Thursday, November 19, 2015

Paris attacks were actually a skirmish in a war of values

The dust has settled around last Friday's Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and with the perspective of an elapsed week it is interesting to reflect on the responses to the attacks. French President Francois Hollande has conducted himself surprisingly well, I think, with his almost Churchillian comments ("the terrorists [that] are capable of doing such acts...must know that they will face a France very determined - a France united") and his ordering of immediate military retaliation against Islamic State targets in Syria.

However, there were also plenty of the sort of self-indulgence responses we have come to expect after these tragedies (remember Michelle Obama's "#BringBackOurGirls" hashtag following the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram), with the guy who dragged a piano to the street outside the Bataclan theatre to play John Lennon's Imagine perhaps being the lamest. There were the usual futile gestures on social media, particularly the Eiffel Tower-cum-Ban-the Bomb symbol and French flag photo on every second Facebook posting. But I think President Obama's response takes the prize for the most disingenuous. He described the events thus: "an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share."

What universal values? Does he really expect us to believe that all of humanity shares a respect for Western values of individual rights, freedom of speech and religion, the rule of law, etc.?  Of course it doesn't. These values are actually fairly unique to that small section of humanity that grew out of Ancient Greece, survived the fall of the Roman Empire and persisted in small pockets during the Dark Ages to finally flourish in the Enlightenment that took hold in Western Europe. But perhaps Obama didn't mean these Enlightenment values, perhaps instead he meant Islamic values such as submission to their god and the killing of those who reject or blaspheme him. Certainly with the way Islam is growing there's a fair chance that those values will be more universal than the values of the Enlightenment.

In the war of values, the West has declared unilateral disarmament. We don't believe in our values anymore and instead believe in nothing, or more precisely, in everything. This is the religion of cultural relativism - that all cultures and beliefs are equal. The only universal value that the West seems to hold dear these days is that no one should have to be offended by anything. Our values have become as unsubstantial and pliable as a squishy tomato.

The problem with this is that fundamentalist adherents to Islam are not relativistic - they believe that Islam is the last religion and that its teachings in the Koran and the Hadith are perfect and absolute. Their values are like a sharp knife to our squishy tomato, so in a contest for the hearts and minds of some of the disaffected youth of Western cities, it is any wonder that the Islamists increasingly win?

The fight against Islamic terrorism is a fight about values and we can't fight it if we have disarmed ourselves. Our values - our original Enlightment values as expressed by John Locke and Thomas Paine - are the right ones, the moral ones, and if we aren't prepared to re-adopt and defend them then we will never win the battle of ideas against the evil of religious fundamentalism. We must decide what we believe in before we can defend it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

New Zealanders on Christmas Island are not refugees

We have heard quite a lot over the last few days about the New Zealanders in Australia's refugee detention centre at Christmas Island. The media have tried to cast these people in the same light as the refugees that make up the largest proportion of detainees but this is clearly fallacious. So let us understand some facts about these people.

Firstly, they are few in number - just 40 in the Christmas Island detention centre and around 500 in total facing deportation from Australia out of a estimated total of around 600,000 New Zealand citizens living there. 

Secondly, almost all of them face deportation because they have committed serious crimes and because they are being deported upon release from prison. Many of them are appealing their deportation order. This is why they are in detention centres.

Thirdly, Australia, like most countries, does not deport its own citizens. We have heard sob stories of people who have been in Australia many decades being deported back to New Zealand, but these people must have been unwilling or unable to obtain citizenship or there would be no question about them being deported. New Zealanders can apply for permanent residency and then citizenship after just twelve months in that country. There are eighteen different categories under which New Zealanders can apply and it is actually encouraged by the Australian Government because they want New Zealand immigrants to be fully functioning members of Australian society.

Finally, New Zealand citizens do not qualify as refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines a refugee as someone who, "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." That definition does not apply to these New Zealanders.

I have written on this blog about my liberal views on immigration (most recently here and here). I think it is very much in any country's interests to accept all manner of people who want to live productive, independent lives in a new home and I have the utmost sympathy for those fleeing persecution in their original countries. But I accept that it also a country's right to deny entry or to deport those who are determined not to live productive, independent lives. The only issue I have with Australia deporting these undesirable New Zealanders is that we have to accept them back here. 

Perhaps we should put them on the Auckland Islands.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Who paid for the Starship Enterprise?

My last post discussed how the left wing has won the culture war and that this is not surprising when 'every university lecturer, musician, film star, writer and other public figure is parroting the socialist-environmentalist mantra'. This theme was, at least tangentially, the subject of Jonah Goldberg's recent post about the new Star Trek television series to be made by CBS and that got me thinking about the true nature of the society portrayed on Star Trek.

Star Trek's United Federation of Planets is actually a militaristic feudal order. The Federation is governed by an elite supported by an all-powerful military establishment. Their society seems to be based, at best, on chivalry (after all, what is the Enterprise's crew other than a group of futuristic knights?) but, at worst, on militaristic expansion and colonisation of independent planets. They regard any form of commerce as a much lower order of human activity than military service, just like any Earth-bound feudal society. Money appears to have been abolished, at least in polite society, and witness the contempt held for the Ferengi, who are a trading race much more interested in making a profit than in conquering the universe. Of course, the United Federation of Planets is a somewhat milder form of collectivist society than the Borg, whose culture seems to most closely resemble Maoist Communism.

The question I ponder is, who paid for the Starship Enterprise? Consider the enormous economic resources that has to go into its construction - the engineers and scientists than need to be employed to design it, the rare minerals (e.g. dilithium crystals) that need to be mined to build it and to power its engines, and the undoubtedly huge operating costs of its endless missions. All of these need to be paid for somehow. I've always had this uneasy thought that somewhere, hidden away on dozens of colonised planets, there are millions of slaves working to support the Enterprise. Alternatively, a lot of people must be paying a lot of tax to fund it all. In short, the Enterprise must rely on real enterprise, but enterprise doesn't appear to exist in Star Trek society other than as some contemptible activity engaged in by the Ferengi.

I love to study history and one of the characteristics of history that encourages me as a libertarian is that human society tends towards greater freedom. It is not a straight progression and from time to time we regress into barbarism like the Nazi and Communist eras in the 20th Century, but these reversions tend to be increasingly the exceptions rather than rule. So when I imagine the 23rd Century I think it will be incredibly libertarian.

Individual freedom will be large, government will be small. Capitalism will be universal and each individual will be as powerful a player in the market as the biggest corporation is today. True poverty will be a thing of the past because everyone will be able to trade their ideas, skills and products freely with anyone else anywhere on (or beyond) Earth, and body and brain augmentation technologies will mean that everyone will have skills that are valuable in the marketplace. Cronyism, corruption and fraud will be largely absent from human interactions as such behaviour will be instantaneously exposed by the power of communications technology and social media. Money will be virtual and multiplicitous - meaning that there will be dozens, perhaps thousands of competing currencies and the devices we use to do business will instantly exchange between them, selecting the safest and best for our particular needs.

In short, the future will be Utopian, but not in the sense imagined by most who have written about such futures - it will be as far removed from Brave New World as you could imagine, but rather more like the hidden valley in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

There may be a United Federation of Planets, but its real heroes will be the Ferengi. After all, it is undoubtedly the Ferengi who will pay for the Starship Enterprise.