Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Things You Are Not Allowed to Say

The good thing about living in the modern era is that we have freedom of speech and dissent is celebrated as the highest form of patriotism. So when a Nobel laureate like James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, opines that maybe the reason that Africa is such a mess is because of intelligence you can imagine the reaction. Said Watson, as reported by the London Times:

The 79-year-old geneticist said he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."

Anybody reading that -- even a rock-ribbed conservative -- will experience a cringe of embarrassment. The more sensitive types, those fully accredited as "non-racists," will likely feel more. They will feel the need to anathematize Dr. Watson, strip him of his public appointments, and deny him access to the public square.

All this embarrassment and anger is odd because the west proudly advertises itself as a culture of reason, where ideas rule, completely different from benighted Islam where a teacher can get a jail sentence for allowing the children in her charge to give a teddy-bear the name "Mohammed" (the just and merciful). And yet dear old James Watson HAS been stripped of all his public appointments and sent off to ponder the error of his ways. So what's going on?

Back in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment, French philosophes prophesied a new age of reason. But there was a problem. Everyone except themselves was prejudiced and superstitious. That wasn't surprising. People went to church and listened to the priest. And the few French who were lucky enough to get an education went to schools run by the Jesuits.

The Marquis de Condorcet knew what to do. He submitted a plan to the French Legislative Assembly in 1792 that called for universal state education to educate the people out of their prejudice and superstition. The system should, of course, be free of political control. Condorcet envisioned the teachers from these schools lecturing to the people on Sundays, expounding on the principles and rules of ethics and explaining the nation's laws. Unfortunately there has never been a political activist who wasn't eager to bend the government's school system into preaching their passionately-held beliefs. Andrew J. Coulson makes the definitive point in Market Education.

Since its inception, U.S. public schooling has been a battle zone, as left-wing and right-wing activists have sought to wrest control of the system and bend it to their will.

In the nineteenth century the public schools were used to push the Protestant Bible on the Irish Catholics. In the twentieth century they were used to push liberal political correctness on Protestant fundamentalists. These activists understand that reason has nothing to do with it. They want to enforce their shaming code upon the benighted masses and they are not afraid to use government power to do it. We really shouldn't be surprised about this. John Derbyshire of National Review reminds us that we humans are much more group-oriented than rational. We know there are certain things we are not allowed to say or to think. In his view it probably takes an antisocial loner like James Watson to do good science and ask antisocial questions about intelligence.

Jim Watson, though world-famous for what he did, fits the pattern. Talk to anyone who knows him and expressions like "difficult," "prickly," and "loose cannon" soon turn up.

When it comes to Nobel-quality science, go-along conformists need not apply. Of course, the Nobel Peace Prize is another matter.

Conservatives, as you would expect, own the reasonable approach to all this. We believe that people should be careful about sweeping claims of reason. Every society needs its prejudices, its shaming code, and its taboos. When liberals demand absolute free speech and freedom from shame, they end up smuggling prejudice and taboo in the back door. But conservatives are all in favor of reason when applied in a practical, gradualist way to the advance of science, the development of law, and the reform of government.

That is why we believe, as a practical matter, that after 150 years of government education it would be a good idea to discuss some serious education reform. If nothing else, it might reduce the conflict over our schools. But our liberal friends say that people who want to relax government control of education "don't care about kids."

And we believe that after 70 years of Social Security in which life expectancy at birth has climbed about 10 years it is time to discuss reform. But our liberal friends say that people who want to privatize Social Security want to throw granny into the street. It's good to know that our lefty friends insist that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Otherwise people could easily get the impression that liberals believe that free speech is only for people who think the right thoughts.


The Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery?

An entertaining illustration of the difference between Brits and Americans is on view with reactions to a book entitled, Forbidden Lego: Build the Models Your Parents Warned You Against. Fox News reports the book promises

"You'll learn to create working models that LEGO would never endorse," the book's page on the publisher's Web site promises. "Try your hand at a toy gun that shoots LEGO plates, a candy catapult, a high voltage LEGO vehicle, a continuous-fire ping-pong ball launcher, and other useless but incredibly fun inventions."

It seems the Brits regard the book as a shocking and threatening development:

"Lego is set to turn slightly more sinister with the launch of an unofficial book that teaches children how to make weapons out of the iconic plastic bricks," warned London's Evening Standard. The Daily Telegraph dubbed the tome "the Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery"

I'm sorry, but this is just silly. I never did get the Daisy air rifle I craved, just like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, but my friends and I survived slingshots and other home made weaponry without turning into sociopaths. Boys like to propel objects over distances. It's part of being a boy.

Americans seem to be handling the book in stride, and it is selling well. If I were nine years old or so, the book would be on my wish list.

Update: Cliff Thier points out that strange language of the Evening Standard: "Lego is set to turn slightly more sinister..." More sinister? Meaning Lego already is sinister? Apparently so.


Black Activists Renew Condemnation of Local Ohio NAACP Chapter for Interference in School Play

Members of the Project 21 black leadership network have renewed criticism of the Butler County (Ohio) chapter of the NAACP and its executive director over the group's new call for federal intervention into a local school district. The NAACP is protesting a student presentation of the Agatha Christie play "And Then There Were None."

Project 21 Chairman Mychal Massie says the local NAACP chapter chairman, Gary Hines, deceived him when Hines told Massie that he is not trying to intimidate Lakota administrators or its school board. Hines repeatedly insisted to Massie that he was not attempting to have the play canceled. Massie considers Hines' request for federal intervention a contradiction of this assertion. "Mr. Hines' actions support my previous contention that he has little interest for anything but furthering his own petulant and peevish agenda," said Massie.

A threatened protest by Hines in November led Lakota Local Schools in Liberty Township, Ohio to cancel the play at Lakota East High School. Administrators switched to a revised script with an alternative title and rescheduled the play for December 13 and 14. Hines complains that school officials will not meet with him about the play, and has contacted the U.S. Department of Justice to request a taxpayer-funded federal mediator.

Hines, a longtime critic of the school district, claimed the school play - which originally was being produced under the title "Ten Little Indians" - is about "genocide." Hines claimed the school district revealed racial insensitivity by allowing the play to be performed because the title of the original 1939 British novel on which the play is based used the "n-word," and its cover featured black figures drawn with offensive characteristics. That version of the novel did not appear in the United States. Plays and movies based upon the novel in the United States never carried the offensive graphic or title.

"And Then There Were None" is a murder-mystery about a group of people being stalked by a killer on an isolated island. There are no black or Indian characters. The title refers to a nursery rhyme used by the killer.

"In the adult world, people do not have to talk to someone just because that person demands it. Only someone with a perverted sense of importance or a bully would not understand that," said Massie. "While I was fully aware that Mr. Hines was less than forthcoming in our private conversation, I am deeply disappointed in his lack of honesty."


The essence of Orwellianism: A comment from Britain, home of Orwell's "Ingsoc"

Liberty and the state: It isn't the spycams that make Britain Orwellian - it is New Labour's taste for intervening in our lives

Many claim that we live in Orwellian times. There are spycams on every street corner. The war on terrorism increasingly looks like a "war without end". The government uses the politics of fear to keep us in our place. It seems that Eric Blair's nightmare has become the stuff of Tony Blair's (and now Gordon Brown's) New Britain.

Yet many overlook the real Orwellian strain in contemporary society. It is not the CCTV cameras or bulging databases that make Britain Orwellian - rather, it is New Labour's taste for intruding into our personal lives. The most terrifying thing about the dystopia of Nineteen Eighty-Four was the Party's management of people's relationships with each other, and its attempts to replace the human emotions of spontaneity and passion with conformity to a soulless etiquette. Something similar is happening in Britain 2007 - yet this very real Orwellian outburst is ignored by those who bang the drum for liberty.

Orwell depicted a world in which personal relationships were smashed apart and reconstituted as relationships between the individual and the state. "We have cut the links between child and parent, between man and man, and between man and woman," boasts torturer O'Brain: "No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer."

New Labour is instituting a similar tyranny of distrust. Its Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 - a Stalinist piece of legislation that requires the 10 million adults who work with children to undergo criminal records checks - transforms what were once relaxed relationships between groups and individuals into relationships managed and monitored by the state. Even the dad who coaches a kids' soccer team on Sunday mornings, or a mum who organises school runs in her 4x4, will have to regularly submit to a background check by the suspicious state.

In treating every adult who comes into contact with kids as a potential deviant, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act implicitly educates young people to regard adults with caution. As the Mayor of Oxford, Jim Campbell, said of the Act: "We are in danger of creating a generation of children who are encouraged to look at people who want to help them with suspicion." We have cut the links between child and adult.

New Labour tramples on the sacred terrain of family life, too. It uses parenting orders and compulsory parenting classes to "re-educate" feckless mums and dads. And it has set up a National Parenting Academy (a Ministry of Parenting), in order to, as the Home Office puts it, "nip antisocial behaviour in the bud". In short, the government must play in loco parentis to the nation's children, by developing what it calls a "parenting workforce", because real parents cannot be trusted to turn out well-behaved, model citizens - or "child heroes", as conformist brattish children are described in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In the discussion about "fetal ASBOs" - the government's attempt to determine which unborn children will become criminals in the future - we see Orwellianism run riot: here, ideas of pre-crime meet the state's desire to police even fetuses. Even Orwell's Party waited until people were born before it put them on the conformism treadmill. New Labour has cut the most intimate link of all: that between mother and fetus.

Orwell's Party had an intense suspicion of spontaneous, emotional relationships. The Party's aim was "not merely to prevent men and women from forming loyalties which it might not be able to control", but to eradicate the "sex instinct" altogether. New Labour fears the sex instinct, too. Its safe sex campaigns - which long ago crossed the line from polite advice into moralistic hectoring - seem designed to dampen lust. In the Department of Health's latest disgusting TV ads, young men and women are shown in the throes of passion wearing Y-fronts and knickers that say "chlamydia" or "gonorrhoea" on them. The message is clear: sex is dirty and dangerous. Think twice; wear protection; practice caution; do not give in to your sex instinct.

New Labour's plethora of legislation on "personal harassment" and "stalking", now so broadly defined as to be meaningless, brings passionate relationships under the watchful eye of the state. And the unstoppable rise of codes of conduct in workplaces and colleges, which dictate what we can say to each other and even what tone of voice we should use, has killed off flirting and sexual banter.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Party turned children into instruments of government policy. Indeed, "it was almost normal for people over 30 to be frightened of their own children". New Labour is moving towards recruiting child spies, too. Last year it introduced the first speaking CCTV cameras, and launched a competition in schools to find "socially conscious" children to provide the hectoring voices on the day the cams were launched. The Respect Taskforce (the Ministry of Respect) said this was about "encouraging children to use their pester power in a positive way". A government report has proposed urging schoolkids to educate their parents about eco-living, in order to bring about a "cultural shift" in the attitudes of the population.

In Orwell's dystopia, the Party implores everyone to keep fit. Winston Smith always wakes to a "grim" reality: he has to "join in compulsory exercises following the instructions given by a woman from the telescreen". New Labour is likewise obsessed with telling us to exercise, what to eat, whether we should smoke or drink. Government bodies also regulate our behaviour through the issue of climate change; they enforce compulsory recycling and cajole us into living meek, austere lives. Indeed, if there's one "war without end" that is used to justify rationing, restraint and repression today, it is not the war against terrorism but the war against global warming. The government, supported by an army of slavish greens, evokes images of future doom in order to lower our expectations and keep us in our place.

The spying technology was not the scariest part of Orwell's nightmare vision. Rather it was the Party's hostility towards emotion and desire, and its interventions into every corner of people's private thoughts and personal lives, that marked it out as terrifyingly new and tyrannical. And so today, we might do better to focus less on New Labour's hi-tech spying, or even its anti-terror legislation, and more on its deep distrust of private life and loving relationships. "They can't get inside you," Julia tells Winston Smith when they start their illicit (non-safe sex) love affair. Let us stop New Labour from getting inside us, too.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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