New Book

 

 

$21.95 hardcover · 224 pages
9978-1594037641-January 2015

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY AT

www.amazon.com
www.amazon.ca
www.amazon.co.uk

The theme of The Great Divide is that the populations of the democratic world, from Boston to Berlin, Vancouver to Venice, are becoming increasingly divided from within, due to a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism. This is partly due to a complex mutation in the concept of liberal democracy itself, and the resulting divide is now so wide that those holding to either philosophy on a whole range of topics: on democracy, on reason, on abortion, on human nature, on homosexuality and gay marriage, on freedom, on the role of courts … and much more, can barely speak with each other without outrage (the favorite emotional response from all sides). Clearly, civil conversation at the surface has been failing -- and that could mean democracy is failing.

This book is an effort to deepen the conversation. It is written for the non-specialist, and aims to reveal the less obvious underlying ideological forces and misconceptions that cause the conflict and outrage at the surface -- not with any expectation the clash of values will evaporate, but rather that a deeper understanding will generate a more intelligent and civil conversation.

As an aid to understanding, the book contains a handful of Tables directly comparing modern liberal and conservative views across a range of fundamental moral and political “issues” so that curious readers can answer the book’s main question: “Where Do You Stand?” An interesting result in testing this exercise has been the number of people who find they “think” one way, but “live” another.    

 

Good Reading
Essays (37)
Wednesday
Nov152017

A Good Speech On "Dis-Education"

Below is a speech by: J. MacLeod, who is an associate professor of law at Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama.

**********

 I teach in a law school. For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.

They cannot learn until their minds are freed from that prison. This year in my Foundations of Law course for first-year law students, I found my students especially impervious to the ancient wisdom of foundational texts, such as Plato’s Crito and the Code of Hammurabi. Many of them were quick to dismiss unfamiliar ideas as “classist” and “racist,” and thus unable to engage with those ideas on the merits. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, I decided to lay down some ground rules. I gave them these rules just before beginning our annual unit on legal reasoning.

Here is the speech I gave them.

********************************

Before I can teach you how to reason, I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated. To put it bluntly, you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.

Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims, even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. Most of you have been taught to label things with various “isms” which prevent you from understanding claims you find uncomfortable or difficult.

Reasoning requires correct judgment. Judgment involves making distinctions, discriminating. Most of you have been taught how to avoid critical, evaluative judgments by appealing to simplistic terms such as “diversity” and “equality.”

Reasoning requires you to understand the difference between true and false. And reasoning requires coherence and logic. Most of you have been taught to embrace incoherence and illogic. You have learned to associate truth with your subjective feelings, which are neither true nor false but only yours, and which are constantly changeful.

We will have to pull out all of the weeds in your mind as we come across them. Unfortunately, your mind is full of weeds, and this will be a very painful experience. But it is strictly necessary if anything useful, good, and fruitful is to be planted in your head.

There is no formula for this. Each of you has different weeds, and so we will need to take this on the case-by-case basis. But there are a few weeds that infect nearly all of your brains. So I am going to pull them out now.

First, except when describing an ideology, you are not to use a word that ends in “ism.” Communism, socialism, Nazism, and capitalism are established concepts in history and the social sciences, and those terms can often be used fruitfully to gain knowledge and promote understanding. “Classism,” “sexism,” “materialism,” “cisgenderism,” and (yes) even racism are generally not used as meaningful or productive terms, at least as you have been taught to use them. Most of the time, they do not promote understanding.

In fact, “isms” prevent you from learning. You have been taught to slap an “ism” on things that you do not understand, or that make you feel uncomfortable, or that make you uncomfortable because you do not understand them. But slapping a label on the box without first opening the box and examining its contents is a form of cheating. Worse, it prevents you from discovering the treasures hidden inside the box. For example, when we discussed the Code of Hammurabi, some of you wanted to slap labels on what you read which enabled you to convince yourself that you had nothing to learn from ancient Babylonians. But when we peeled off the labels and looked carefully inside the box, we discovered several surprising truths. In fact, we discovered that Hammurabi still has a lot to teach us today.

One of the falsehoods that has been stuffed into your brain and pounded into place is that moral knowledge progresses inevitably, such that later generations are morally and intellectually superior to earlier generations, and that the older the source the more morally suspect that source is. There is a term for that. It is called chronological snobbery. Or, to use a term that you might understand more easily, “ageism.”

Second, you have been taught to resort to two moral values above all others, diversity and equality. These are important values if properly understood. But the way most of you have been taught to understand them makes you irrational, unreasoning. For you have been taught that we must have as much diversity as possible and that equality means that everyone must be made equal. But equal simply means the same. To say that 2+2 equals 4 is to say that 2+2 is numerically the same as four. And diversity simply means difference. So when you say that we should have diversity and equality you are saying we should have difference and sameness. That is incoherent, by itself. Two things cannot be different and the same at the same time in the same way.

Furthermore, diversity and equality are not the most important values. In fact, neither diversity nor equality is valuable at all in its own right. Some diversity is bad. For example, if slavery is inherently wrong, as I suspect we all think it is, then a diversity of views about the morality of slavery is worse than complete agreement that slavery is wrong.

Similarly, equality is not to be desired for its own sake. Nobody is equal in all respects. We are all different, which is to say that we are all not the same, which is to say that we are unequal in many ways. And that is generally a good thing. But it is not always a good thing (see the previous remarks about diversity).

Related to this:  You do you not know what the word “fair” means. It does not just mean equality. Nor does it mean something you do not like. For now, you will have to take my word for this. But we will examine fairness from time to time throughout this semester.

Third, you should not bother to tell us how you feel about a topic. Tell us what you think about it. If you can’t think yet, that’s O.K.. Tell us what Aristotle thinks, or Hammurabi thinks, or H.L.A. Hart thinks. Borrow opinions from those whose opinions are worth considering. As Aristotle teaches us in the reading for today, men and women who are enslaved to the passions, who never rise above their animal natures by practicing the virtues, do not have worthwhile opinions. Only the person who exercises practical reason and attains practical wisdom knows how first to live his life, then to order his household, and finally, when he is sufficiently wise and mature, to venture opinions on how to bring order to the political community.

One of my goals for you this semester is that each of you will encounter at least one idea that you find disagreeable and that you will achieve genuine disagreement with that idea. I need to explain what I mean by that because many of you have never been taught how to disagree.

Disagreement is not expressing one’s disapproval of something or expressing that something makes you feel bad or icky. To really disagree with someone’s idea or opinion, you must first understand that idea or opinion. When Socrates tells you that a good life is better than a life in exile you can neither agree nor disagree with that claim without first understanding what he means by “good life” and why he thinks running away from Athens would be unjust. Similarly, if someone expresses a view about abortion, and you do not first take the time to understand what the view is and why the person thinks the view is true, then you cannot disagree with the view, much less reason with that person. You might take offense. You might feel bad that someone holds that view. But you are not reasoning unless you are engaging the merits of the argument, just as Socrates engaged with Crito’s argument that he should flee from Athens.

So, here are three ground rules for the rest of the semester.

 

1.  The only “ism” I ever want to come out your mouth is a syllogism. If I catch you using an “ism” or its analogous “ist” — racist, classist, etc. — then you will not be permitted to continue speaking until you have first identified which “ism” you are guilty of at that very moment. You are not allowed to fault others for being biased or privileged until you have first identified and examined your own biases and privileges.

2.  If I catch you this semester using the words “fair,” “diversity,” or “equality,” or a variation on those terms, and you do not stop immediately to explain what you mean, you will lose your privilege to express any further opinions in class until you first demonstrate that you understand three things about the view that you are criticizing.

3.  If you ever begin a statement with the words “I feel,” before continuing you must cluck like a

chicken or make some other suitable animal sound.

********************************

To their credit, the students received the speech well. And so far this semester, only two students have been required to cluck like chickens.

 

 

Tuesday
Nov142017

More Thoughts on God

 

Below are my thoughts as shared with a few friends in our discussion group, sent when one of them began to talk about how he is sure God loves him, as if God were a bosom buddy.

**********

I do not think we can know, absolutely, that God loves us. We can only say that we feel God loves us. To rebut that we know the mind of God strikes me as a stretcher, as Huck Finn described all exaggerations and fibs. Maybe even blasphemy. 

As for feeling God? 

I believe there is some sort of divine principle at work in the universe that humans cannot "know" directly, but can feel, or respond to, intuitively. 

My reasoning for this belief is the bare fact that we have no credible theory or facts to otherwise explain the existence of the universe. It is a mystery. To say that it is primarily comprised of "dark matter" and "dark energy" is only to deepen the mystery. 

The reason that "God" is a more credible principle is that the universe cannot create itself, for to do so would mean it had to precede itself in existence (an impossibility). People rebut: so, doesn't this also apply to God? And the rebuttal to that is, no, because God is eternal and ens causa Sui -  the cause of himself. Which just means he is the only entity in which essence and existence are one, and so is eternal. 

My metaphor for this is grounded in a theory of emanation. 

As follows: I have nice coffee cups in my cupboard, sitting beside nice wine glasses. If you strike a tuning fork and bring it near them, the wine glasses will begin to sing in harmony with the vibrations of the fork. But the coffee cups will not. 

I believe there are millions of humans being attuned to the divine in the universe (however murkily "known") who resonate, or vibrate in tune with it. They are the human wine glasses.

There are also millions who are not attuned to, in fact who reject or mock all possibility of attunement with the divine, and these are the human coffee cups. 

The different drinking vessels and different human vessels serve the same practical purposes: to hold 9 ounces of liquid for drinking, or to live well, but they are very different in their attunement to the emanation (of the fork, of the Divine).

 When I was doing research for my essay on one of the greatest logicians of all time - J.S. Mill - I discovered that he had an emotional crisis over the wasteland of mere logic in his early twenties, and turned to Romantic poetry as a new source of feeling. 

 From there, he went deeply "spiritual", and in retirement, built a garden bower where he would walk for hours or sit in contemplation. 

He called the bower his "vibratory" and claimed that feelings derived from such as poetry lead us to a higher truth than reason ever could.

 

Saturday
Oct282017

Hyperdemocracy and the "Anti-Polis"

Before you read this essay, check out the rather arresting, if not astonishing map of the 2016 American election, on the link below. The essay was just declined for publication by a rather major Website with which  you would all be familiar, on the editorial ground that to publish it at this time would be "too disruptive" for Americans to read.

So I am publishing it. Still working on it a little. But you will get the message. It is not one I have seen emphasized elsewhere, except indirectly. I think the thesis holds up, and it points to a phenomenon that is radically new with respect to the Western secularizing nations, at least.

**********

http://brilliantmaps.com/2016-county-election-map/

[Map created by Magog the Ogre via Wikimedia, Nov. 29,2016]

       

              The map is broken down by red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) counties (rather than by states), and it shows a stark rural-urban division of citizens in a pattern that has become typical of most Western democracies. Much about urbanization is explained by the attraction of better jobs, services, and the glitter of wealth. But there is another powerful, if less visible attraction. Namely, the fact that life in the Big City provides immediate access to a hedonistic privacy offering relief from the traditional moral restraints and obligations imposed by civil life in rural settings.

             The rural/urban divide became especially visible in America over the previous election cycle, and an Atlantic Monthly article of 2012, "Red State, Blue City: How the Urban-Rural Divide is Splitting America," remarked that "virtually every major city (100,000 plus population) in the United States of America has a different outlook from the less populous areas that are closest to it. The difference is no longer where people live, it's about how people live ...."

             The pattern of big cities dissolving their own moral roots is an old one, and literature is often the canary in the mine warning of dark and rapacious cities where almighty money, unbridled self-interest, and sensuality chip away at ordinary morality. Flaubert’s newly-citified Madame Bovary grinds down to suicide after losing herself in vanity and infidelity. Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit brutally exposes the cash-cruelty of American city life under its new aristocracy of money. And who could forget Hardy's lovely, dark-tressed Tess of the D'Urbervilles milking her cows at Talbothays dairy farm, the soulless urban sprawl of Flintcomb-Ash encroaching to swallow her up?

               One of the most disturbing literary characterizations of a growing modern anomie - that condition, first described minutely by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim in which society ceases to provide any moral guidance for individuals - is sensed with some alarm in the first line of Albert Camus' The Stranger.  Meursault opens the novel with these listless words: "Mama died today. Or, maybe yesterday; I don't know...." He doesn't know because the bonds are broken, and in a war-torn, morally-wracked Europe, of which he is so often taken as a symbol, so is he. The greatest painter of deracinated souls, however, was surely Dostoevsky, who first captured the irony that in the modern city, rootlessness is the most common bond, and so if it is true that God does not exist, then "everything is permitted." 

                 When everything is permitted, there can be no possible distinction between good and evil, and therefore no ordering principles by which a society can form a "cosmion" - a term used by some philosophers to describe a sheltering common life in which, precisely by way of such distinctions, citizens voluntarily modify their personal choices for the good of all, rather than primarily for their own good. The thought that by virtue of an enfeebling mutation of this grounding possibility the Western world may be morally imploding, all the while defending the outcome as the highest form of democratic liberty, is rather disquieting. 

                For just as molecules may break into atoms, and corporate bodies into mere aggregates, a democracy can fragment into a "hyperdemocracy" -  a simple arithmetical compilation of sovereign individuals, each cheerfully self-alienated from any search for a common good, and therefore from each other. The result is mass anomie: an aimless collection of citizens it is assumed will determine (we cannot say "will decide") the blind outcome of society. This is a type of political formlessness that can arise only from the privatization of liberty, and it differs sharply from the classical democratic form (under assault, but still with us as late as mid-twentieth century) which was a system striving for an ostensible common good, the underlying, if unspoken logic of which was that human acts directed exclusively toward ourselves as individuals can have no moral substance. This, they acquire only when directed towards others; which is to say, when they are self-transcendent acts bonding all citizens in a civil society through mutual obligations and duties. It goes without saying that such a society cannot be a fiction, as libertarians are prone to believe, for it has a relational moral being that is necessarily greater than the sum of its parts.

                    However imperfectly, that was the notion that energized the ancient city, or polis, the principal aim of which was to thrive as a unified social, moral, and - if barbarians were at the gate - a military entity. But the modern democracies have turned this notion on its head by allowing a new, soft sort of urban barbarism to develop inside their own gates. For over the last century, each at its own pace, they have been mutating from polis, to anti-polis; to aggregates of sometimes millions of urbanites living side-by-side (hard to say "together"), offering an easy evasion of the moral expectations of others, and a shared, often deliberate and outspoken repudiation of any felt obligation to create such expectations for others. So now, and uniquely so in human history, we have gigantic anti-community communities producing anti-morality moralities, so to speak. That millions of citizens wander past each other staring in voluntary isolation at their cell-phones, is just a recent high-tech manifestation of this long-developing truth for which they were already primed. And it's not as if human communities as corporate bodies have never decayed into amoral aggregates before. Ancient Rome remains a classic case. But our modern hyperdemocratic regimes may be the first in history intentionally and defiantly to engineer this kind of moral implosion by philosophical fiat.

                Why "philosophical"?  Because what is so clearly demarcated on our map looks very much like a pattern formed by citizens who over a century and a half have taken sides in the long philosophical, political, and moral contest between the incompatible social philosophies of  J.S. Mill, and Edmund Burke; which is to say, as the Atlantic article above, warned: over how we ought to live. However dumbed-down, Mill's so-called "harm principle" - do whatever you want as long as you don't harm someone else - rules the cities, while Burke's notion of civil society as a polity voluntarily bonded by "little platoons" still rules the rural areas. I am sure he was speaking of cities when my historian colleague John Robson wrote that "the modern world seeks absolute autonomy, freedom of choice unbounded by norms. We do not wish to obey moral laws but to create them for ourselves...."  It is mostly in our fashionable cities that we see this trend, while country folk, even when they use the same democratic language, still (so far) intend the basic principle of our original, if now decaying  style of a polis democracy.  

                An ironic result of the conflation of a corporate civil body and a mere aggregate of individuals is that the word - indeed, the very concept of - "democracy" has bifurcated, and is now something akin to a whore word that will do whatever is asked of it, such that it is not uncommon to hear two people in the same room cite democracy to defend plainly incompatible moral and philosophical positions as if merely to utter the word with sufficient solemnity is to rescue a bad argument. This has utterly stranded any underlying notion of  "the people".  They have become like a pack of dogs which, though each is still tethered to the carriage of public life by virtue of the right to vote, otherwise have no traces to join them to each other, and so they run at will in all directions with no common destination. Where the carriage will end up is anybody's guess, and the sobering possibility looms that no one cares.  The hyperdemocratic ship must have no chart, no captain, no pilot - just equally-liberated passengers. Liberated from each other, that is, each citizen increasingly his or her own private morals-inventing machine. Census analysts in many parts of the West continue to warn of the high and climbing percentages of urban residents - ranging from 50% to 75% in some cities - who now live alone.   

                 Accordingly, the modern anti-polis is increasingly a place where acts traditionally considered wrong, or "bad for society" - which is to say, bad for the good of the polis - such as divorce, abortion, single-parenting, homosexuality, drug-use, and saturation pornography, increase in variety and number and are normalized by language-inversion, then defended vigorously against "judgmental" attacks - on what? Not on these behaviours themselves, or on any harm to society as a whole these acts may cause now, or in future, but on the sanctity of the individual right to choose them. For what could possibly shame a polity with vanishingly few shared convictions? Not much. As a result, the anti-polis has become the locus of a cultural-moral relativism easily identifiable in such angry prohibitions as: "Don't you dare judge me!" The red hinterland, meanwhile, remains rooted, however tenuously, in our original and natural biological model for a human community, and continues to rail privately, if not freely (except in the ballot box) against these and many other once publicly-recognized wrongs.

                The evidence for what looks very much like social and moral self-debilitation is for now mostly visible in cities, where increasingly we find the most extreme statistics on every imaginable human predilection, perversity, and indulgence, and a dire breakdown of the natural family (best defined as "a married mother and father living together with their dependent children") unequalled since the last stages of Roman decadence, paralleled by a growing dependency of broken families on government. Is it not shocking to realize that even the combined disaster of two exhausting and bloody World Wars book-ending a devastating international depression could not produce the depths of social, family, and moral breakdown now observable in the crime, health, and welfare statistics of most big cities? It is hard to resist the old quip that these may be the only entities in history to have passed from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization.

                I don't want to exaggerate. The modern city is a living paradox. Wonderful art collections are on display in architecturally impressive buildings, on the steps of which bums may be seen sleeping off their drug of choice or begging. Urban advance and decline may grow together, even feed off each other in reaction, the former masking the latter. Great museums, orchestras, and art shows glow like ever more carefully-applied make-up on the worried visage of the anti-polis, which still harbours many small tightly-bonded communities: households, churches, charities, and institutions clinging, beleaguered, to their private vision of a shared common good. Many of these are immigrant or remnant communities clustering against what they see as an obvious decline of the surrounding society, bombarded daily by newly-legitimized (if not approved) behaviours that in the very recent past (in a now-defunct phrase) would have "shamed us all."

                 Finally, our modern anti-polis entities have become repositories for most of the rich as well as most of the poor of democratic nations, the preponderance of benefits going in one direction, the harms in another, with those in the middle gradually driven out by higher prices, by a simple evaporation of their former standard of living, or by self-relocation to cheaper suburbs as a service class. Hence the split-personality of the anti-polis. The well-off frequent theatre and symphony subsidized by governments and corporations, travel abroad, hire the best lawyers, eat in very nice restaurants, and drive their kids, or have Filipina nannies walk them, to the best schools; while those at the other extreme cannot escape bad, even dangerous schools, have latch-key kids, the greatest share of fatherless children and abortions, get arrested for most of the alcohol, drug use, and domestic violence - and are generally struggling in the underbelly of the anti-polis. During the long decline of Rome, if they escaped assassination, wealthy citizens by-passed a similar reality (while sampling similar amusements) by retreating to their country villas, just as wealthy moderns retreat by clustering in pricey neighborhoods or gated suburban communities, riding it all down in style.                    

                    Skeptical citizens in the countryside, meanwhile, continue to resist what looks to them "like an alien invasion" of the nation by city-dwellers, as Walter Lippmann put it back in 1927 - the first year America had more urban than rural citizens. The aliens sniff that citizens in the red counties are "living in the nineteenth century," while the latter are convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that those in the blue counties inhabit a weird, and possibly sick world celebrating the hegemony of individual will over all other moral claims, even over the primacy of human nature, the latest weirdness on public display being the right of individuals to repudiate their own natural biology by re-imagining themselves as any gender, or combination of genders they wish, and hence of men to enter women's washrooms at will, and vice versa. Aliens, indeed!

               Red counties vote against blue because for now, at least, the anti-polis is offensive to everything they have ever believed.

Tuesday
Oct242017

An Interview on The Great Divide

Just ran a cross this interview with London Ontario journalist, Mary Lou Ambrogio, which I neglected to post when my latest book, The Great Divide, was first published.

(Flagrant self-promotion: Visitors to this website could help to stimulate awareness of this book by forwarding this interview to their friends and associates, for which, I give thanks in advance ...

The Interview is in the form of nine questions from Mary Lou, as follows:

********

1) That subtitle, "Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree", concerns me. I always thought left and right could at least agree on what the problems were but diverged in their solutions?

 A: It is indeed a provocative sub-title. This book was produced by an American publisher, and down there, the two words - liberal and conservative - are taken to indicate underlying political and moral disposition rather than party affiliations (as you know, if we speak only of policy and legislation, there are many liberal republicans, and conservative democrats). So from the first page of The Great Divide I tried to make it clear that this is not a book about politics or parties.   

        It's focus is on the underlying and (in my view) incompatible world-views that these two terms designate. In the field of policy, it is true that in the long tradition of so-called liberal democracy, the objective has always been to find compromises that make their way into law. A good thing, needless to say. You are correct that there is often agreement as to ends, but strong differences as to means. There is a means divide. I try to point out why that is so, and why, even though compromises are often found, liberals and conservatives nevertheless can never agree because their disagreements are rooted in mutually-exclusive philosophical and moral propositions, versions of human nature, and so on.

 2) What was the impetus for writing a book about the division between right and left? Are there recent events in politics that have you pondering this great divide?

 A: I got tired of being at social events where I might try to strike up a conversation with someone by mentioning something I was prepared to defend as a fact, or an irrefutable proposition, only to hear this person look me in the eye, and say, "Well, it may be true for you, but it's not true for me."  At that moment,  I say, "Well, it can't be true and false at the same time, one of us must be wrong," and I am excited that it may generate an interesting conversation or debate in which we find out which one of is right or wrong. But the fellow slips away to drink with someone else. Game over. So I became convinced that serious opinion on a host of important topics was becoming increasingly relativized, and responses increasingly characterized by emotion ("I'm outraged by what you've been saying!").  Or worse, by silence and avoidance of all those whom we fear may disagree with us. I felt civil society was closing down, so something had to be done to counteract this trend.

 3) Character vilification and name calling seems to be a big part of political discourse these days. Has it always been this way or is this new and if so, why do you think that is?

 A: Yes, as mentioned above, emotion has moved to centre stage and shunted intelligent debate to the sidelines. Often, when I am giving a speech, someone will stand up in the Q & A segment and say, "Mr. Gairdner, I am outraged by what you have been saying!"

       The room falls very quiet.

       Then I say, "Well, you couldn't be more outraged than I am, now what's your point?"

If the person is half-intelligent they realize that we can't debate each other's emotions, and they try to come up with a statement or a fact or a proposition that we can begin to debate.

My purpose in this book is to explain as clearly as I can what the foundational beliefs of each side are, because they are hard to see at first.

           The metaphor I like to use is of a man standing on a road on a sunny day. Suddenly, a huge gash opens in the middle of the road, and building start to crumble. He says, "Oh ,my gosh, it's an earthquake!"

           But what he is seeing is really the consequences of the earthquake, not the earthquake itself, which is happening way out of sight beneath the surface due to the tension of geological forces. A good seismologist can explain those forces, and help us understand the earthquake, and the rubble it generates.

          It is the same with political and moral life. The rubble and confusion we see at the surface is caused by underlying and ideological forces. My objective in writing The Great Divide was to make those forces visible.

 4) I see differences between the "new Left" and the "old Left". (By old I don't mean their age but rather, the kind of leftism practiced by people like Christopher Hitchens, Camille Paglia, Terry Glavin, etc.) These people seem more interested in and capable of actual debate, believe in free speech and seem more intellectually honest. Conversations with them can be productive and constructive. Could the intolerance exhibited by the new left be what accounts for the greater division we see now? 

 A: I agree with you on the old-new left difference. Another insightful leftist was Christopher Lasch, who managed to remain a leftist all his life but never shied from acute analyses of its faults. I think a lot of the intolerance on all sides is possibly sourced in the loss of a common ground that once enabled the civilized expression of differences. Canadians and Americans came to North America as Christian settlers who spoke a common moral language and therefore enjoyed a shared conception of the common good. But over time, the spread of materialism and secularism has eroded that common ground. We have been depleting the moral surplus of that age, so to speak, and so our weapon of last resort is ideological differences, which in the absence of any common resting place, leads to polarization of attitudes, demonization of opponents, and so on.

 5) Something that really struck me from "The Trouble With Canada Still", was your description of Western Democracies becoming what you call "Tripartite States", where "1/3 of all taxpayers are employed by government at some level, 1/3 are crucially dependent on government support in some way, and 1/3 produce the income that pays for all of the support for the other two-thirds". This inevitably leads to 2/3's gang up on the 1/3 by voting for parties that will facilitate the theft from the productive third. Are we there yet?

 A: Pretty close. I think countries like Sweden (often a 60% tax rate) have been there for a long time now. Economists speak of the "churning" of resources in this kind of state. One economist described it this way: "in Sweden, a great number of women are paid to look after the children of those women who are employed in the public sector caring for the parents of the women who are watching over their children!" That is rather perverse and unnatural.  But once a state becomes tripartite, there is no way out I can foresee because it is like two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. The only way out would be a wholesale moral and cultural re-awakening of the people, a people prepared to self-deny - that is, to decline a lot of democratically available options for the sake of the truth and of the next generation. Getting rid of one of the wolves is tough if you are yourself that wolf.

 6) One of the main differences between left and right is their respective views about the proper role of government - how big and how intrusive it should be, etc. Is either side capable of convincing the other to see things their way or are we destined to be divided forever on this question?

A: I argue that there is a difference between a strong government, which may be quite small, and big government - to which there is no limit. Thoreau famously said the best government is the least. I support that. For a long time, Switzerland was my model for a strong but small government. They have five languages, over 20 Cantons, like our provinces, and run the whole show with only seven federal ministries, compared to our more than thirty (plus sub-ministries).     

          I always ask people: Can you name any President of Switzerland of the last 100 years? No one ever does, or could. The reason is that the Swiss do not believe in what I call the Hollywood-ization of politics. They run their federal government with a management committee of the seven ministers, who rotate the Presidency. So there is never a popularity contest such as we (and the Americans) have every four or five years. They also employ certain tools of direct democracy such as recall, referendums, and citizen initiatives. I used to argue for those were the tools necessary to get the Western democracies back on the right track.

          It is less certain now that these tools would be of much help, mainly because no majority vote can make something good, or right, that is wrong or evil. We have to recognize the good first, as a people, and then vote for it, not the other way around. Also, many of the things voters would have used the tools of direct democracy to reject thirty years ago (such as gay marriage, and unlimited abortion on demand) they would likely vote for today. So direct democracy is no guarantee of a good polity

 7) I'm convinced we don't have leaders anymore and instead have "cheerleaders" who follow where the votes lead. Politics seems to be conducted at a very shallow level where it isn't about principle but rather popularity. Instead of doing what's right, politicians will do what's politically fruitful, and voters will vote for their own interest rather than for the general interest. If you agree, what would have to happen to fix this?

 A: It has been said that the difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician worries about the next election, whereas a statesman worries about the next generation. All political systems tend to attract character types that suit the system. In a totalitarian system we get the absolute authoritarian figure.  In an aristocratic system we get the more cultured figure auguring for the obligations of the rich to advance the nobility of civilization, to help the needy, and to decide what is good for the people whether they like it or not. But all democratic systems attract popularity- seekers (the cheerleaders you have described) who have a nose for what will please the people, whether or not it is good for them. This kind of system (our own) tends toward what I call "prostitution politics" where the politician will promise to provide whatever is asked, in exchange for the most votes paid.

 8) Some would suggest that there's an inherent leftward tilt in all governments since the big government model is more conducive to its own desire to survive, thrive and grow. Do you think this is true and if so, is there any hope for those of us who want smaller, less intrusive government?

 A: I think many modern analysts of government have come to the conclusion that one of the main reasons civilizations rise, sustain for a while, and then reliably decline, is complexity. They become too burdensome and therefore too costly to manage effectively. Why is this so? I think because while humans probably love freedom and security with an equal passion, what they really love more than both of these things, is control. Control over others, over their relationships, over voters, neighbours, you name it. This means they love to make laws and legislate. As any law can be easily divided into two or more, and so on, ad infinitum, states become burdened with masses of legislation that accumulate over time and must be managed and policed. In addition, careerists in government have a vested interest in growth of government, just as a capitalist has a vested interest in profit. Both want to grow their enterprises. Never in all recorded history have we ever heard an ordinary government worker appeal to his boss for a lower budget, and a smaller department for next year. It's against human nature.

 9) The Great Divide  contains an aid to help people figure out where they stand on various issues and you note that an interesting outcome of providing this aid has been that people discover that they "think" one way but "live" another. Can you give a few examples of what you mean by this?

 A: For sure. The "Where Do You Stand Tables," that follow each chapter,  kind of force readers to decide where they stand on every issue the book explores. And that's a sword that cuts both ways. I have a good friend who told me after reading the book that he now thinks he is more left than he thought. His wife says: "See, I knew it all along!" She is far more conservative than he is. But to my satisfaction they are now having richer and more informed debates over their opposing positions. So I would say The Great Divide is in large measure about self-discovery, because it is helping people articulate mixed feelings, and so, to leave a lot of the excess emotion behind in their search for a truth they feel they can better defend.

Tuesday
Oct172017

Ten Comandments for Climate Skeptics

 

Here is an excellent summary for those skeptical of the claim of climate scientists that the world is warming due to human causes.

It is posted under "Core Principles" on the website of the International Climate Science Coalition. www.climatescienceinternational.org

Those wanting more of the background may wish to read my own "Global Warming In A Nutshell" to be found in the Archive of this website.

 

 

1.        Global climate is always changing in accordance with natural causes and recent changes are not unusual.

2.        Science is rapidly evolving away from the view that humanity's emissions of carbon dioxide and other 'greenhouse gases' are a cause of dangerous climate change.

3.        Climate models used by the IPCC* fail to reproduce known past climates without manipulation and therefore lack the scientific integrity needed for use in climate prediction and related policy decision-making.

4.        The UN IPCC Summary for Policymakers and the assertions of IPCC executives too often seriously mis-represent the conclusions of their own scientific reports.

5.        Claims that ‘consensus’ exists among climate experts regarding the causes of the modest warming of the past century are contradicted by thousands of independent scientists.

6.        Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant - it is a necessary reactant in plant photosynthesis and so is essential for life on Earth.

7.        Research that identifies the Sun as a major driver of global climate change must be taken more seriously.

8.        Global cooling has presented serious problems for human society and the environment throughout history while global warming has generally been highly beneficial.

9.        It is not possible to reliably predict how climate will change in the future, beyond the certainty that multi-decadal warming and cooling trends, and abrupt changes, will all continue, underscoring a need for effective adaptation.

10.     Since science and observation have failed to substantiate the human-caused climate change hypothesis, it is premature to damage national economies with `carbon' taxes, emissions trading or other schemes to control 'greenhouse gas' emissions. 

Wednesday
Oct112017

Cycling in France, The e-bike Revolution, and Paleolithic Cave-Art

My wife and I recently completed a two-week cycling trip in the Dordogne region of France. And what a good time we had. We both figured that for sight-seeing, a car is too fast, and walking too slow, but a cycling pace is just right. And the bonus of cycling is that you can go all sorts of places with a bicycle that you can't go with a car. Like ... down nifty little medieval side-streets, or up onto sidewalks, and, if you have touring tires, you can even go off-road on dirt pathways when you want to take a shortcut across a farmer's field to see how they make foie gras - which we did. Also, with a car, you often have to park a long way from the cathedral or castle or scenery you want to see. But with a bike, you can pedal right up to the spot. It feels very free.

I have been a reasonably strong cyclist all my adult life. But cycling trips, of which we have done a dozen together, were becoming a thing of the past because my wife, being more sensible than me, doesn't like grinding up long hills. We wanted to go to Dordogne to see the cave-art. But this region of France is mostly one long hill after the other, interspersed with lovely river valleys (and great downhills!).

This was a problem. So, to make the cycling-difference between us evaporate, I suggested we try using electric bicycles - e-bikes - for this trip.

It took a little attitude adjustment for this purist to accept the idea of using an e-bike. I thought it would be somehow like cheating, or that I wouldn't get a decent workout. But ... a vacation is not supposed to be a workout. So we planned a self-guided e-bike trip with a company called Discover France. And, with enthusiasm, I can report that from the moment we got on these bikes, there were just great big smiles. Wow. What fun! That is the bottom line of the e-bike revolution that is underway. They are just so much fun. And at the very first hill, my wife, who had broken into the biggest smile as she took off, with hair blowing in the wind and a lively hurrah! shouted: "You feel like the hand of God is pushing you up the hill!"

We are hooked on e-bike travel now, and can't wait to do another trip. We cycled for about 8 days, averaging about 35 miles (60km) per day, with total (cumulative) climbing per day of around 1,500 - 1,800 ft (500 - 600m or so). To a hard-riding cyclist that doesn't sound like a lot. But by the time you add in the stops for sightseeing, a meal, and yes, buying stuff that you end up taking back for the grandkids, you are spending about five hours a day on and off the bike. We had a Garmin gps system programmed for each day's route, so all we had to do was "follow the arrow." Okay, they made a few mistakes, but it was easy to get back on the arrow.

Most electric bikes use the Bosch battery system, and you have to pedal when you ride to activate the "assist". No coasting, except downhill. But when pedaling, you can use any of four "pedal assist" modes: - eco, tour, sport, or turbo. Well, this was fascinating for us. Using mostly eco and tour, you can pedal 100km if you want, and will get a decent assist. We used those levels on the flats and slight rises. On long hills at around 5-7% grade, we used "sport", and for very steep short hills, "turbo." Turbo indeed feels like God is pushing you up the hill. But ... the battery will not last long - maybe 25 miles if you stay in Turbo. At the end of each day, we unhooked the batteries from the bikes and took them inside our hotel room(s) to recharge them, which takes a few hours.

As for "the workout"? Most e-bikes (we had Scott bikes) weigh around 55 pounds. When you add the battery, your day-baggage, like binoculars, water bottle, rain clothing, some food, and so on, you end up pushing about 65 pounds. So without turning the power on, and even with very forgiving gearing, it is very tough to push this much weight up a steep hill. I turned off the assist once and tried it, and the bike quickly came to a grinding halt then would have gone backwards if I hadn't braked! So, being a stronger cyclist than my wife, I easily got my workout just by using a lower assist level than the one she used, some of the time. So keeners beware - you can exhaust yourself easily on an e-bike if that's what you want. A case in point: we met an American couple on the road who had decided he would ride his regular road bike, and she would ride an e-bike. Frankly, he looked exhausted, and I said, "I bet she has to wait for you at the top of every hill! She smiled, and he groaned.

I now agree with a friend who said the e-bike is "a disruptive technology." No doubt about it. I predict that over the next few decades, our cities are going to change radically to facilitate electric cycling. So my last word on this aspect of our trip is: try an electric bike as soon as you can, and you will be hooked for sure.

As for France? What can I say? This was our third cycling trip there. We did the Loire and Normandy regions once. Did Provence another time, and now, Dordogne. France is a beautiful country almost everywhere you go. We were delighted by the scenery, the quiet medieval villages, with their simple homes of blond stone and red-tiled roofs, and above all ... the absence of advertising! Where else do you go in the world where there is so little advertising pollution?

As for French food today? The cheeses were to die for, the wines were occasionally quite good (though I generally prefer northern California reds), and the meats always had good sauces. But ... it was hard to find tender lamb or beef (and I think that is why the French invented great sauces!). One man's opinion ... I think it is harder today than it used to be to find good food in France. Places like New York, Toronto, San Francisco, Vancouver, Montreal, and so on, have more than caught up in the culinary arts. We had our very best meal in a little open-air restaurant overlooking the quaint village of Belvès. It was a nondescript bistro that happened to be owned by a passionate foodie.

Finally, I really recommend doing this trip to see the cave art. The most famous cave of all is Lascaux. It was discovered in the 1940s by three teen-aged boys. Well, actually, it was discovered by their dog, who started sniffing and scratching at a hole in the ground, and then ... fell down the hole!

He didn't come back up when they called, so the boys went home for shovels and flashlights, and then came back, and within moments had opened up a large crawl-space. So they went down. It led to a huge series of caves, and when they shone their lights upward, they were simply stunned into silence. There, unseen for 20,000 years or so, were some 600 large and very colourful cave-drawings of bison, mammoths, wolves, bear, deer, and more. Some drawings even had hand-prints on the wall beside them, like an artist's signature.

Lascaux is virtually chock-a-block with incredible cave-drawings, but is now closed to the public because the CO2 and moisture from human breathing was starting to erode the drawings. So the French government has created a complete reproduction called LascauxII, which is true to the original by the millimetre, and so is very much worth seeing. Stunning, actually. It faithfully represents what those boys saw, and these reproductions were created with the same dyes and minerals as the Paleolithic artists used. We then cycled to a few more caves that had original cave-art. One of them has a touching drawing of a female deer licking the face of her young fawn. You can feel the moment the artist felt, so long ago.

Then we visited two geological cave-sites (there are many in the region) that are quite astonishing, and still under exploration, some of them extending for miles underground, and cavernous - like, almost 300 feet from bottom to top. Jaw-dropping sights, really.

We ended our trip with a transition day in London England, and what a city that is. After some time at the National Gallery, and the Portrait Gallery, we had an hour or two - not enough - to visit the Churchill War Museum - which was unexpectedly both astonishing and rewarding - before heading to the airport for our flight home.