Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Then they came for Richard Dawkins

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
- Martin Niemöller
Universities are not what they used to be. Once they were places where students and faculty enjoyed greater freedom to express and debate their views than in mainstream society. They were sanctuaries where young people could explore the full smorgasbord of opinions and beliefs about politics, religion, morality and social mores without the constraints of traditional norms. Unfortunately this is no longer the case - they have become a different type of sanctuary, a gilded cage where people are protected from exposure to anything other than a narrow set of acceptable views. This is particularly true of the United States where recently we have seen:
  • Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali banned from giving a speech at Brandeis University because her views on Islam's oppression of women were deemed offensive to Muslims
  • British pro-Trump gay activist Milo Yiannopolous forced to cancel his address at UC Berkeley because of violence protests
  • American conservative commentator Anne Coulter disinvited from speaking at UC Berkeley (although later rescinded).
There have been many other incidents that demonstrate that our most fundamental right  - to hold and voice our own opinions, which is surely a prerequisite for all other rights - is now considered less important than the precept that no one should ever be offended by anything.

The latest incident is the cancellation of the appearance at an event hosted by a radio staton in Berkeley of the renown biologist and perhaps the world's greatest science writer, Richard Dawkins, because of his views on Islamist terrorism.

Several years ago I heard Dawkins speak in person and I left the presentation with two main impressions. Firstly, he does not speak as fluently as he writes. This is not unexpected as it is rare that great writers are as eloquent in their spoken words as in those they write, but what Dawkins had to say was riveting in spite of his somewhat awkward delivery style. More importantly, I thought he delivered the most complete and easily understood explanation of the biological basis for evolution by natural selection that I have ever heard or read. 

He described how the cells of all living things are made up of chains of protein molecules that are capable of curling up into an almost infinite variety of shapes, and that these shapes are determined by a digital code that is held in special molecular chains called DNA. He went on to describe what is perhaps the most important discovery in biology - but one that has never occurred to me despite my keen interest in science - that when living things reproduce by replicating from a single fertilised egg cell, they follow the whole of evolution from single-celled organisms to complex higher lifeforms. They are able to do this because all of evolution is stored in the digital code in their DNA and is simply replayed during gestation. In other words, each of us is the output of a computer programme that has stored the knowledge of three billion years of evolution, run over just nine months! This is the reason why the zygotes and early embryos of all animals look so alike - they show the point in evolution when all animals did look alike. 

Dawkins made me see that evolution is not some dry historical fact but is something that plays out in the birth of every baby. I found this fact jaw-dropping and ironically it is perhaps the closest thing I have experienced in my life to a religious revelation. It made me think that every human being needs to hear the story that this man tells so well, and that to ban him from imparting his knowledge to others is to commit a crime against human knowledge.

The political correctness stormtroopers have now come for Richard Dawkins and that makes me ineffably sad because it is precisely their ignorance and intolerance that Dawkins has spent his life trying to overcome. The radio station said it was specifically his criticism of Islam that led them to ban him. Dawkins has been a frequent critic of Christianity and his criticism of Islam is for the most part confined to Islamic extremism, but in the strange world of victim group politics it seems Christianity is fair game but Islam is a no-go area where free speech does not apply.

The size of the space that contains acceptable opinions is becoming smaller and smaller. You may think your views are safe because you are an open-minded, tolerant liberal who celebrates diversity and just wants to live and let live. You are wrong. They are coming for you because it is not so much your views that are under assault as the right to have any opinion of your own.

We all need to speak out in defence of free speech before there is no one left to defend it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

New climate science papers support Trump's position on Paris Agreement

Donald Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change and predictably this has produced a storm of protest from the political and corporatist elite (who benefit from such things), and a doubling down of predictions of doom from alarmists (some so overdone that even the leading proponents of anthropogenic global warming ['AGW'] theory have distanced themselves from them). 

Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because he understood its implications - a racheting commitment that will undermine American self-determination and prosperity. He was advised that even though America is the one country that can probably meet its commitments (ironically because of its move to fracked natural gas instead of coal to generate power), the legal and constitutional risks of staying in the agreement far outweighed the diplomatic benefits of staying in it. If you want to understand more about why this is the case, listen to James Delingpole's interview of constitutional lawyer, Chris Horner, here).

It is interesting that just as the climate change lobby works itself into a lather about Trump's announcement, new scientific studies have appeared that cast more doubts on the basic AGW theory. The first of these studies (see published paper here) found that almost all of the warming in recent years in datasets published by leading climate research organisations such as NOAA and the UK MetOffice is due to adjustments to the raw temperature readings and that these almost exclusively made recent temperatures warmer. One would expect the adjustments, if statistically sound, to produce as many decreases as increases and, in fact, there is a strong argument for net reductions in recent readings to account for heat island effects from modern infrastructure.

The second study (see published paper here) is more of a bombshell, claiming that the entire physics of global-warming theory – the assumption that greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere by trapping outgoing heat – is wrong, and that the Earth's greenhouse effect is actually due to the intensity of the Sun's radiation combined with surface atmospheric pressure. The scientists and the publication seem credible, and even if you rightly take a sceptical viewpoint (as I always do on AGW matters irrespective of whether it is towards claims that support or contradict my existing views), it is further evidence that there is not an overwhelming scientific consensus on AGW theory.

I believe that mankind has an impact on the climate. I believe that carbon emissions from fossil fuels contribute to this impact. However, even without the new studies, there is strong evidence that the AGW effect is small and that the effects of increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and modest global warming are likely to be beneficial overall to both humans and other living things. I also believe that mankind's best defence against any adverse climatic events is prosperity - and the best way of ensuring prosperity is free enterprise in a deregulated economy, which is the exact opposite of what those promoting solutions for AGW (such as the Paris Agreement) want to achieve.

Friday, July 21, 2017

You wouldn't recognise the working class if you fell over it

I find it laughable that left-wing commentators still insist that they speak on behalf of the 'working class'. Their rhetoric is filled with disparaging references to the 'upper class' and the 'bosses' as if they are quoting from one of Karl Marx's works and as if they themselves weren't part of the groups they are maligning. The reality is they don't speak on behalf on the working class at all and wouldn't recognise members of that group if they fell over them. The popularity of Brexit and Donald Trump, so despised by the left, with lower-income working people should be ample proof that the left-wing is completely out of touch with what such people really think.

The left-wing does not represent working people any longer. The biggest supporters of so-called progressive ideals today come from the highest income earners rather than those at the other end of the scale. They are the politicians, public servants, academics and those in the private sector that are most dependent on the government for their incomes, who typically earn far above average incomes and who have little exposure to the working class on whose behalf they purport to speak. Welfare beneficiaries support big-government left-wing parties for obvious reasons, but genuine working class people - those who continue to provide for themselves in spite of the disincentives to work of the welfare state - are now as likely to support right-of-centre parties and candidates. This is because it is the latter that speaks to their disaffection with the loss of high-paid blue collar jobs, the rising cost of living, and the perceived economic threat from immigration.

The problem for left-wingers is they have no self-awareness so they tend to believe their own propaganda. They claim their political interests are aligned with those of the underclass but for this to be believable they have to convince us, and themselves, that there is still a traditional class system. It is true that there is an elite in Western countries today but it does not comprise the same people who dominated the upper echelons of government and other institutions up until the middle of the 20th Century. Today's elite is technocratic and bureaucratic rather than aristocratic and largely comprises the left-wingers themselves. Like the elite of yesteryear, they arrogantly assume they know what is best for their subjects and speak disparagingly of those over whom they believe they should rule. The modern version of Marie Antoinette's apocryphal, "Let them eat cake", is surely Hillary Clinton's "deplorables" comment. And the consequences for the utterer were similar.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Let the beggars be

There has been a fair bit of publicity recently about people begging on the streets of our major cities. This may seem odd to overseas readers because beggars are a constant fact of life in most cities internationally but in New Zealand they are a fairly recent phenomenon. The fact that the growth of begging has been at a time when the New Zealand economy has been enjoying relatively strong growth and the Government has been increasing welfare benefits suggests the problem is not primarily an economic one.

Retailers have observed that the beggars who station themselves outside their shops appear to be highly organised, with prime spots allocated on a rotational basis and 'rent' charged by minders who manage the territory. Many of the beggars do not appear to be impoverished and most of them will be receiving state welfare benefits and not declaring the income they 'earn' from begging.

Wellington property investor Bob Jones has called for them to be banned. The libertarian in me says that would be an unnecessary state intrusion into what should be a free interaction between the panhandlers and those who are happy to give to them. I suppose my view is influenced by the fact that in my youth I found myself literally penniless on the streets of a foreign city and was faced with the prospect of having to beg to survive. It would be a heartless and oppressive society indeed that forbid people from asking others for help.

I draw the line at the point the beggars become a nuisance or adopt threatening tactics to obtain alms and I don't think taxpayers should be paying them welfare benefits when they are topping up their incomes (quite generously in my observation) from begging. But mostly they are harmless and we should let them be.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Green leader acknowledges fraudulent basis of left-wing beliefs

Lindsay Mitchell reports that the Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei, has announced the party's new welfare policy, which coming from New Zealand's Watermelons is entirely unsurprising, but this policy seems remarkably short-sighted even for the Greens. They propose removing all sanctions and obligations from beneficiaries, a policy that is an invitation to indolence and fraud. 

The current government has been reasonably successful in reducing long-term welfare dependency and encouraging beneficiaries to take responsibility for their lives - getting beneficiaries back into work, discouraging young women from having babies when they can't provide for them and targeting social investment at those in highest need. All the evidence points to the fact that when people take responsibility for their own lives their outcomes and that of their children are much better. 

The worst detail of Metiria Turei's reported announcement is the admission that she personally defrauded the welfare system by failing to declare that she took in flatmates while on a benefit. This explains much about the basis for her party's policy. The political left-wing likes to claim the moral high ground so perhaps we should salute Turei for her confession because it acknowledges that her policy is based on lies. Of course, the entire left-wing political philosophy is based on the fraud that is Marxism so it is refreshing to see a chink in the wall of propaganda that would have us believe there is some moral basis to it all.

This policy announcement is good in one other respect - it will guarantee electoral oblivion for the Green Party. New Zealanders like to give people a fair go but like most people they don't like to be ripped off. The Americans who voted for Trump and the British with Brexit had had enough of political lies and I believe New Zealanders will similarly punish the Greens for their dishonesty and conceit.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Mandibles - a realistic view of the future

I am currently reading The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver. The author is best known for her book about a Columbine-style killer, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and for getting into trouble for her politically incorrect speech last year to a Brisbane writer's festival about 'cultural appropriation' (which I discussed here). I think she is one of the best writers on the planet today and her latest work has only confirmed my view.

The Mandibles is set in the future - between 2029 and 2047 - and tells the story of four generations of the eponymous family. You could describe it as a dystopian novel but unlike most other novels of that genre, the dire future it describes is only too realistic and inevitable given the current economic policies of Western governments. The United States has lost its position as the issuer of the world's reserve currency - the huge deficits, borrowing and currency production (i.e. 'quantitative easing') of successive governments have finally come home to roost and the U.S. defaults on its debts. A consortium of international governments - including a Russia still led by Vladimir Putin - replaces the Dollar as the currency of international exchange with a new commodity-backed unit called the 'bancor'.

The story doesn't focus on the 'macro' however, it describes the aftermath of these events through the eyes of a well-off American family whose lives are transformed when they lose everything they own. A populist Hispanic president, who seems cast in the image of Barack Obama, invokes emergency economic powers along the lines of those used by Franklin Roosevelt to seize privately owned gold - even wedding rings (which were exempted by Roosevelt) - and sends the Army to conduct door-to-door searches to collect it. The American future it portrays is the lives of Venezuelans todays - empty supermarket shelves, shortages of basic medicines, sky-high inflation and an increasingly oppressive government response to civil unrest.

There is no Big Brother in this story, no Fahrenheit 451-style burning of books (although books are largely obsolete in the digital culture) and no genetic-engineering of humans à la Brave New World. It is just American society today, projected twelve years into the future. That it is so realistic makes it all the more frightening. I hope at least a few of the members of the dysfunctional US Congress, which is once again debating raising the debt ceiling, reads it and considers the implications of their current spend-and-hope policies.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4th

The Declaration of Independence, sighed by the representatives of the 13 colonies in America on this day 241 years ago, was such a world-shattering statement of political reason and courage that it is worth dusting it off and re-examining it in the light of government in the so-called Free World today. The kernel of the declaration is contained the following words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
There are two important ideas contained in these words:

  • That we have rights that are inherent to our nature as human beings, the most important being the rights to live, to be free, and to pursue our own interests
  • That governments do not create our rights, but rather that we create governments and their only proper purpose is to protect our rights.

These ideas are at odds with the role and functions of governments as they exist in most countries today. Governments like to bestow all sorts of new rights on us - the rights to food and a roof over our heads, the rights to a job, education and healthcare, the rights not to be discriminated against or even to be offended, etc. But these rights aren't what the Founding Fathers meant when they talked about rights. For a start, if rights are granted by governments, they can be taken away - they aren't inherent to our nature. Secondly, they fail the 'equality' test that is contained in the first line above - the right to receive something, bestowed by the government, cannot be equally endowed because that which is given by a government must be taken from someone else. And finally, they are increasingly given as alternatives to real rights - they are baubles to distract us from the fact that governments are denying us our real rights.

The authors of the Declaration were smart enough to realise that real rights aren't a zero-sum game. I don't need you to die in order that I can live. I don't need you to be a slave in order that I can be free. And I don't need you to sacrifice your happiness in order that I can be happy. That is perhaps the greatest revelation of that great revolutionary document.