Thursday, July 07, 2011
The promotion of homosexual marriage is a shallow claim of superior wisdom
"The opponents (of same-sex marriage) have no case other than ignorance and misconception and prejudice." So writes Richard Cohen in his celebratory column about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's role in legalizing gay marriage in New York state.
Now, given that no nation in 20 centuries of Christendom legalized homosexual marriage, and, in this century, majorities in all 31 states where it has been on the ballot have rejected it, Cohen is pretty much saying that, since the time of Christ, Western history has been an endless Dark Age dominated by moral ignoramuses and bigots.
For the belief that homosexuality is unnatural and immoral and same-sex marriage an Orwellian absurdity has always been part of the moral code of Christianity. Gen. George Washington ordered active homosexuals drummed out of his army. Thomas Jefferson equated homosexuality with rape. Not until 2003 did the Supreme Court declare homosexual acts a protected right.
What is the moral basis of the argument that homosexuality is normal, natural and healthy? In recent years, it has been associated with high levels of AIDS and enteric diseases, and from obits in gay newspapers, early death. Where is the successful society where homosexual marriage was normal?
Not until the Stonewall riots at a gay bar in Greenwich Village in 1969 was the case broadly made by anyone but the Mattachines of Frank Kameny that homosexuality deserved to be treated as a natural and normal expression of love.
Still, Cohen is not without a point when he uses the term "prejudice."
As Albert Einstein observed, "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18." By 14, most boys have learned on the playground there is something disordered about boys sexually attracted to other boys. Hence the need for politically correct universities to purge such ideas from young minds and indoctrinate them in the new truths of modernity.
But are we really wiser than our ancestors? As Edmund Burke wrote of the thinkers of his time:
"Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but the naked reason."
Great minds once found merit in the "prejudices," or inherited wisdom, of a people, as a spur to virtuous behavior. Again, Burke:
"Prejudice is of ready application in an emergency. It previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical and unresolved."
In our new society from which traditionalists are seceding, many ruling ideas are rooted in an ideology that is at war with Burke's "general prejudices."
High among them is that homosexuality is natural and normal. That abortion is a woman's right. That all voluntary sexual relations are morally equal. That women and men are equal, and if the former are not equally represented at the apex of academic, military and political life, this can only be the result of invidious discrimination that the law must correct. That all races, religions and ethnic groups are equal and all must have equal rewards.
Once a nation synonymous with freedom, the new America worships at the altar of equality.
Writing on the same Washington Post page as Cohen, a day earlier, Greg Sargent exulted in Cuomo's law as "a huge victory ... for equality ... a major defeat for those self-described 'conservatives' who hate government except when it is enforcing a form of legalized discrimination that comports with their prejudices."
Sargent also has a point. But behind the "prejudices" of conservatives about the moral superiority of traditional marriage are 2,000 years of history and law. What is the intellectual and moral basis of Sargent's notion?
He claims "majorities of Americans are not prepared to assign sub-par status to the intimate relationships of gays and lesbians."
Certainly, that is true of the Albany legislature.
But why then does Barack Obama seem so hesitant to embrace gay marriage?
In 2012, we shall find out who is right politically, when the issue goes on the ballot in battleground states. But is moral truth to be discovered at a ballot box? Do we have no superior moral compass than majority rule?
"A new kind of America is emerging in the early 21st century," said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver last week, "and it's likely to be much less friendly to religious faith than anything in the nation's past."
He added, pointedly, "If Catholic social services should be forced to alter their Catholic beliefs on marriage, the family, social justice, sexuality (and) abortion," they should terminate those services.
Prediction: We are entering an era where communities will secede from one another and civil disobedience on moral grounds will become as common as it was in the days of segregation.
Gaza flotilla: Riding on a wave of narcissism
Gaza-bound do-gooders claim they only want to send ‘love’ to Palestinians. The evidence suggests they’re more in love with themselves
Here we go again. The second Gaza-bound armada, named Freedom Flotilla II: Stay Human, is currently awaiting clearance for departure at a Greek port. This year the organisers, rather than sailing under the pretence of being a humanitarian mission, have largely admitted, even boasted, that what matters is The Message.
Of course these activist voyages to Gaza, which have been sailing for the past three years, have always had a political intent. However, delivering cargo was also talked up as a significant part of the mission. So when the Israeli authorities denied crew the right to hand over their cargo in person, it gave the activists an opportunity to shout to the world’s media that Israel is an inhumane power preventing Palestinians from receiving wheelchairs, toys, medicines.
This year, however, the focus is more openly on the message. ‘The Freedom Flotilla is indeed “a political provocation”. Why shouldn’t it be?’ says an American member of the International Solidarity Movement. This year, the US ship involved in the flotilla, named The Audacity of Hope, is literally loaded with messages – it is carrying what have been called ‘love letters’ from Americans to Gazans.
The flotilla organisers still promote the patronising idea that Gazans are suffering an acute and unique humanitarian crisis and are hermetically sealed off, even starved and ghettoised, more so than any other people in the world. And ironically, this has played into Israel’s hands: it has allowed the Israeli government also to focus on occasionally giving ‘humanitarian assistance’ to the Palestinians, rather than on more pressing and awkward political matters, such as lifting restrictions on the free movement of goods and people that really hinder economic prosperity in Gaza. The Israel-based NGO Gisha, which campaigns for freedom of movement, has rightly expressed its frustration with the flotilla’s pity for Palestinians, since it reduces Palestinians to the level of passive recipients of Westerners’ or Israelis’ aid and favour.
Yet beneath the flotilla activists’ aloof assertions that they are helping to end the siege on Gaza, whether by delivering essentials in earlier years or by becoming pen pals with Palestinians this year, in truth their real motivation is a desire to imbue their own lives with a sense of moral purpose.
The flotilla organisers claim to be acting in solidarity with Palestinians, and no doubt there are many Palestinians who welcome the global media spotlight and the pressure on Israel to ease the blockade on Gaza. But it is a curious type of solidarity that is so singularly narcissistic and self-satisfying.
For instance, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple and one of the most high-profile crew members of the US ship, has said: ‘Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even though the answer is: what else would I do?’ Now aged 67, Walker has apparently found a new purpose in life, namely to bring ‘letters of love’ to the ‘children of Palestine’. She sees herself as an experienced elder, bringing words of wisdom and comfort to Gaza’s children.
Her focus on Palestinian children is not simply a soppy cliché; rather it’s a way of placing herself in the role of mother. She and her boat companions want to care for and protect Gazans, maternally, to feed them and nurture them and give them ‘love’. Palestinians are deemed to be helpless not only because they live under a de facto occupation, but because, in the view of the flotilla activists, they are incapable of securing their rights without the benefit of the life experiences of the likes of Walker.
Another flotilla passenger, Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy, says Palestinians need Westerners to ‘leverage our privilege’ on their behalf. For Naiman this doesn’t only mean acting as a human shield and protecting Palestinians from evil, but also telling Palestinians how they ought to conduct their political struggle. ‘[It’s not so much] “showing” in the sense of teaching’, he says. ‘It’s more a question of “showing” in the sense of demonstrating a successful example.’
There is very little self-effacement in the so-called solidarity that the flotilla-ists are extending to Palestinians. On the contrary, this is a media stunt disguised as a risqué act of self-sacrifice. This becomes most clear in the activists’ insistence that they are putting their lives on the line ‘for Palestinians’. In an article for the CNN News website, Walker speculates about what will happen if the Israeli soldiers ‘insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us’, while Naiman, writing in the Huffington Post, says he is participating ‘in this voyage at risk to my life’. Yes, the Israel Defense Forces launched a fiasco of an intervention into last year’s flotilla, with violent confrontations that led to the deaths of nine activists. But the IDF hardly plans to score such a PR own-goal again.
By painting Israel as the scum of the Earth and the Palestinians as the salt of the Earth, the flotilla crew are not only narcissistically advertising themselves as the noble saviours of Palestine. They are also hoping to relegitimise and reinvigorate the West’s moral imperative to act as the heroic rescuer of the Middle East. Indeed, for all the hyping up of the flotilla’s non-violent resistance and the crew’s ostensible backing of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, in fact the flotilla crew are a war-thirsty, interventionist bunch.
After last year’s flotilla, many ‘radical’ activists and commentators called for Israel to be punished by the ‘international community’. Some suggested sanctions, others called for NATO to send in its troops, and yet others wanted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be put on trial for ‘war crimes’. This week, the acclaimed Swedish crime fiction writer and two-time flotilla crew member, Henning Mankell, told Swedish press: ‘I’m considering suggesting very soon the setting up of an international tribunal with independent experts on international law who can confirm that the [Israeli blockade of Gaza] is illegal.’ How helpful. Perhaps he can get Wallander on the case?
Today, denouncing Israel seems to be one sure-fire way of creating a sense of consensus at a time when there are few issues that unite people in the West. So everyone from one-hit-wonder authors to street-cred-seeking politicians, from Nobel Prize laureates to Islamists, wants a piece of the anti-Israel action. It has become a badge of honour for members of respectable Western society to be able to stake a claim in the struggle against Evil Israel and in defence of The Children Of Palestine – whether they do it by going native and moving in with families in the West Bank, by donning that trendy political garment the keffiyeh, or by taking to the high seas in boats where journalists nearly outnumber crew members, which means you might get your name and photograph in an international newspaper.
Today, following the Arab uprisings, many Western radicals are envious of these foreigners who seem to be expressing their political passions in a way that has become alien here at home. So for some, boarding the flotilla this year looks like a chance to play a role in the changing set-up in the Middle East. (The Canadian boat is even named Tahrir, after the square that became the epicentre of the Egyptian uprising.)
But this is not political solidarity as we might have understood it in the past. Rather this flotilla is riding on a wave of Western narcissism. And in the end, it’s the Palestinians who will pay the price for it – not only by being reduced in the eyes of the world to the level of helpless children who need Alice Walker to mother them, but also by potentially becoming the targets of Israel’s unpredictable, defensive responses to being put under the global spotlight once again.
Stand up for Britain's silent majority, Patten tells BBC as director-general admits: We failed to address immigration
The BBC should avoid pandering to 'metropolitan prejudices' or a 'tasteless common denominator' by standing up for the silent majority, its new chairman has declared.
Lord Patten said the corporation should listen to accusations that it is 'drowning' viewers and listeners with 'prejudices' and 'stereotypes' from the urban elite. In a plea for the broadcaster to become more representative of the licence fee payer, he said the ideas of the wider public 'deserve to be considered and reflected'.
His comments will be seen as an attempt to address the long-standing claim that the BBC is guilty of a London-centric, Left-leaning bias which alienates large sections of the public.
On the issue of standards, Lord Patten added it would be an 'act of treason' if the BBC reduced quality to chase ratings.
Last night, giving the Royal Television Society's Fleming Memorial Lecture 2011 – his maiden speech as chairman – Lord Patten also said criticism that the corporation was 'not impartial' should 'keep us on our toes'.
Speaking last night, Lord Patten said public trust ‘suffers’ when corporate behaviour ‘doesn’t fit the ideal’ and the organisation needed to ‘distance itself from the market’.
His measures will also see the number of senior management roles reduced by almost two thirds from about 550 to 200. A freeze on bonuses for the board will be made permanent and private health insurance will be phased out for top bosses.
He said: ‘Waste, self-indulgence and inefficiency at the BBC are inexcusable, as they are anywhere else in the public sector ... that’s why, watching from the outside, the issue of senior executive pay has looked so toxic for the institution as a whole.’
He insisted the broadcaster should reflect 'the full breadth of opinion that exists on most controversial topics'.
And he said any mistakes in its reporting were an 'assault on our own values', warning that episodes like these risked undermining its 'brave journalism'.
Referring to 19th-century French writer Gustave Flaubert, he said: 'We should also listen hard to those who accuse us of drowning our viewers and listeners in a small metropolitan pond of stereotypes and prejudices, what Flaubert called “received ideas”. 'The customarily “unreceived” deserve to be considered and reflected too. And audiences in every different part of the UK should feel the BBC is relevant to their everyday lives.'
The corporation has previously been accused of failing to represent views and lifestyles of rural viewers, often making them figures of fun, as in comedies such as The Vicar of Dibley.
BBC executives have also in the past conceded the corporation was guilty of promoting Left-wing views.
Lord Patten's comments come after a BBC report in 2007 suggested the corporation was out of touch with large swathes of the public and guilty of self-censoring on subjects it found unpalatable. It warned that such behaviour would cause people to lose faith in the broadcaster.
Lord Patten said last night: 'Public support is central to the BBC's on-going success.'
The new chairman also issued a clarion call on high standards in the BBC's output. 'Above all, we should pay greatest heed to any justified assertion that we are guilty of descending to a tasteless common denominator,' he stressed.
'Were that to be true, it would be a real act of treason to all that we are supposed to stand for.'
The BBC has come under fire from viewers for derivative programmes and apparent attempts to chase ratings. Lord Patten said 'political bias' had been 'the charge of almost every government since the BBC was founded', but added that some criticism 'should be taken very seriously'.
On its journalism he warned: 'We should also take any mistakes in reporting, let alone the use of dubious evidence, as an assault on our own values. 'The brave journalism that uncovers cruelty in a welfare home is devalued when we fall short of our own highest standards in other programmes.
'Criticism that we are not impartial should keep us on our toes, determined to tell things as we see them while taking account of the full breadth of opinion that exists on most controversial topics.'
Sensitive or 'taboo' subjects such as immigration were avoided by the BBC, the corporation's director-general admitted yesterday.
Mark Thompson conceded that the broadcaster had been 'anxious' in the past about playing into what it may have perceived to be a Right-wing political agenda. But he claimed it had now changed its position and was responsible for raising the topic of immigration during last year's general election.
Mr Thompson added that the BBC had a duty to address 'sensitive and difficult' issues a 'significant proportion' of the public wanted to hear about.
In an article for the New Statesman magazine, he admitted: 'There have been occasions, I believe, in the past, when the BBC has had limitations. 'For example, I think there were some years when the BBC, like the rest of the UK media, was very reticent about talking about immigration.
'There was an anxiety whether or not you might be playing into a political agenda if you did items about immigration.' Mr Thompson went on to insist that he did not like the idea that certain subjects were 'taboo'. He said: 'In the 2010 election campaign, none of the parties was talking about immigration.
'We believed we should deal with it, because the public – not everyone, but a significant proportion – was saying to us that it was a real issue. 'We've got a duty, even if issues are sensitive and difficult to get right, to confront what the public want. I don't like the idea of topics that are taboo.'
Last year, Mr Thompson accepted that the BBC had been guilty of 'massive' Left-wing bias.
And in 2007, a BBC Trust report criticised the corporation for coming late to several important stories, including Euroscepticism and immigration, which it described as 'off limits' in terms of a liberal-minded comfort zone.
Mr Thompson also defended the large numbers of journalists the BBC sends to events such as Glastonbury and the Olympics.
And he insisted that staff were low paid compared with other broadcasting organisations.
The BBC was criticised last month for sending 407 people to the Glastonbury festival – at a cost of £1.5million.
But the director-general said: 'In the British press, the BBC sending a few hundred people to the Beijing Olympics was a national scandal. We sent about a tenth of the number sent by NBC, the U.S. broadcaster.
'We're known internationally for the small numbers of people we send, but in a newspaper 100 sounds like a lot, in the way £7million for taxis does. It depends on the context. We should make sure we're doing these things with as few people as we can and I think we do.'
Ten great myths about Britain's foreign aid: After Cameron described critics as 'hard-hearted', how your money is squandered
As he pledged to pour hundreds of millions more into propping up Afghanistan, David Cameron this week accused critics of his foreign aid policy of being ‘possibly hard-hearted’. The fact is we’ll soon be spending more on the Third World than on the Home Office and, while other budgets face cuts, overseas aid is being increased by billions. Here, IAN BIRRELL reveals what really happens to all that money ....
MYTH 1: We can afford to spend a few billion pounds to help the world’s poor
Defenders of aid say we have a moral duty to help those less fortunate and we are a rich country that can afford it. This argument is put forward by ministers and supporters such as the heiress Jemima Khan, who claims Britain is wealthy enough to spend such trifling sums on aid.
Here are the facts. When Tony Blair established the Department for International Development (DFID) as the political wing of the charity movement in 1997, its budget was £2.6 billion — more than twice the Foreign Office allocation.
Today, we spend £8.1 billion, which will increase to £11.4 billion in 2014 — a 34 per cent rise, despite spending cuts elsewhere.
Unsurprisingly, MPs are getting a growing postbag over this. We are giving more than £300 per household to the world’s poor while public sector jobs are lost and vital services for the elderly and disabled are closed. The head of the Royal Navy has warned there may not be enough money to pursue the war in Libya.
Four out of five voters oppose the cross-party consensus of increasing aid spending, according to a new YouGov@Cam survey. I share the ideals behind foreign aid — and, if it worked, I would say spend more. Unfortunately, the policy is based on old-fashioned concepts, outdated figures and all too often makes life worse, not better, for people in poorer nations.
MYTH 2: We must hit the UN target to give away 0.7 per cent of our GNP in aid
Ah yes, the sacred target. For a government promising to sweep away targets, the Coalition is strangely wedded to this particular one.
We’re handing over 0.56 per cent of national income — far more than our economic rivals. Germany contributes 0.38 per cent of its income, while we donate twice as much as Japan and five times as much as Italy.
But this target is absurd, arbitrary and outdated. It was first calculated more than four decades ago based on theoretical data from the Forties, and was the result of back-of-the-envelope calculations of the needs of poor countries.
Since then, Western economies have soared while many poor nations have stagnated.
Five years ago, the United Nations itself said the amount of aid really needed was 0.44 per cent of national income.
Development economists applying the original calculations to today’s world yielded an aid goal of just 0.01 per cent of rich countries’ gross domestic product (GNP).
MYTH 3: Aid works
The economist Peter Bauer famously said aid transfers cash from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. His words have been underlined by scores of studies that found idealism tempered by harsh reality.
Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo revealed the West had given more than half a trillion pounds to Africa, but over the past three decades the most aid-dependent recipients saw negative annual growth rates.
Haiti is another example. It was given official aid of more than £6 billion — four times as much per person as Europe received under the Marshall plan for post-war reconstruction — in the 50 years before last year’s earthquake.
Private aid poured in as well, with more charities operating in Haiti per capita than any other place on the globe. Despite this, income fell by a third.
It has, of course, endured despotic leaders, dreadful corruption and political unrest.
The same goes for the Dominican Republic, with which it shares an island — but while receiving far less aid, this nation saw incomes and life expectancy soar over this period.
MYTH 4: OK, it hasn’t worked in the past, but it will in the future
Whenever people point out that mountains of money have disappeared into thin air, the aid lobby says it has learned the lessons of the past.
So yes, cash funded dictators, fuelled corruption, fostered a dependency culture and aided genocidal killers, but things are different now. The new buzzword is ‘smart aid’.
To be fair to Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, he has stopped some of Labour’s most outrageous abuses, such as £115,000 spent on stalls at summer music festivals in Britain, and he is right to boost transparency and encourage trade. But the flawed fundamentals remain the same.
And his department’s top civil servant admitted this week the Government still has no idea how much money is being lost to fraud and corruption.
MYTH 5: We will ensure 100 pence of value for every £1 spent on aid
This was the message Mr Mitchell gave a sceptical Tory Party conference last year, which he repeated to an equally sceptical looking Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight last month. But it’s not true.
There have been many attempts to quantify how much Western aid really helps intended beneficiaries.
Generally, it is estimated by think-tanks and charities that the real figure is in the region of 40p in every pound, though British aid is seen as more cost-effective than most.
The rest is swallowed up by bureaucracy, corruption, consultants, charity costs and duplication between donors — bear in mind dozens of countries and thousands of charities give aid. Indeed, an African nation must waste precious resources churning out 10,000 action reports for aid donors a year.
One UN adviser looked into a house-building project in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, that began with £92 million in the bank. The job was sub-contracted so many times through agencies in Geneva, Washington and Kabul — each taking administration fees — that by the time the money got to those working on the project, they could afford to buy only some wooden beams from Iran.
They were delivered for five times the normal cost by a company owned by the Bamiyan governor, but turned out to be too heavy for village houses. So they ended up as firewood.
Or take India, which spends £1.5 billion a year on a space programme, but is still one of the biggest recipients of our aid.
The World Bank just carried out the first major evaluation of its aid programmes and found so much corruption that only 40 per cent of grain given to the poor reaches its target.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). 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.