There is no basis for morality in a Godless universe

This is Peter Hitchens discussing John Gray’s Seven Types of Atheism. Lots of points being made. This is one of the many that reading the entire review will bring to your attention:

Perhaps most definitive of all is his observation that godless searches for a universal law are futile. “Without a law giver, what can a universal moral law mean?” he asks. “If you think of morality as part of the natural behaviour of the human animal, you find that humans do not live according to a single moral code. Unless you think one of them has been mandated by God, you must accept the variety of moralities as part of what it means to be human.” Well, exactly. No God: no law. No law: no morals, just situational, alterable ethics. I am amazed that so few seem to realize the implications of atheism for the rule of law over power, the one thing that really sustains human civilization.

Hitchens also provides an insightful quote from Albert Einstein, which he says is not well known which is why he quoted it. It is why I quote it as well.

I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvellously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.

A wonderful article.

PDT condemning anti-semitism

Condemning anti-semitism should be bi-partisan and non-political. Yet this. From Instapundit

A VERY STRONG STATEMENT ON ANTISEMITISM: Donald Trump on Sunday: “This evil, anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It is an assault on humanity. It must be confronted and condemned everywhere it rears its ugly head. We must stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters to defeat anti-Semitism and vanquish the forces of hate. Those seeking their destruction, we will seek their destruction.”

This has to be among the strongest statements any president has made on behalf of Jewish Americans. Yet I could find no mention of it in the New York Times, Washington Post, and so on.

Compare and contrast Obama’s reference to Jewish victims of anti-Semitic terrorism in Paris as victims of zealots who “randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris,” with the White House afterwards defending the proposition that the Jews shopping in a kosher market, somewhere that only Jews go, were not targeted because they were Jews, which was obviously untrue from the getgo.

UPDATE: A Facebook friend points out that you can find bits and pieces of the quotation, but not the full quotation, in the Times. But the way the Times isolates and portrays the final sentence, which I see as the strongest and most dramatic part of the statement, is bizarre and dishonest.

At his rally, the president ended comments about the synagogue shooting by reiterating his belief that shooting suspects who target Jewish people should be put to death.

“Those seeking their destruction,” Mr. Trump said, “we will seek their destruction.”

No, Trump didn’t say that “shooting suspects” who target Jews should “be put to death,” he said that he will seek the destruction of those seeking destruction of our “Jewish brothers and sisters.” That’s not at all the same thing.


Presidents and Parliaments

I don’t wish to dwell on this in particular, but let me start here:

Trump slammed outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., tweeting that Ryan “should be focusing on holding the Majority” instead of weighing in on the president’s push to end the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship.

Trump tweeted that Ryan shouldn’t offer “his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about!”

Trump has said he can end the right to citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil with an executive order. And he has argued that the right isn’t covered by the 14th Amendment, even though the text of the constitutional amendment says that “all persons born or naturalized” in the U.S. are citizens.

Ryan, who is retiring, said Tuesday that Trump couldn’t “end birthright citizenship with an executive order.”

As a matter of fact, Trump can probably do exactly that (see here and here).

My real point though is to focus on the difference between the American presidential system and our Parliamentary system. In a presidential system, presidents are elected in their own right and once elected become an independent locus of power, with the constitutional authority to make decisions and enforce the law. In a parliamentary system, the head of government is the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives (or the House of Commons in the UK and Canada) and is hemmed in by the necessity for cabinet solidarity.

Therefore, if the US had a parliamentary system, Paul Ryan, as the “Speaker of the House” would have been Prime Minister (and Nancy Pelosi before that). A Donald Trump would have had zero chance to have had any influence whatsoever on American policy – unless he owned Facebook, Google or Twitter.

The differences are immense when it comes to understanding just how much of a free hand a Prime Minister in Australia has. Neither Tony nor Malcolm had a free hand in making policy decisions stick. Nor can Scott Morrison. It is the party room that matters with some PMs achieving a freer hand than others. So when I say that Tony Abbott was our Donald Trump, I only mean that both were trying to achieve the same kinds of ends, all the while recognising there are different sets of constraints imposed by the institutional structures of our two very different political systems.

The plain reality is that there are massive constraints in every system that make it difficult to achieve particular ends. Global warming hysteria, to take one example, is mainstream and we might consider ourselves lucky that we are only going to blow another $15 billion on climate change. Of course, had Hillary been elected President instead of PDT, even that would have been small change. There is a deep state everywhere.

Conquest’s Second Law of Politics and the Heterodox Academy

That’s not necessarily true, Lindsay? And what’s not necessarily true? “That all perspectives in a university are valid.”

But let me work back from where I was to how I found this video. It was in an article on Jordan Peterson fires new salvo against Wilfrid Laurier in already fiery academic freedom battle. The core of the story was:

The fervent debate over academic freedom involving Jordan Peterson is rekindled for a new school year with Peterson saying in court documents that Wilfrid Laurier University’s contention he benefited from the controversy is like saying “those who survived the Holocaust should be grateful to their oppressors for teaching them survival skills.”

Peterson filed fresh legal documents Tuesday, including another lawsuit against the Ontario university — his second in three months — claiming Laurier further defamed him in its public defence against his June claim.

Not hard to believe he was defamed, but let me note where I found this article. It was from The New York Times: Attack of the Right-Wing Snowflakes subtitled, “Angry men go to court to silence their critics”.

The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, sometimes seen as a free speech warrior, has twice sued Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University for defamation, part of a controversy that arose after a teaching assistant there was chastised for showing a video of Peterson in class. He has also threatened to sue Kate Manne, a writer and assistant professor at Cornell, for calling his work misogynist. The failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sued four women who accused him of sexual abuse.

Defamation is an illegal form of speech. You cannot say anything you like about anyone else. And it is wondrous that Roy Moore ends up, not just in the same story but in the same para, as if these accusations were not highly defamatory if they were untrue. But where did I find this NYT article? It came from The Heterodox Weekly Bulletin where that same quote is found as the lead-in. Heterodox Academy was, I thought, to defend free thought and free speech against those who would shut it down if they could, such as organisations like the NYT. It is Jordan Peterson whose views need protecting, not the NYT nor Wilfred Laurier University. All of which reminded me of Conquest’s Second Law of Politics:

Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.

Quoting a New York Times article contra Jordan Peterson makes me think the Heterodox Academy is well on its way.

Satire at its sharpest

The satire is so sharp you have to keep looking at the drawings to appreciate how exactly everything is said but how terrible the picture is. From 31 Brutally Honest Illustrations By Gerhard Haderer Show What’s Wrong With Today’s Society. This was my favourite:

And this came next.

But go through the lot since they are amazing.

The Opportunity Costs of Socialism

The American Government (ahem, The Council of Economic Advisers) has just released a new paper – 72 pages in length – titled: The Opportunity Costs of Socialism. Here are the first paras from the Executive Summary to give you a sense of where it is going, but just download a copy yourself. Haven’t read it all but looks both comprehensive but also easy to understand, if you are of a mind to understand.

Coincident with the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, socialism is making a comeback in American political discourse. Detailed policy proposals from self-declared socialists are gaining support in Congress and among much of the electorate.

It is unclear, of course, exactly what a typical voter has in mind when he or she thinks of “socialism.” But economists generally agree about how to define socialism, and they have devoted enormous time and resources to studying its costs and benefits. With an eye on this broad body of literature, this report discusses socialism’s historic visions and intents, its economic features, its impact on economic performance, and its relationship with recent policy proposals in the United States.

We find that historical proponents of socialist policies and those in the contemporary United States share some of their visions and intents. They both characterize the distribution of income in market economies as the unjust result of “exploitation,” which should be rectified by extensive state control. The proposed solutions include single-payer systems, high tax rates (“from each according to his ability”), and public policies that hand out much of the Nation’s goods and services “free” of charge (“to each according to his needs”). Where they differ is that contemporary democratic socialists denounce state brutality and would allow individuals to privately own the means of production in many industries.

In assessing the effects of socialist policies, it is important to recognize that they provide little material incentive for production and innovation and, by distributing goods and services for “free,” prevent prices from revealing economically important information about costs and consumer needs and wants. To this end, as the then–prime minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher (1976), once argued, “Socialist governments . . . always run out of other people’s money,” and thus the way to prosperity is for the state to give “the people more choice to spend their own money in their own way.”

What went wrong in Venezuela is still my acid test. It’s a technical issue as much as moral, but this seems to cover both.

AND A BIT MORE ON THE SAME REPORT: Someone has looked further into the document and this is the analysis: White House Report Says Socialist Policies Could Cut GDP Nearly in Half.

“The definition of democratic socialism to me,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “is the fact that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live.”

To capture this variation, the CEA economists looked at how socialist policies from different countries and times would affect America’s productive output. The results were uniformly less than stellar.

“An extensive economic growth literature … documents a relationship between real GDP and the degree of socialism, measured in a large sample of countries as the opposite of economic freedom,” the report notes. “The studies suggest that moving U.S. policies to highly socialist policies would reduce real GDP at least 40 percent in the long run.”

That highly socialist benchmark is based on analyzing what the United States would look like if it implemented policies similar to Venezuela, a highly industrialized country whose major industries—most notably petroleum production—are state-owned. Such policies have led to food rationinghyperinflation, and a mass exodus of the population. Similar policies implemented in the United States would cut GDP per capita by some $24,000 per person, the CEA estimated.

And do note the words, “at least”. They don’t want to exaggerate so provide a best case scenario, as in GDP per head might fall by only $24,000, but could be more.

The move to replace ‘European-based knowledge’ as exclusionary, inadequate and subjective

Janice Fiamengo on inclusive, decolonised, anti-rational academia:

This is probably now the top hot-button issue at Canadian universities – the move to replace ‘European-based knowledge’ as exclusionary, inadequate and subjective, and to replace it in some cases with “indigenous knowledge,” and even something called “indigenous science”… what some might say is superstition or magical beliefs… The idea that “indigenous knowledge” is not to be questioned, that it has value equal to supposedly ‘European’ science… is an incredibly worrisome and strange idea.

Do watch in full for the anecdotes about the realities of so-called “affirmative action,” and the faculty lounge response to hearing of the 9/11 atrocities.

The immovable object is about to meet the irresistible force!

One of the greatest paradoxes in the history of philosophy may about to be resolved: Intensifying Hurricane Willa Headed Directly Toward 10,000 Migrant Caravan Path.

It appears that the migrant caravan, which has been reported to upward of 10,000 strong, might run into some extra trouble on their march to seek American asylum. A massive hurricane (named Willa) is set to cross the path that the migrants will eventually cross.

And then after that, there’s this:

There’s also a slightly smaller disturbance named Vincente to the south of Willa that meteorologists say will be consumed by the massively growing Willa, but will still pose a threat for dangerous conditions for the caravan, which has already seen its fair share of struggles with food, sanitation and organization.

We have already discussed The Irresistible Force. Now we shall see what happens when it meets The Immovable Object.

Jordan Peterson talks with Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff

The most interesting fact I learned from the video is that Peterson is writing the introduction to 50th anniversary edition of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Perfect person to introduce this masterpiece on tyranny and resistance to actual oppression – not the fake oppression of “the patriarchy” – to a new generation.

As for the discussion overall, JP shows a depth the other two cannot match. He thinks the left is driven by resentment, but he lets them talk their own points although has plenty to say himself. And as he says at the start about our snowflake generation, with their trigger warnings and enforced psychological protections: “You could not invent a more counterproductive mental-health movement if you set out to design it.” Confronting what you fear takes practice and with practice comes bravery. Sounds right to me. The rest is from JP’s notes. Trying to work out how this overprotectiveness has arisen. Maybe siblings make people resilient. And the fact of older parents may make a difference.

Published on 19 Sep 2018

The Coddling of the American Mind on Amazon:
Consider this book as a gift for your local school board member, teacher or principal. The more educational professionals become aware of the issues it presents, and the dangers of our current hyper-protective preoccupations, the better the chances we’ll change course. I spoke with Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt September 18, 2018 about their new book, The Coddling of the American Mind — a treatise on the counterproductive but increasingly predominant “safety culture” of trigger warnings, safe spaces and microaggression sensitivity. We discussed the psychological and sociological factors that underlie this philosophy of fragility, over-protection and offense, considering the contribution of older parents, fewer siblings, the strange interaction of postmodern philosophy and Marxism on campuses, and the widespread use of social media by young people. We focused on the increasing proclivity of those teaching in the social sciences and humanities to characterize Western culture as patriarchal and oppressive; producing, as a secondary consequence, a pervasive and all-encompassing victim/victimizer narrative (and producing that partly for the purposes of justifying that characterization). We considered what steps might be taken, personally and socially, to produce an alternate culture of resilience, responsibility, strength and courage.