Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Blind altruists shall not inherit the Earth

Teaching children to be discriminating is an important life lesson

We atheists should welcome the report that reveals children raised by non-religious parents tend to be more altruistic than those hailing from a religious background. Christian and Muslim children, it seems, are more judgemental and inclined to share only with people they deem deserving. The report, said Keith Porteous Wood of the UK National Secular Society, was ‘a welcome antidote to the presumption that religion is a prerequisite of morality’.

It’s true that you don’t need god to be moral, and that religion can legitimate immoral behaviour (the pious Tony Blair often rationalised his actions because they were ‘the right thing to do’). But I’m not sure blind altruism is wise. It’s not a good survival technique. If you share with anyone, how do you know your actions will be reciprocated? I only scratch your back in the hope or expectation that you will ultimately scratch mine.

In other words, blind altruism facilitates parasitism. A child who shares with a selfish, badly behaved peer in her class shouldn’t be applauded for being ‘altruistic’. She is being unwise. A child raised with such ‘non-judgemental’ thinking will make bad decisions as an adult. He will certainly be left out of pocket on a big Saturday night out, having bought more drinks for his companions than he got in return. This is why, if we are going to have a welfare state, we also need to talk about the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.

Much of Christianity’s and Islam’s expansion and success owe to having adopted evolutionary survival techniques. Damnation and apostasy are employed to cajole and threaten non-believers, while the pro-natal exhortation to ‘go forth and multiply’ and associated stances against contraception, abortion, homosexuality and masturbation ensure that their members out-breed others. Being ‘judgemental’ is but another.

Successful tribes have a sense of ‘in group’, with whom you share customs and resources, and ‘out group’, with whom you don’t. You only help people who are like you and behave like you. (That was the point of the tale of the Good Samaritan. The Jews hated the Samaritans, hence their surprise that one could act benevolently.) This is the main reason for Christianity’s decline in the West: it has become feeble, ‘non-judgemental’ and too compassionate towards non-believers.

Blind altruists shall not inherit the Earth.


The Tory war on privacy

If you were under any illusions about the parlous state of privacy in modern Britain, the Investigatory Powers Bill should have set you straight. The draft of the bill, published last Wednesday, sets out new and draconian powers allowing the security services to monitor, access and store our online communications data: IT and comms companies would be required to store information on the websites we visit for up to 12 months, and release them to the state when required; intelligence agencies would be given legal authority to hack into communications and bulk-harvest metadata; and the ability of companies like Apple and Google to encrypt individuals’ messages – putting their content beyond the reach of themselves and the spooks – will be severely curtailed.

Home secretary Theresa May has been quick to talk down the measures. She insists that the data retrieved from your web history is no more than a ‘shopping list’ of the sites you visit, rather than individual pages – a fine and utterly meaningless distinction. And while there has been much talk of the ‘safeguards’ guaranteed by the IPB, with judicial commissioners required to approve requests for interception warrants and wire taps, these are little more than formalities. Judges will only be able to reject Home Office requests on the principles of judicial review; as backbench Tory MP David Davis pointed out, ‘This is not the judge checking the evidence, it is the judge checking that the correct procedure has been followed’.

As part of a raft of counterterrorism and security measures, including rules to vet speakers on university campuses and censor broadcast media, the IPB continues a trend in Tory policy that is as dumb as it is illiberal. The IPB, we’re told, is meant to protect us from ‘terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals’, but no ‘serious criminal’ hatches bomb plots on Facebook chat or grooms children via Gmail. They’re actually a bit smarter than that. As we point out elsewhere on spiked today, there are already popular and straightforward tools used by people around the world to elude the security agencies. Those with far more to hide would no doubt have even more sophisticated ways of going about their business undetected.

Even on its own terms, the IPB simply won’t work. But, worse still, it puts everyone’s privacy in an even more perilous position than it already was. With CCTV on every corner and background checks required in a range of professions, the IPB is set to colonise one of the last enclaves of privacy in the modern world. Though ministers in the Commons, cribbing the old Goebbels-attributed mantra, have unnervingly tried to reassure us that ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’, the opposite is true. The feeling that you might be being watched is chilling to freedom, autonomy and human flourishing.

But it was not so much the content of the bill as the response to it that was most revealing. Reading the headlines, you’d think the IPB was the outrage of the century, but beneath the bluster the criticism has been hushed and confused. The Labour Party seems incapable of making up its mind. Champion flip-flopper Andy Burnham first welcomed the proposals only to recant and voice his ‘concerns’ a few days later. And, while influential Labour MPs like Keir Starmer have urged leader Jeremy Corbyn to accept the IPB as a ‘step in the right direction’, the leadership is yet to come out on either side. Meanwhile, the bill’s supposedly most ardent critics – such as the Liberal Democrats or civil-liberties group Liberty – seem to be concerned only with whether or not these new powers would receive proper judicial oversight. ‘At most, there is a very, very limited role for judges in a rubber-stamping exercise’, said Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, in the dampest defence of privacy ever uttered.

What this half-cocked revolt against the government reveals is that privacy today is seen purely as a negotiable commodity – something that can be sliced up and traded off so long as there’s a threat and/or ‘transparent mechanisms’ one can point to. And this is the legacy of decades of legislation that has painted the private sphere as a space for plotting, secrecy and abuse. As Luke Gittos has argued before on spiked, the various iterations of the Tories’ ‘snooper’s charter’ have only looked to expand upon legislation that was established by New Labour over a decade ago. But while such measures, drafted to tackle terrorism, have always proved controversial, various other forms of state intervention into people’s private lives have passed through parliament almost unchallenged.

That, in recent weeks, the Home Office has talked-up the role of investigatory powers in catching paedophiles and sex offenders is telling. From New Labour’s introduction of CRB (now DBS) checks on individuals working with children to Clare’s Law, a Coalition government initiative that allows individuals to request the criminal histories of their partners, the idea that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear has been given official sanction time and again in recent years. Indeed, the crusade against private neglect and abuse has spun so out of control that the Scottish parliament has felt bold enough to introduce the Named Persons initiative, which will assign every Scottish child a state guardian until the age of 18. At every turn, this war on the private sphere has been met with either deafening silence or legalistic quibbling from the so-called civil libertarians charged with protecting our rights.

Privacy is a cornerstone of a free society. It is the space in which we can retreat from public life, be intimate with one another, develop our ideas and morals, and head out into the world with confidence and vigour. That is what is at stake if the IPB passed. And that is what, in so many ways, we have already given up.


Curing Layla: the brilliance of mankind

Scientists are playing God – and it’s a good thing, too

A wonderful story made headlines last week: one-year-old Layla Richards, who has battled leukaemia since she was 14 weeks old, has been declared cancer-free.

Layla’s parents, Lisa and Ashleigh, had been told that, following several courses of chemotherapy, her cancer was too aggressive to treat. The Richards were offered palliative care and advised to spend the remaining time with Layla at home.

But Lisa and Ashleigh were not ready to give up. ‘We asked the doctors to try anything for our daughter, even if it hadn’t been tried before.’ So, following a speedy meeting with an ethical committee, doctors were given the go-ahead to use a new treatment that had only been tested on mice.

Unlike chemotherapy, which indiscriminately kills off cells, the new treatment uses genetically modified and enhanced cells. As the NHS explains:

‘The treatment works by adding new genes to healthy donor T-cells, which arm them against leukaemia. Using molecular tools that act like very accurate scissors, specific genes are then cut in order to make the T-cells behave in two specific ways. Firstly, the cells became invisible to a powerful leukaemia drug that would usually kill them, and secondly, they are reprogrammed only to target and fight against leukaemia cells.’

This super-cell treatment has now effectively removed all signs of cancer from Layla’s body, and, though she will still need monitoring and treatment in the future, the important thing is that she now has a future.

Scientists and doctors are playing God. And it’s fantastic. If there ever was a symbol of the power of human innovation and technology, this gorgeous little girl bouncing around in her cot is surely it. The fact that the risk was so high, and the medical technology so new, is cause for more celebration. And though reports are wary of claiming that Layla has been cured of cancer, I’m sure her parents and sister are delighted. What a wonderful moment for science and medicine.

More importantly, this is a much-needed example of the possibilities open to humanity when we manipulate and take control of nature. Changing our cells in this way sounds like something you only read about in comics. It’s an incredible achievement: we now have the potential to meddle with our genetics to make us better, stronger, disease-free humans.

The doctors and Layla’s family took a risk using this treatment. But this defiant stab in the dark has paid off. It shows the potential we have to change the world, including the way our own bodies work.

Layla’s story stands out at a time when humanity’s impact on the world, on nature, is thought to be a problem. Faced with the prospect of an ageing population, many bemoan the increasing drain on resources rather than celebrate the fact that we’re living longer. Instead of arguing for better research into energy solutions, as well as finding more efficient ways to use the energy resources we have, environmentalist campaigners argue that humans should give up the products of progress – cars, electricity, gas – in order to save the planet. So whether it is a fear of our environmental impact, or the consequences of genetic modification, there is an unwillingness to take risks today. But Layla’s story is heartwarming proof that human beings can progress through risk-taking and experimentation, that we can change and improve our lives.

Amid today’s doom-mongering and general misanthropy, Layla’s story is a reminder of spiked’s motto: humanity is underrated. Layla’s treatment shows that it is absolutely within our capabilities to cure cancer. So let’s stop looking at humanity as a drain on the world’s resources, and celebrate what we really are – a force for change. Human achievements show that we can clone food, artificially inseminate, create new types of energy and now, potentially, cure one of the most fatal diseases known to man. The only things standing in the way of realising our aspirations are the limits we’ve put on ourselves.


Is this the worst shopping centre Christmas display ever?

IS THIS the worst shopping centre Christmas effort ever?  A mall in Long Island, New York, has swapped Santa’s sleigh for something resembling a spaceship and nixed the Christmas tree because it doesn’t want to “offend” anyone, irate shoppers say.

The Roosevelt Field Mall ditched its traditional holiday village and put Saint Nick inside a winter-themed “glacier” instead. But some say the white and blue display looks more like something out of Star Trek than Twas the Night Before Christmas.

“Santa comes along with a decorated tree; he doesn’t come with a spaceship,” Maria Lovdahl fumed.

The Williston Park mother of two was shopping on Thursday night when she spotted the apparently futuristic Santa photo kiosk.

“Me and my husband looked at each other and said, ‘What is that?’ ” Lovdahl recalled. “They said it was because people were offended by the traditional Christmas display, that they had gotten comments in prior years.”

After a lifetime of shopping at Roosevelt Field and bringing her kids there, Lovdahl said, “I won’t be shopping there this year.”

Betty Borrero, 32, heard so much about the new display she came to see it for herself. “I bring my child, I want to see the big tree in the background. This is blank,” she said, noting she’ll take her kid to Macy’s for this year’s holiday pictures.

Mall management, which charges anywhere from $US24.99 to $59.99  for pictures with Santa, confirmed the change was made to avoid offending people, said Caren Toal, who was with Lovdahl.

“The people who answered the phone at the mall actually said, in order not to offend anyone, they were simplifying the Christmas display,” said Toal, who is also now boycotting the shopping centre.

The holiday hullabaloo sparked an uproar on Facebook and Twitter at the weekend. Meanwhile, a Change.org petition garnered 16,000 signatures in protest of a similar shift in decor at a North Carolina shopping centre owned by Simon Properties, which also operates Roosevelt Field.

Like a herd of spooked reindeer, mall management on Saturday quickly retreated from the politically-correct display.

“Key elements are still being added to the Glacier experience at Roosevelt Field over the coming week — and after hearing early customer feedback, one of those elements will be a traditional Christmas tree alongside the Glacier experience,” the mall said.

By Saturday afternoon, workers claimed a large Christmas tree would be up in about two or three weeks, and three small trees with white lights — but no decorations — were standing next to Santa.

There were no Christmas wreaths or other typical holiday decor, and Santa’s helpers weren’t elves, but regular folks with red ties covered in white snowflakes. While the sound of ringing bells was in the air, no traditional carols played.

Shopper Cathy Corbett wasn’t impressed, comparing Santa’s workshop to “George Jetson’s pad.”



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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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