Monday, May 17, 2010
The dangers of ideology
Even a libertarian ideology can close minds to reality. A quintessentially conservative article by a libertarian below
I’ve been re-reading Temple Grandin’s wonderful book, Animals in Translation, and it has some important things to say about ideology and abstraction. For those of you who don’t know Grandin, she is the top designer of animal handling facilities in the world, a PhD with over one hundred published papers in both biology and psychology, and autistic. She attributes her success to being ‘detail-oriented’, and claims that most people cannot see the problems she sees because they are too ‘abstractified.’
Interestingly, she, much as the British Idealists did, relates abstraction to ideology, and complains that, rather than plainly seeing the situation with which they are asked to deal, many of the people she encounters substitute an abstract, ideological view of the situation, thereby falsifying reality, often with bad results.
She offers an example of a woman who owned a fair number of dogs. Some of the ‘pack’ she had created were naturally more dominant, and others more submissive. She was repeatedly advised that she had to accept this as a fact, since that is the way dogs are, and, for instance, always greet the more dominant dogs first when she came home. But, her mind captured by an ideology of equality, she refused to listen, with the outcome that the dominant dogs would attack the submissive ones for improperly taking ‘first dibs’ with the master, so that finally three of the dogs had to be put down.
Grandin discusses the constraints of biology upon animal nature at some length; in particular, she devotes many pages to how a simplified, abstract understanding of genetics can bring about radically undesirable results when applied. For example, the single-trait breeding of chickens, first for quick growth, then for lots of breast meat, and finally for the vitality not to collapse after growing so much meat so quickly, led to rapist/murderer roosters – the various traits being bred for did not exist in the simple isolation of an abstract genetic model, but interacted with the rest of chicken biology in unpredictable ways, so that the roosters produced by the three successive breeding efforts had often forgotten how to do the proper mating dance to seduce a hen, and wound up raping and killing the females when they wanted to mate.
How does this relate to ideology? Well, I have encountered people who contend that monogamy is ‘irrational,’ sexual possessiveness immoral, and that we ought to consciously work to eliminate these elements from human life. But Grandin notes that sexual possessiveness, across many species, seems to be strongly connected to taking great care for one’s offspring. The ideological conviction that such possessiveness is irrational ignores this basic biological fact; if this ideology ever holds full sway, the result after enough generations pass will be humans quite unlike ourselves, who have little interest in raising their children.
Whether the human race would survive that change I have no idea, but it certainly is not what the ideologues intend; instead, they are seeing these traits in abstraction, like elements in a model, where they can pluck out any element that offends them without otherwise affecting the whole.
The grip of ideology is usually broken only by the force of reality shattering it. I recall, in particular, two experiences that had that sort of impact on me. One, suggested by John Goes in a previous thread, came about during my second stay in Switzerland. During my first trip I had fallen in love with the country, and had to go back. Spending more time there on trip two, I thought I was in the most naturally orderly and civic-minded place I had ever been – and, I realized, if the Swiss ever adopted the open border policy I had advocated until then, that place would be gone in a decade.
Now, when I recently expressed some reservations about unrestricted immigration on a libertarian blog, I was immediately accused of being a ‘xenophobe.’ To anyone who knows I spent ten years playing in a reggae band, often finding myself to be the only native-born American in the club I was in, and who knows I am married to an immigrant, and so on, that accusation might seem unlikely. But consider the context that led me to change my mind – I was in a foreign country, enchanted by these foreigners culture, and was worried that too many people like me moving there might ruin things. That is a funny sort of xenophobia.
But to preserve an ideological view, such name-calling is necessary, to prevent reality from intruding. I imagine the woman mentioned above with the dog pack thought of those pointing out that she was acting recklessly as ‘dog elitists,’ who were in favor of ‘oppression’ of the timid dogs by the more aggressive ones.
My second major breaking in of reality had to do with public school teachers. After my kids begged me to let them attend our local public school, I found that ideology had created in my mind a bogeyman public employee and that, try as I might, I couldn’t force the real public employees I was dealing with to conform to this taxpayer-sucking parasite monster. The actual teachers and administrators I dealt with were dedicated to their jobs and were focused on helping kids, not on draining the public coffers to feather their own nests.
Now, a non-ideological approach to issues like the above need not be blind to existing problems or deaf to every case for reform. The public schools in the US certainly do have many problems, and it would be good to fix them. Immigration restrictions are not a panacea, and bring with them serious civil liberty and humanitarian concerns.
But to adopt a simplistic stance towards those situations based upon ‘principles’ that are in reality little more than slogans – “immigration control is xenophobic” or “the public schools are evil monopolies that brainwash our children” – is unlikely to produce improvement. Instead, the discussion of the problems is degraded, and the targets of the slogans usually wind up getting their backs up, closing their minds to even reasonable reforms.
Finally, let me assert once more that I don’t mean to be picking on libertarians here – some of my best friends are libertarians. But that happens to be the ideology to which I was committed, and, so, it is the easiest one for me to mine for examples. Indeed, everything I write here should be understood primarily as self-criticism, and only secondarily as directed at anyone else.
Blind ideology is dancing on the grave of reason
IN Britain, the benefits of diversity are apparently boundless. Now that the Pagan Police Association has received government recognition, police officers can take a string of pagan festivals as official holidays.
These include celebrating the festival of lactating sheep, and drinking mead and dancing naked to celebrate the harvest. In court, pagan officers will be allowed to pledge to tell the truth not before God but by what "they hold sacred", including, presumably, the Sun God or Kriss Kringle, the Germanic god of yule.
In Australia, as historian Keith Windschuttle has chronicled in his new book The Stolen Generations - volume three of his tireless evisceration of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History - the allegedly monstrous theft of 100,000 Aboriginal children by Australian officials just because they were Aboriginal never actually happened.
In the US, when a car bomb was planted recently in New York's Times Square by a man later revealed to be a Muslim trained in bomb-making in Pakistan's Waziristan region, there was an initial stampede to declare the attempted atrocity was unconnected to Islamic terrorism.
It was said to be most likely the work of a Tea Party member, right-wing militiaman or lone nut. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg even suggested the bomb could have been placed by "somebody with a political agenda who doesn't like the healthcare bill or something".
What has Britain come to when its police officers are given leave to dance about naked? How can generations of Australians have been taught the egregious falsehood of the Stolen Generations as fact? And how many times have Tea Party members or people opposed to a piece of legislation tried to commit mass murder against their fellow Americans, compared with the number of recent attempts by Muslim terrorists?
Such intellectual perversity can be understood only in the context of a far wider and profound retreat from reason throughout the West.
Across a broad range of issues, the progressive intelligentsia appears to have junked the rules of evidence, objectivity and rationality in favour of fantasy, irrationality and upside-down thinking.
Take man-made global warming, for example.
The belief that the planet is on course for carbon Armageddon is now embedded in Western politics. Yet the evidence that the climate is warming to an unprecedented and catastrophic degree just isn't there. The seas are not rising, the ice is not shrinking, the polar bears are not vanishing, and there has been no significant climate warming since 1995.
Or take the Middle East. Israel is the victim of six decades of exterminatory aggression from the Arab and Muslim world. Yet it is Israel that is expected to make concessions to its attackers, who are said by the West to deserve a state of their own. Meanwhile, the US extends its hand of friendship to Iran, which is building a nuclear bomb to commit another Jewish genocide.
Closer to home, "minority rights" mean activities previously marginalised or considered transgressive are now privileged through "family lifestyle choice" or multiculturalism.
Dissenters from these creeds are socially and professionally ostracised. Academics are hounded as racists for upholding the true historic origins of Western civilisation. Scientists sceptical of man-made global warming find funding is withheld. And those sounding the alarm about the true scope of the Islamic jihad are demonised as warmongering neo-cons or part of a Jewish conspiracy.
Such irrationality, intolerance and, indeed, bigotry run counter to the cardinal tenets of a free society based on reason and the toleration of dissent.
This is because these dominant ideas are all rooted in ideologies: environmentalism, anti-racism, anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, egalitarianism or scientism, the belief that scientific materialism alone explains everything.
Rather than going where the evidence leads, ideology wrenches the evidence to fit a prior idea. Not only is ideology inimical to reason, it sacrifices truth to power as it attacks those who try to uphold reality in the face of dogma.
This is because the progressive mindset believes it is synonymous with virtue itself. All opposition is therefore not just wrong but evil. Since progressives also believe anyone who opposes them is a right-winger, it follows that all dissent is right-wing and evil, and so must be shut down.
In other words, these are not propositions to be debated in a rational way but are seen as self-evident truths with the infallibility of religious dogma.
They also smack of the political totalitarianism of communism and fascism, as well as resembling, ironically, the fanatical doctrines of militant Islam. Curiously, they also display religious motifs of sin, guilt and salvation. Odder still, they all exhibit features of millenarianism: the religious belief in the perfectibility of life through the collective redemption of sin. Contemporary secular ideologies identify the sins committed by humanity - oppression of the people of developing nations, despoliation of nature, bigotry, poverty, war - and offer salvation by a return to righteousness.
Thus the greens believe they will save the planet. The leftists believe they will create the brotherhood of man. The anti-Zionists believe they will turn suicide bomb-belts into cucumber frames. The atheists believe they will create the Garden of Reason. And the Islamists believe they will create the kingdom of God on earth.
Dissenters are dismissed because they deny the unchallengeable truths of anti-imperialism, environmentalism and scientific materialism. The explanation for the frustration of Utopia must therefore lie in conspiracies by the neo-cons or the Jews, Big Oil or the creationists.
The result is not merely that the West has become irrational. By turning truth and lies, victim and aggressor, justice and injustice upside down, it cannot even recognise, let alone deal with, the threats being mounted to its own values and civilisation.
With ideology eroding the principles of rationality and freedom, truth and justice on which it rests, the West is failing to understand what it is that it cannot understand, and so cannot grasp the mortal danger in which it stands.
Political correctness runs deep in Britain
Footballer has to apologize for voting for a perfectly legal political party. That you are free to vote for whom you choose is basic to democracy -- but not in Britain, apparently
Leicester defender Wayne Brown has been forced into making a grovelling apology - after voting BNP at the General Election. Brown was suspended by the Foxes for their play-off games with Cardiff following a stormy row with team-mate Lloyd Dyer and coach Chris Powell.
The 32-year-old revealed he had voted for BNP last week and was involved in a heated clash with Dyer after training. And former England international Powell also confronted Brown before team-mates pulled them apart.
Leicester boss Nigel Pearson took swift action by suspending the centre-half for the two legs against the Bluebirds. And Brown was hauled in for a meeting after Wednesday’s agonising defeat and told to apologise to the squad.
But the former Hull and Colchester star is still facing an uncertain future at the Walkers Stadium, with one year left on his contract.
A Leicester source said: "There was a discussion and Wayne let slip his political views. "Obviously one or two people were offended by that and in the best interests of everybody concerned he’s been asked to apologise for any offence he may have caused."
Hooray for the Prince!
He's the people's Prince on this one. Papers uncovered in court reveal the Prince of Wales’s dogged campaign against a modernist complex, writes Chris Gourlay
THE discreet lobbying campaign waged by the Prince of Wales to kill off plans for a £3 billion modernist apartment complex in Chelsea, west London, has been exposed to public view for the first time.
A series of emails, minutes and letters disclosed in High Court documents give a fly-on-the-wall account of Prince Charles’s repeated deployment of his aides to persuade the Emir of Qatar and planners to ditch Lord Rogers’s glass-and-metal design in favour of a more traditional alternative.
The prince is well known for lobbying ministers and officials in his handwritten “black spider” memos. The workings of his lobbying machine are usually hidden from public view by the Freedom of Information Act, which exempts royal papers from release for up to 20 years.
These documents show Charles is prepared to go far beyond just making his views known to those in authority.
The papers have emerged in a lawsuit that resulted from the collapse of the project on the former Chelsea Barracks site. Last month the judge in the case ordered Clarence House to disclose all relevant private documents.
Nick and Christian Candy, the interior designers and property developers, are suing the rulers of Qatar, who commissioned the scheme, for £81m, which they say they lost through breach of contract.
Rogers and the Candys had designed a mix of luxury flats and more affordable housing for the 12.8-acre site opposite Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital, home of the Chelsea Pensioners.
The uncompromisingly modernist plans infuriated many residents, however. George Ferguson, former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, supported Charles, saying: “Hurt feelings mend, but bad buildings never go away.”
Westminster council was on the verge of granting approval when Charles intervened. It had previously been thought he wrote to the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and the two sealed their agreement over tea after a meeting between Charles’s officials and the council.
The Candys’ particulars of claim show this was only a small part of the campaign.
Charles wrote to the emir in March last year, urging him to “reconsider” the “brutalist” designs. This was followed by a phone call from Sir Michael Peat, his private secretary, who told the Qataris the prince would press for them to adopt a design by Quinlan Terry, the neoclassical architect.
Charles was not alone in his views. An email from Boris Johnson, the London mayor, to Kit Malthouse, one of his deputies, shows Johnson also disliked the scheme, but added that he did not wish to endorse the design favoured by Charles.
At the time, both Johnson’s City Hall and Westminster council supported the application and Qatari Diar, the investment group behind the purchase, had no intention of changing it. Only after a further flurry of phone calls and emails from Charles’s aides and two meetings with them did the Qataris buckle.
The lobbying efforts culminated in Charles criticising the design in person to the emir over tea at Clarence House.Peat’s note of the meeting says the emir seemed “surprised” by the design and “said he would have them changed”.
Qatari Diar swiftly fell into line. Three days later a strategy to replace the scheme was approved and, from then on, Charles’s staff were brought into the emir’s circle.
On May 27, Manon Williams, the prince’s deputy private secretary and Hank Dittmar, his architectural adviser, met the Qataris to offer help.
Peat reported: “They have agreed to use PFBE [the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment] to advise on masterplanning and architects.”
Unaware of the secret talks, planners were close to finishing their approval process. Westminster published a report on June 11 describing the Rogers scheme as of “exceptionally high quality”. Approval was due the following week.
On the same day, however, Qatari Diar buried Rogers’s scheme. Representatives of the company and the prince together sought assurances from Robert Davis, Westminster’s head of planning, and Sir Simon Milton, the mayor’s planning chief, that they would “look favourably” on a new application.
The following morning, Jeremy Titchen, Qatari Diar’s managing director, emailed Dittmar: “When you wake you will find we have withdrawn.”
Charles’s intervention is likely to be seized on by opponents as evidence that he acted unconstitutionally.
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 or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.