There has been much huffing and puffing recently about gender neutral pronouns. In principle, I rather like the idea. The fact that I dislike some of the other people who like the idea ought not to affect that. Not, I hasten to add, that I feel any animus against anyone purely on the grounds that they prefer to be referred to by one sound rather than another, or that their gender is difficult to specify externally, or that they feel that neither “he” nor “she” describes them, or that they advocate for lexical change. While it is true that the set of people currently talking loudest about gender-neutral pronouns would, if displayed on a Venn diagram, have considerable overlap with the set of people who wish to get others arrested for using the wrong word, that is a symptom of the addiction of our society to the use of force rather than persuasion, not a logical necessity.
The cause of the gender-neutral pronoun is ill-served by many of its current advocates. But in itself, it would be handy. That’s “it” as in “having a third person singular pronoun available to use to describe human beings without specifying gender”, not “it” as in “it”. It (as in the situation, not a person) tends to get an itty-bit hairy when one person refers to another (by which I mean another person, not another situation) as “it”. Thus, if I may reiterate, using “it” (as in “‘it'”) as a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to a person would put the user in a bad situation, even if they (here used in the singular) were not a singularly bad person. Wouldn’t it?
OK, I got drunk on words there. Sobering up, I am not seeking perfect “representation” for every one of Facebook’s 71 gender options. They can represent themselves. I just think it would be nice to have one more option, and to settle on one. That way those prone to being easily offended, and the subset of them that resort to bullying, could be kept from unhappiness and the occasion of sin.
I do think that the traditional use of “he” and “man” to include the female is a little, y’know, presumptuous. I am not one to go through old documents cutting out every offending “he-including-she” with a razor, but I would just as soon have some more inclusive style in new documents. It is tedious have to write “he or she” every time.
Singular “they” sounds all right when the subject is indefinite (e.g. “If anyone wants more details, give them a brochure”) but sounds wrong if the gender is known. At this point someone usually pipes up to say that Shakespeare used it in their plays. Only they don’t say their plays, they say his plays, unless they (gender unspecified here: no problem) are making some sort of claim that Shakespeare was a collective, a Borg or a woman.
The distinction between singular and plural third person is useful. We feel its lack in the second person. The singular/plural distinction keeps trying to creep back in “youse” and “y’all”. In some dialects spoken in Northern England, “thou” never went away, merely faded a little into “tha”. If making no difference between singular and plural is sometimes confusing when talking to people, it is a swamp when talking about people. Imagine an action scene in a novel where all the characters including the protagonist were referred to as “they”.
This link takes you to a piece called “The Need for a Gender-neutral Pronoun” which lists some of the leading contenders for a new pronoun. By clicking on the suggested pronoun itself (or the title of the set in the case of the Spivak pronouns named after their creator), you can read an extract from Alice in Wonderland using that set of pronouns. The author also rates the proposed words by ease of pronunciation, distinctiveness, and how truly neutral they are. The author prefers the set of pronouns based on “ne” in the nominative case. If you agree that a gender neutral pronoun would be desirable, which option would you like to take hold in the language? If you object to the whole idea, what would you like to see become dominant – strict use of “he” (or “she”), or “they”, or “s/he” and variants?
The thing is, I will not be the first in my circle of acquaintance to start writing “xe” or “ne” in any other context but science fiction for the same reason that I will not be first in my circle to start taking a daily stroll in the nude.
I would if you would, but I know and you know, neither of us will.
The essay by Mr Palmer is entitled “A New, Old Challenge: Global Anti-Libertarianism”.
The article examines three broad threats, which are serious, to classical liberalism: radical Islamism, the post-Gramsci Far Left, and what is called the “Alt Right”:
Unfortunately, the best argument that the defenders of civil society typically offer in response to those challenges is that the complex of personal liberty, the rule of law, and free markets creates more prosperity and a more commodious life than the alternatives. That’s true, but it’s not enough to deflect the damaging blows of the illiberal triumvirate of identity politics, authoritarian populism, and radical Islamism. The moral goodness of liberty needs to be upheld, not only in head-to-head encounters with adversaries, but as a means of stiffening the resistance of classical liberals, lest they continue retreating. Freedom is not an illusion, but a great and noble goal. A life of freedom is better in every respect than a life of submission to others. Violence and antagonism are not the foundation of culture, but their negation. Now is the time to defend the liberty that makes possible a global civilization that enables friendship, family, cooperation, trade, mutual benefit, science, wisdom — in a word, life — and to challenge the modern anti-libertarian triumvirate and reveal the emptiness at its heart.
The story of the demise of slavery I take to have great significance for our evaluation of capitalism. The system is not to be judged purely by its material consequences. Relative or temporary happiness brought about by productive efficiency or growth cannot be the last word. Absent liberty and self-government, the situation would be inexcusable. We now can see that capitalism has as its essence individual freedom-rights. Without respect for these rights the system is in danger of turning into a monstrosity, as it would have in an unchecked antebellum South. It did so in Wilhelmine Germany and could do so still in crypto-communist China. Again, as in the case of the developing regions of today, liberty-rights are of the essence of capitalism as an improving force for humanity. If we do not see this we run the danger of suffering from the same tunnel vision of colonel Nicholson at the River Kwai.
– Pedro Schwartz
In her 1993 paper “Causality Then and Now: Al Ghazali and Quantum Theory” Karen Harding makes the point that what is now called the “Occasionalism” of the 11th century Islamic thinker Al Ghazali is similar to the 20th century “Copenhagen Interpretation” of Quantum Theory. Al Ghazail’s position being to deny cause and effect, to claim that things just happen because God (in the Copenhagen Interpretation “the observer”) make them happen. For example that dropping a pot on a stone floor does not make the pot smash – that God first makes the pot drop (no law of gravity as such) and then makes the pot smash, with no necessary connection to the dropping of the pot. In the “Copenhagen Interpretation”, in Schrodinger’s famous attack upon the theory, a cat in a box is neither alive or dead till we open the box and “observe” the cat.
David Hume, back in the 18th century took God out of this form of thinking and just made it “ideas” associating in “the mind” – although Mr Hume also denied the existence of the mind, the “I”, at least in the ordinary common sense meaning of the term.
Karen Harding was not led by all the above to doubt the “Copenhagen Interpretation”, on the contrary she wrote to praise Al Ghazali (and thinkers like him) in spite of the effect of such thinking in closing the Islamic mind to science, to objective reality, and thus ending the “Golden Age”.
And Douglas Haig? As a Calvinist General Haig, like Al Ghazali (and other mainstream thinkers of Sunni Islam) was a Predestinationist – whatever happened was the will of God. If 20 thousand British soldiers were killed and 30 thousand wounded on one day (July 1st 1916) this is clearly what God wanted to happen and was, therefore, not the fault of Douglas Haig. And as General Haig was part of the “Elect” (Predestined for Salvation) he was, by definition, a good man. Therefore he, Haig, showed no shame over his conduct – as his conduct was, by definition, good (as he was part of God’s Elect), whatever he did. Backstabbing his commanding officer to get his job? Getting hundreds of thousand of British soldiers killed in offensives such as the Somme and Passchendaele? Picking incompetents such as Gough to conduct parts of the Passchendaele offensive in 1917 and the defence of the Western Front in 1918? Supporting calling off the war in 1918 just as the Allies were stating to win? Sending ten thousand men on a suicide attack on the second day of the Battle of Loos (eight thousand British soldiers either killed or wounded – German dead? what German dead?) in 1915? None of this was anything to be ashamed of, as it was all part of the Divine Plan – Divine Providence, the Will of God.
The only commanders to be punished were those commanders who resisted Divine Providence – by, for example, not sending their men into suicide attacks on July 1st 1916 – such men were sent home in disgrace for not showing sufficient “fighting spirit”. The tactics were wrong? The plan could not work? That form of thinking assumes objective reality and cause and effect – for example a connection between the orders of Douglas Haig and 20 thousand British soldiers being killed and 30 thousand being wounded on one day (July 1st 1916). But if objective realty does not exist, and there is no law of cause and effect – then reality is just what God (or “the observer” – in this case Douglas Haig) want it to be.
So people such as Paul Marks – who “combine the obsessive intellectualism of a Jew, with the wild temper of a Irishman” are just silly to get upset about it.
Nick Cohen is one of those socialist writers I read because he has a core of decency – he is right on the money around Islamism – although he is uneven and his spit-the-dummy turn over the Brexit vote did not impress me one jot. He has an article out about the awfulness of Jeremy Corbyn and his circle, and of course he is right, but he has lacunae of his own:
“The last upsurge of left-wing militancy in the 1970s had Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and other formidable socialist thinkers behind it. Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and Danny Blanchflower looked like their successors. They too have produced formidable work on how to make society fairer. They agreed to help Corbyn, but walked away after discovering that Corbynism is just a sloganising personality cult: an attitude, rather than a programme to reform the country. That attitude is banal in content, conspiracist in essence, utopian in aspiration and vicious in practice.”
These four men’s reputations are greatly overblown. All of these men were or are capable of producing work and comments of quite outstanding levels of imbecility. Thompson was a prominent supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the 1970s and 1980s at a time when the Cold War was very far from being obviously won; his Marxian treatment of English history, for example, while not without its merits, infected a generation of students. Hobsbawm, whose treatment of history could be equally tendentious, to the end of his long life was an unrepentant defender of the Soviet Union; Stiglitz, while he might produce good work (I cannot think of any off the top of my head), is not renowned for his judgement, as his praise for Venezuela’s catastrophic socialist regime a few years ago attests. And finally, we have Thomas Piketty, whose immense book on inequality, while it gives a sort of spurious intellectual cover for leftists looters, contains fundamental conceptual errors and its policy prescription of massive wealth taxes would be catastrophic.
In other words, some of the people on the Left may sound as if they have more intellectual gravitas than, say, Jeremy Corbyn. This is not exactly difficult. But the fact is that in varying degrees, these men were/are deeply wrong and their ideas are dangerous nonsense.
As an aside, Dr Roger Scruton has issued an updated edition of his excellent study, Thinkers of the New Left, which goes into a lot of detail about this sort of intellectual. By the way, he has praise for some aspects of their work and tries to see merit where it exists (he is fond of EP Thompson on his understanding of the English working class, for example). Recommended.
Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the publication Spiked, and who is an ardent Leaver when it comes to the European Union, has been writing about how the exit vote last week can be largely explained in terms of class and attitudes of elites. (O’Neill is, or is recovering from being, a Marxist, so his economics still seems a bit suspect to me, even though I like the cut of his jib generally, especially on other issues around liberty and government).
I think the class analysis has some validity; it is worth noting that there is more to class-based interpretations of what is going on than the Marxian version. There are, in the classical liberal/conservative traditions of political philosophy and approach, uses of class as a way of seeing how the world works. One person’s essay that I am reminded of is the famous one by William Graham Sumner, The Forgotten Man. Or perhaps a riff on the same tune is Nixon’s “great silent majority”. These approaches aren’t really about proletarians versus “bosses”. They are, in my view, more about those who are broadly self-reliant, deriving the bulk of their earnings from their own efforts and who aspire to have, and retain, capital, and those who do not. The latter can be those who subsist on state benefits, or grander folk working in the public sector paid for largely by the first group. (There are fuzzy boundaries between all types.) And I think that sort of split maps better in explaining whether you are going to be liberal or protectionist, for a big State or a smaller one. But it doesn’t necessarily help on explaining all the voting on the Brexit debate. I wrote this in response to one of O’Neill’s posts on Facebook, and I reproduce it here with some light edits:
I am not sure how far the class-based analysis can be made to work in terms of having a causal effect (remember that old warning about correlation and causation). Whether used in a Marxian or other sense, class can explain some of the differences, but some of the arguments cut across. I am middle class, working in the media covering private banking and wealth management around the world. My job takes me to the continent a lot, as well as Asia, the US, and Middle East. Some of the people I work with are from continental Europe. I am relaxed – mostly – about free movement of labour. I went to a good state school, went into higher ed. in the 1980s, my late mother was posh, my old man was a grammar schoolboy who later became a farmer and is comfortably off. I like classical music, fine art, French wine and sailing. So from a lot of points of view I am “middle class”. And I voted Leave. To some extent I “voted my wallet”, not, as might be the case with someone from the old industrial north, because I was worried about “cheap labour”, or had some notion that this will “save the NHS” or suchlike, but because I want the UK to have the freedom to negotiate new economic links outside the EU to hedge this country’s economy against the weakness, and possible crisis, in the eurozone. I am on the free market, libertarian end of the political and philosophical spectrum. I therefore loathe the unaccountable, nanny tendencies of the EU, and think my values will flourish if we leave.
“Liberalism was always counterintuitive. The less society is ordered, the more order emerges from the ground up. The freer people are permitted to be, the happier the people become and the more meaning they find in the course of life itself. The less power that is given to the ruling class, the more wealth is created and dispersed among everyone. The less a nation is directed by conscious design, the more it can provide a model of genuine greatness. Such teachings emerged from the liberal revolution of the previous two centuries. But some people (mostly academics and would-be rulers) weren’t having it. On the one hand, the socialists would not tolerate what they perceived to be the seeming inequality of the emergent commercial society. On the other hand, the advocates of old-fashioned ruling-class control, such as Carlyle and his proto-fascist contemporaries, longed for a restoration of pre-modern despotism, and devoted their writings to extolling a time before the ideal of universal freedom appeared in the world.”
– Jeffrey Tucker.
I suspect that we all hear a lot about discrimination by employers against people on the basis of sex, race, disability, religion and age, but there is also under the Equality Act 2010 (all 90,000+ words of it) in Great Britain protection against discrimination on the basis of philosophical belief, or the lack of it. Or rather, you have a means of legal retaliation against your employer.
The main case in this area came from an employee who had a profound belief in ‘man-made climate change’, but a recent legal case involving a Mr Harron has shed a bit more light on the issue. Mr Harron apparently had a problem with his employer, for which he sought legal redress, he had:
a belief (which the Employment Tribunal thought genuine) that public service was improperly wasteful of money
He worked for Dorset Police.
One might think that this sounds like a vegan putting himself on the boning line in a slaughterhouse. However, all we know is that Mr Harron though waste of money improper, not public service. It is not clear from the case how it was (or was alleged) that this belief led to Mr Harron suffering at the hands of his employer. Poor Mr Harron has also had a Tribunal waste public money holding a hearing listening to his case and getting the law wrong, and now he will have to go back and re-argue his case all over again.
At least we do know that in order for a ‘belief’ to qualify for legal ‘protection’, there are 5 criteria to be met.
(i) The belief must be genuinely held.
(ii) It must be a belief and not,… …an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
(iii) It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
(iv) It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
(v) It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”
Note that if your ‘belief’ is evidence-based (or even reason-based, like economics), as per (ii) above, your beliefs are not protected, but if you have a belief in an Flying Spaghetti Monster, your beliefs might be ‘protected’. But sacking a libertarian because he did not believe in climate change would be unlawful as it would relate to the ‘absence’ of a belief, rather than the holding of it.
Of course, no libertarian would be seen dead suing his employer over discrimination, so may we say that those of us of a libertarian bent would not sue if fired or harassed at work for being a libertarian (of whatever shade or degree)? In fact, claims of this sort seem to be quite rare.
For information, membership of a political party per se does not qualify one as holding a ‘philosophical belief’, which is an inadvertent judicial recognition of what is fast becoming the ‘bleeding obvious’ with some parties. And ‘Jedi Knights’ will find that the Force (of the law) is not with them.
Professor Edward Frenkel, a mathematics professor at Berkeley, discusses in a roundabout way, in this video, the question of free will via mathematics and whether or not humans, or perhaps human behaviour, can be reduced to algorithms. This was on the excellent Numberphile channel on YT. It takes some time for the Professor to come to his point, which starts around 10′ 10″, but essentially, his point appears to be that, even in the abstract world of mathematics, you have entities (e.g. vectors) which are not the same thing as the numbers used to represent them, so how can you believe that a human being is (capable of being reduced to) a sequence of numbers? How can you believe that life is an algorithm, if you already see that not being applicable in mathematics?
For those of you who follow the maths (or even ‘the math’ for those in Illinois etc.), the Professor has more to say in this video.
So people are more than numbers, no matter what those who might tell us otherwise might pretend.
All of which means, if the Professor is right, that in a future Red Dwarf ship, there would be no hologram of Rimmer, but this does not rule out Ace Rimmer.
It is sometimes all too easy to fall into the ad hominem fallacy when you see a juicy target. The problem, however, is that if you are trying to change minds, appealing to prejudice and resentments either doesn’t work, or provokes revulsion. For example, in the Daily Mail there is an article by someone called Chris Deerin, entitled: “Pass the quinoa, comrade! Hypocrisy of the middle-class revolutionaries”.
Here is a taster:
Radical politics is a pursuit for the moneyed conscience, an indulgence for those who can afford to fight the good fight, who are feather-bedded enough to give their lives over to peripheral causes, doomed campaigns and utopian schemes. When you’re skint, funding the next meal or paying the leccy bill or covering the rent tends to be more of a priority than shouting slogans at students through a megaphone in Freedom Square.
Well it may well be the case that much radical politics today is the occupation of the middle class. But the error that Deerin is making here is that while some middle class supporters of socialism, environmentalism and the rest of it may well be hypocritical wankers who should be boiled in oil (or whatever else Daily Mail readers presumably favour as a punishment) that doesn’t mean that socialism, environmentalism, etc, are therefore wrong. To show that, you have to make the case: you need to debunk the disasters socialism creates (including massive environmental problems, as shown in Soviet Russia), and take on the assumptions of environmentalism (such as how a lot of Greens ignore economic substitution and embrace Malthusian myths, as well as endorse forms of naturalistic fallacies and a false view of nature, etc). Saying that “Greens are posh arseholes” backfires if it turns out that some of what Greens might say is true. And does this also mean that a working class person is also a hypocrite if he or she later espouses capitalism and is a class traitor? The trouble with the ad hominem tactic is that works in both directions.
In the current political scene, I have, for example, seen a lot of this resentment-as-argument tactic being used, such as among some of the pro-Trump folk in the US (taking shots at “the Establishment, ignoring that Trump is part of it, in a way), and among the pro-Sanders people attacking Wall Street (in a blanket attack on anyone in finance). We get it in the UK (resentment at the Cameroonians for being posh, rather than for their actual views.)
For centuries, people have pondered the meaning of evil. But the solution to the riddle is that evil has no meaning. Evil is the absence of meaning; it is meaninglessness. To build, to create, to act in the world—these all have meaning. Evil cannot. It is only a black hole that can tear apart meaningful things, and return them to the hollow silence of the universe. This is what we mean when we say that evil is “banal.” It lacks the infinite grandeur of even a grain of sand, let alone of laughter, or of a kiss. In that sense, evil does not matter. It is incapable of mattering. It cannot live or mean things. The best it can do is look on in ire, envy, and despair. And the envious are always walled off from the world that we, the living, inhabit, by an invisible and impervious barrier that they erect themselves; they always have the deadly touch of King Midas. We defy evil and envy when we live. Living in this world sheds light into darkness. It is all we can do, and all that needs to be done, and it is more than enough. Therefore, we shall live. We shall be joyful, hard-working, silly, creative, and smart and sexy and brave and fun. Be a brief candle that helps spread another light.
– Timothy Sandefur, writing a long and moving item about a close relation who was one of the 14 people murdered in San Barnadino recently by Muslim terrorists. Read the whole, outstanding piece. I don’t know how Tim had the fortitude to write so well about such a terrible event to affect his family. The article contains links to charities and organisations well deserving of support.
I’m afraid I feel rather personally about the current immigration crises in the United States and Europe.
(Yes, we have a crisis in the United States as well, or at least, we have Presidential candidates with high poll numbers claiming that we do, and said candidates are threatening to enact draconian measures, including mass deportations.)
I take the matter quite personally because my own father was once a war refugee. Indeed, he was once a war refugee who, because he was a member of a non-Christian religion, was denied refuge in more or less every civilized part of the world. Seventy five years ago, of course, Jews were not considered particularly welcome even by countries that knew full well what was happening in Germany.
My father managed to save himself by ignoring laws that said that he wasn’t allowed to cross borders in the night without permission. Had it been up to many people, of course, he would have died instead, but he quite sensibly believed that he was under no moral obligation to pay attention to people who would have preferred him to remain where he was and die, and thus he formed his own immigration plan without the permission of the legal authorities at his destination.
(Of course, only this morning I read that Victor Orbán has complained that allowing Syrians into Europe would diminish the Christian character of the continent, the sort of claim I’ve heard before in different contexts, including from the political movement that forced my father to flee in the first place. This does bring to mind an ancient set of questions for adherents of Christianity, such as what sort of razor-wire walled internment camp designs Jesus would have favored, as well as whom Jesus would have deported. But I digress.)
For me, the question of immigration is, because of my family history, a very emotional one. None the less, I have given the matter a considerable amount of thought, and I believe that, although I care deeply about the issue, my position is still not an irrational one. Rather, I think that my family history simply allows me to put faces to the theoretical people who might be denied passage and die where they are, and thus gives me the ability to understand by example the human consequences of policies.
(Indeed, this is perhaps much the same thing that has happened for people who have viewed the the photographs of poor Aylan Kurdi, who drowned because even though his family had plenty of money to go from where they were to a place of safety, they had to give it to smugglers instead of to a reliable airline or ferry company. Seeing an individual face, hearing an individual name, makes it harder to ignore the consequences of a policy. But again, I digress.)
So, as I have said, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’ve come to a straightforward conclusion. Anyone proposing that immigration from one country to another be stopped through the use of coercive state violence is, morally speaking, doing the equivalent of proposing to beat on the hands of a drowning man desperately trying to climb out of the sea.
I claim that there is no more moral justification for preventing a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting a house and then looking for work than there would be for preventing a man from within the borders of your supposed “nation state” from doing the same. I have scoured the literature on moral philosophy and failed to find any justification for the claim that a man born across an imaginary line has particularly different rights than a man born within it. I claim this is true regardless of whether the man from Homs seeks to rent the house next door because he is fleeing for his life or because he prefers the weather in your part of the world.
Indeed, the only way to stop a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting an apartment from a willing owner, and taking a job from a willing employer, would seem to be to threaten to do violence or actually to do violence to that man. Which is to say, the only way to prevent him from moving would be the initiation of violence against an entirely peaceful person who has done nothing whatsoever to the people doing violence to him.
Therefore, not only would it seem that there is no moral justification for preventing such behavior, and not only would it seem churlish, but it would also seem that, if anything at all can be called immoral, then doing violence to a peaceful person who wants nothing more than to rent a house, find a job and live as everyone else does is immoral. Perhaps, of course, there is no such thing as right and wrong beyond personal whim, perhaps morals are not a real thing at all, but if morals are indeed a real thing and if morality means anything useful, then clearly such acts are immoral.
I know that some, perhaps even here on Samizdata, would suggest that immigrants are coming to the West to take advantage of our generous state welfare policies. If you believe that, then there is a trivial solution. I will in no way oppose the proposal that the law that opens the border should also specify that immigrants and even their children should not receive state benefits until they’ve lived in the country for ten, or twenty, or, who cares, make it a thousand years if you like. I don’t believe in the dole or state benefits of any sort to begin with, so I can’t consistently oppose denying people such benefits.
I have heard some others say “but they will vote and they are illiberal!”, and if you believe that, fine, deny them the right to vote — I’m an anarchist, and as I don’t believe in elections in the first place, I feel comfortable with denying the franchise to immigrants forever if you feel that is necessary for you to agree to open the border.
But, if you refuse to consider opening the border even if those coming are doing so with their own resources, are renting or buying homes with their own money, are not taking state benefits and are not voting for more collectivism, then I am afraid that I do have to look askance at your position.
Which is to say, your position was immoral in the first place, but if you refuse to reverse a completely immoral position even if the supposed “pragmatic” rationale for holding it vanishes, then perhaps your rationale is not only immoral but was also not held for pragmatic reasons in the first place.