BMOP: "Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?"

SCENARIO TWO – ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING

Alarmist: The greatest challenge we face today is the implacable force of anthropogenic global warming.

NSBMOP: (Not So Baffled Member of the Ordinary Public) Are you nuts? Global warming has been on pause for twenty years; the fact that greenhouse gasses have gone up during that time shows that there is no simple causal relationship between the two. "Anthropogenic" in your twisted dreams! I think you should move to cave # 394. It’s near Smooth Rock Falls – and it’s full of dingbats. Start Packing!

 

 

 

 

The Tyranny of Tolerance and Kindness                  (March 5, 2017)
 

 

We see that supporters and opponents of Motion M-103 have begun to clash on the streets of our cities in recent days.

In our view, the motion is reprehensible, because it calls for the government to attack Islamophobia. Islamophobia – simply a fear or dislike of Islam – seems to us a perfectly rational response to a religion which is always theoretically, and often in practice, incompatible with the values of secular western democracies.

In motion M-103, however, Islamophobia is linked to racism, religious discrimination, and hate crimes – in an effort to make it seem utterly contemptible and without any evidentiary basis. Thus, it attempts to obscure truth, stifle debate, and vilify opponents of Islam.

Indeed, one of the chief arguments against the motion is that it seems to suggest that government should move in the direction of protecting Islam from criticism – something akin to an anti-blasphemy law – such as that which works to the lasting benefit of the citizens of that model of sweetness and light – Pakistan. We wonder, idly, whether the proposer of this motion, Iqra Khalid, simply seeks to recreate, in Canada, the benign and salubrious conditions of her native Pakistan.

As we have noted elsewhere: Freedom of speech and blasphemy are conceptual matter and anti-matter: in collision -- one must destroy the other. (Observation #931)

In one of the television clips of the protests, we noticed a placard held by one of the protestors: "Free Speech is not Hate Speech."

This sums up the problem exactly. If free speech cannot include "hate speech," then the term is indeed empty. While incitation to violence is not acceptable, the expression of criticism – which those whose religion is criticized might wish to see as "hate speech" – is perfectly legitimate.

If the criticisms are valid, then they must be recognized; if they are not valid, then the evidence to refute them must be produced. As George Orwell has said: "Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

We have wondered, in an idle moment, whether a tyranny – based on idealism -- is an essential requirement of human society. As the tyranny of the Christian religion has waned – its premise seen as increasingly absurd, and its attempts to legislate sexual mores increasingly at odds with the practicalities of the human condition – another tyranny – that of political correctness – has swept imperiously in.

Like any other religion, political correctness is founded upon an ideal – the ideal of equality. It assumes that equality is the bedrock reality of the world; those elements which suggest inequality are both misleading and trivial: they are to be brushed away, like dust and light debris which have accumulated on the path -- hiding and obscuring the bricks of golden equality beneath.

There is, however, an inherent problem with any ideal: it lies at some distance from reality. Ideals are perfect absolutes; reality is imperfectly messy. The attempt to achieve or realize any ideal invariably involves coercion.

From the insistence on equality flow other requirements. If all people, ideas, and cultures are equal, then it becomes impossible to prefer one over another. If one cannot prefer one thing over another, criticism becomes a foolish exercise in peevish futility. Kindness and infinite tolerance are the only reasonable responses towards others in the world of equality.

And this is where the coercion arises. In fact, things are not equal, and some ideas have been proven to be superior to others. Tolerating inferior ideas and being kind to those who hold them simply ensures a non-competitive environment. In that egalitarian environment of universal benevolence, bad ideas will not be rejected; they will flourish -- to the detriment of the body politic.

Increasingly, in our society, it is deemed that freedom of speech – the mechanism by which a hierarchy of ideas is established – should defer to tolerance and kindness – the mechanism by which mediocrity – or even oppression – is assured.

Just yesterday, we came across another quotation from Mr. Orwell:

The relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.

It would seem that public opinion towards freedom of speech -- in politically correct societies – is increasingly sluggish. Kindness and infinite tolerance are the new, irresistible Gods. The new "inconvenient minority" – which Mr. Orwell could hardly have foreseen – is the one which believes in freedom of speech.

 

 

 

Sex and the Sensible Detective – An idle Rumination on the Melding of Crime Drama and Soap Opera. (February 7, 2017)

 

We watched an episode of Hinterland last Saturday, and were horrified to see the detective, Tom Mathias, kiss the mother of a murdered girl. We intoned a warning at the screen – noting that his behaviour was thoroughly unprofessional -- and not likely to have benign consequences.

Typical of such characters – pretending to be caught up in his own life behind the screen – he ignored our warning and went on to sleep with this not insignificant character in the case. A bit later on, she died, and Mr. Mathias was significantly upset – confirming the wisdom of our judgment.

This incident led to a more general reflection on the sexual habits of sensible detectives. We have concluded that, in an age of gender confusion, where increasing numbers of people are concluding that they are in the wrong sorts of bodies, there is the potential for a similar epidemic – genre confusion -- where the writers of crime dramas believe that they are writing soap operas. We do not claim there is any causative relation between these two types of confusion; we merely note that our age is becoming more troubled than is conducive to good digestion, and pleasant dreams.

It is clear that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie had it exactly right: the rτle of the detective is to solve crimes; sexual dalliance is an unhelpful distraction. Sherlock Holmes found sufficient solace in smoking his pipe, Miss Marple in observing the mores of villagers, Hercule Poirot in his obsession with fashionable fastidiousness.

The sensible detective does not, in fact inhabit the ordinary world of ordinary mortals. He inhabits the world of fantasy, where discreet and relatively bloodless murders pose an intellectual puzzle: which – of a series of possible suspects – actually committed the deed – and what on earth was the motive for such a deplorable lapse from conventional manners?

The sensible detective may, indeed, be interesting: he has eccentricities which charm and intrigue; but he is not one of us – he is not weak, vulnerable, and human. He does not, in fact, inhabit the real world at all. To make him more "human," to suggest he is susceptible to affairs of the heart is to deviate from the puzzle, and veer into the realm of – let us be blunt – into the realm of soap opera.

But alas, that is what some genre-confused writers of the modern age seem intent on doing.

Now, we are not totally puritanical in our perceptions; we can withstand a few hints and suggestions of sex in the pursuit of a murderer.

 

Jessica Fletcher, in Murder She Wrote, is an acceptable variation of Miss Marple. She was married – in the very distant past – to the sainted Frank. While she encounters a number of men who express interest, they usually threaten a significant move and radical change of lifestyle. The tranquillity of Cabot Cove and its quaint – if somewhat murderous – village ambience are always a sufficient counterweight to such temptations. It is  important to note that she plays chess not "doctor" with Dr. Hazlitt. We do recall that, on one occasion, Jessica did appear to fall in love; but that particular gentleman turned out to be the murderer. This served as a cautionary experience; we do not recall any subsequent lapses. Sensible detectives should not become emotionally involved with suspects.

Indeed, we seem to remember that Inspector Morse had a similar experience. Except for that occasion, his mild flirtations were not sufficiently serious to detract from his sleuthing duties.

Becoming involved with those outside the list of suspects, while unnecessary, is less damaging. We believe Mr. Frost and Inspector Lynley have done as much. We do seem to remember Inspector Lynley sleeping with someone who was subsequently murdered – and since the murder took place in the very room and just subsequent to the transgression, he suffered a great deal of suspicion and angst on that account. We can only hope that the incident made him significantly more cautious for the future.

It is true that the majority of crime dramas manage to avoid unseemly sexual involvements of their detectives. There are Columbo, Rosemary and Thyme, Vera, Inspector Lewis, and Midsomer Murders’ John Barnaby – who is safely married with a child..

But besides Hinterland, there are a couple of series which seem to fall into the trap of attempting to "humanize" the detective and hence flirt dangerously with the soapily operatic.

One of the worst of these is Scott and Bailey. The last episode we saw was only peripherally concerned with the crime and its solution: the focus was almost entirely on the private, romantic lives of the two female detectives. Those private lives were not terribly interesting, and made us wish both characters could get sufficient off-screen psychiatric counselling to allow them to get on with the job.

Another awful drama is Luther. We saw only a few episodes – but it seemed that Luther was inextricably entangled – at least emotionally – with a clever murderess.  We kept on thinking – "How can he be so stupid?" "Shouldn’t he seek professional help?" Indeed, we want a detective who seems largely in control of events, not hopelessly vulnerable to clever murderesses.

We should perhaps mention Quirke here – although we do not recall any sexual lapses – he does represent the melding of crime drama with soap opera. The focus is split. The series is more about reality than fantasy. Quirke’s struggle with alcoholism makes him weak, human, and incompetent. This is not what we want to see in a clever, eccentric detective who figures out whodunnit. We admit that this series is not entirely unsuccessful – as a gloomy sort of soap opera.

The art in creating the successful fictional detective would appear to make him or her an interestingly eccentric character – but not someone who could actually exist in the real world.

When an attempt is made to "humanize" such characters, they become more like the rest of us – weak, stupid, and vulnerable. They lose their iconic, heroic status. Fantasy becomes too much diluted with reality. And that is no fun at all.

 


 

How to banish Islamophobia          (February 3, 2017)

(Hint: Make Islam less frightening)

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.  Voltaire,  1694 - 1778
 

One of the most troubling aspects of the religion of Islam is its claim to be beyond criticism. This claim of exemption is not limited to criticism by Muslims: it is extended to humanity at large, regardless of belief or lack thereof.

Thus, we have seen not only a fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie for the novel, Satanic Verses, and the ruthless defence of anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan -- we have seen outrage over the publication of the Danish cartoons, murders of satirists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the attempt by armed men to shut down the "First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest" in Garland, Texas.

While there has been no similar violence aimed at freedom of speech in Canada, it appears that the impulse to stifle criticism is not unknown. A speech to be given in a synagogue in Thornhill in 2013 by Pamela Geller – a well-known anti-Islamist speaker, was cancelled because of pressure from the York regional Police force, responding to a complaint by " a member of York Region’s Muslim Community" (Sun News, May 1, 2013: York Regional Police threaten rabbi's role as chaplain over Pamela Geller speech.)

And now we have Motion M-103, introduced to parliament by Iqra Khalid – who, perhaps not coincidentally, was born in Pakistan -- which suggests* that "Islamophobia" might be given legal penalty.

"Islamophobia" is not defined – but "fear of Islam" would seem to be a reasonable first approximation.

But that interpretation is ultimately insufficient. "Islam" means different things to different people. As we will show later, the Islam that is not to be feared – and hence criticized – must be given some clarity of definition.

Leaving that problem aside for the moment – how making a fear of Islam a crime will help to reduce that fear is not entirely clear. Logic would suggest that those who fear Islam because it insists on not being criticized – and threatens violence in retaliation – is unlikely to be reduced when the government makes such fear a crime, and puts the full force of the law behind the religious requirement.

We are not consoled when our fear – and consequent criticism – of Islam is to be banned, and becomes, in effect, a "blasphemy" banned by the Canadian legal system.

Surely it is not possible – in the modern age -- to hold that a religious belief should be beyond criticism. Of all ideas, those completely lacking an evidentiary basis are most worthy of being criticized. It is germane to recall the words of J. Anthony Froude, the nineteenth-century historian: "Science rests on reason and experiment, and can meet an opponent with calmness; but a belief is always sensitive." Indeed, the complete lack of evidence may account for the extreme sensitivity of all religious dogma – the intolerance of Islam today – and the intolerance of Christianity at the time of the Inquisition.

 

 

What is proposed in Motion M-103, in fact, is a complete denial of the principle of freedom of speech – a freedom which has had a significant role in reducing our reliance on superstition and dogma, and in discovering how the world actually works – to the lasting benefit of mankind. To make freedom of speech subservient to the demands of religion is to deny progress – to turn the clock definitively backwards to a less tolerant era. Indeed, the great irony is that such a motion, which claims to be supporting tolerance, is doing exactly the opposite: it suggests putting the weight of the law behind intolerance – the intolerance of religion to any kind of criticism.

We have a better suggestion for the reduction of Islamaphobia.

We said earlier that "Islam" means different things to different people. While the aspect of Islam which denies the use of alcohol might seem perfectly benign, the aspect of Islam that calls for Sharia Law is significantly less so. What, then, is Islam?

" Moderate" Muslims are unfortunately bereft of a clear and "moderate" voice. Islam suffers greatly from the lack of a centralized interpretative authority. Such an authority could indicate that the most troubling passages of the Koran – which call for the killing of unbelievers – are historical oddities, and not to be taken seriously. Similarly, there need to be clear statements on the validity of Sharia Law, the relationship between religion and the state, and the religious position on criticism.

This of course, needs to be done at the international level – which is beyond the scope of Muslims in any one country. But Canadian Muslims can hardly expect not to be feared and criticised until they engage in an open debate, and explain exactly what it is that they stand for.

If they can show that their version of the religion holds that unbelievers should not be killed, that gays should not be cast from the rooftops, that Sharia Law is an invalid historical relic, that religion has no place in directing government, and that there is no expectation of exemption from criticism – we think that Islamaphobia – and the consequent criticism -- would be significantly diminished.

The onus is not on us – the unbelievers -- to refrain from fearing and criticizing something amorphous, undefined -- but often truly frightening. Rather, the burden is on Muslims, to give reasons – to explain their beliefs – to show why they should not be feared.

* It is not made explicit. But the Motion does call for government to reduce or eliminate Islamophobia -- which it incorrectly links to racism and religious discrimination -- entirely different matters. 

Text of the Motion

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom         (January 22, 2017)


Freedom is what we call a "complementary" idea – one which cannot be understood without its opposite. The idea of complementary but opposing forces which, together, form a whole, is found in the Chinese notions of yin and yang.

The opposite of freedom may be described as restriction, limitation, or discipline – but because we are concerned with freedom of human beings in society -- we prefer to call it "conformity."

Every tribe depends upon some degree of conformity in order for it to function effectively as a co-operative whole. There is little doubt that human beings have evolved successfully because they have created effective tribes; a corollary of that fact is that human beings have evolved with traits which make them suited to tribal life: a certain amount of individual freedom is sacrificed for tribal unity.

We think it likely that early human tribes probably had one strong leader and many co-operative followers. Similarly, until the development of democracy, power was exercised by a monarchy or oligarchy. Perhaps we should not be surprised at the persistence of dictatorships into the modern era – it is an ancient form of government to which human beings are well adapted by evolution.

But the nature of many tribal cultures has changed over time. The advances of science – resulting from the freedom to examine how the world actually works – have led to a reduced need for a physically powerful warrior king, and more need for technology and ideas. Cultural influence and wealth need not be obtained by conquest: they can arise from the development of technologies, ideas, and attitudes – all enabled by the free exercise of the human imagination.

While it is true that even in democracy, the task of governing is allocated to a few, while the many are expected to observe rules which are either stated or implied, one of the great ideas of democracy is that the many have the freedom to elect the few -- and influence the rules.

It has been discovered that a freedom to experiment, and a free exchange of ideas and opinions has led to greater wealth, power, and influence, but most importantly -- freedom for individual citizens. Freedom begets freedom. Those societies which have been reluctant to accept or encourage science because of a perception that all questions have already been answered by religion, tend to have cultures in which there are lower standards of living: longevity, health care, opportunities for self-fulfilment, equality of opportunity for women, scientific discoveries, and freedom to speak and criticize are all relatively inferior.

Most recently, it appears that western democracies are re-thinking their commitment to freedom. There seem to be other values which are more important.

It is our view that these other values seem to be "religious" rather scientific in nature. They are values which have the status of taboo – they are subjects which must not be discussed or criticized – their "correctness" is intrinsic and unquestionable.

The most obvious example, is, of course, actual religious belief. When western societies encounter the claim that a religion is beyond criticism, and see that there are religious believers willing to murder innocents, destroy property and commit suicide in order to maintain that prohibition, their commitment to freedom seems somewhat curtailed.

 

Suddenly, it seems prudent to be "tolerant" of the dissenting ideas. Instead of criticizing them, it is thought best to restrict criticism – that is freedom – in order to allow those who oppose freedom to remain unopposed. It appears that the idea of freedom has its own suicidal tendencies.

The best example we can think of is that provided by Mr. Obama, who has infamously said that, "The future must not to belong to those who would slander the prophet of Islam." The term "slander" itself makes a pre-judgment – that criticism or mockery amount to slander. The statement does not admit the possibility that the defence of criticism might be truth. Some ideas are above and beyond truth.

But this is not an isolated example. There seems to be a general movement towards the idea that "tolerance" trumps freedom – and truth is irrelevant.

Some "hate speech" laws in Canada, which operate, in part to protect people from "hurt feelings" do not admit truth as a defence.

Those criticizing migrants and migrant policies in Europe are similarly considered to be guilty of "hate speech" and may face legal consequences. The best defence of the policies seems to be to silence criticism -- not to refute the claims of the critics -- or to adjust the policies. They are intrinsically virtuous. It seems a reasonable proposition that when it is claimed that ideas cannot be criticized, it is a sure sign of their inadequacy.

Further, there is the new religion of "political correctness" – which arises from the notion that obvious disparities among people are simply superficial. The real world – the one underneath the disparities, that is -- is a world of harmony and equality. Political correctness, therefore, eschews most kinds of criticism – and especially any type which would result in the hurt feelings of people cruelly reminded of some depressing aspect of reality. Thus freedom is sacrificed, once again, on the grounds of taboo. Any defence that a hurtful remark is true is not merely inadequate – it is an admission of guilt.

The most extreme form of political correctness is the rise of the obsession with "microaggressions" at universities in the United States. The most innocent remark – such as "I like your shoes" – may be construed – with sufficient intellectual contortions – as an insult to the wearer – since it concentrates on the superficialities of apparel, while ignoring the character and intellectual worth of the admirably shod. Down this path, madness lies. For almost any remark could be conceived as insulting; the ultimate remedy is only silence itself.

Thus, despite the apparent advantages gained by societies which have embraced the notion of a freedom and openness, a retrenchment seems to be taking place. Freedom is giving way to its opposite – a kind of conformity which recognizes – as a supreme value – the need for "tolerance" and "co-operation." The dominant idea seems to be that the boat should not be rocked; if giving up freedom is the price for harmony, then so be it.

We think the bargain is a false one. Harmony is not achieved by suppression of complaints. Dissatisfaction lingers, waiting for opportunity. Ultimately, no society can thrive to its potential on a diet of delusion. Progress is obtained, not by deferring to taboos, which make assumptions without evidence, but by discovering the truth first -- and then determining the best way of coping with it.