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)
Thursday
Feb162017

Romanticism & Multiculturalism: The Roots of Our Soft-Fascism

Romanticism – the Root of Fascism

            Romanticism began by favouring emotion over cold reason and particular local identity and experience over universal experience.  It was especially keen to repudiate the sort of French rationalism that was being imposed on most European nations as a political and even a snobbish cultural pattern. Napoleon had invaded the hundreds of loosely-allied principalities of what is now Germany and re-organized them politically and geographically along rationalist lines. Perhaps the most easily visible symbol of this trend, this rationalist domination, was imposed weights and measures and metrication. Rationalists hated the illogical local measuring systems of Europe – Pounds? Feet? Yards? Chains? Ells?They would eliminate them and impose the universal logical perfection of the metric system. But it was precisely this sort of rationalist homogenization, this threat to local identity that made people very angry. For what could be more human and organic, they said - more us! - than measurement by a foot, a thumb, an arm, a chain? They thought of culture as local, warm, organic, and human, in contrast to civilization which was rationalist, universalist, cold, and inhuman. Most of all, they correctly perceived metrication and all other such administrative tools as aids to State controls, taxation, and conscription.[1]

          In reaction to this homogenization, thinkers everywhere began repudiating all foreign models of universal human perfection that they had for too long been expected to mirror in their manners, thought, and arts. An entire generation of poets and artists began to adopt a more inward model, the metaphor for which was the lamp – the burning inner light of personal identity, and therefore of local, national, and above all, racially-authentic feeling. It was the European Romantic movement that set the tenor for all modern national fascist systems. It was there the distant die was cast even for Canada’s multicultural identity politics. Since the 1960s we have been enduring a Neo-Romantic age.    

           The German Johannes Herder (1744-1803) was Romanticism’s most notorious racial/cultural philosopher. Meditating upon the clash of cultures in the Baltic, he came to the conclusion “that every tribe and people was unfathomably and indestructibly unique.” What made them unique were mysterious “primary forces deep in the collective soul … each Nation represented a truth of its own, which was a compound of blood, soil, climate, environment, experience – in brief, race, geography and history. There was no universal criterion by which to judge nations … Men did not create a nation; a nation brought forth men.”[2] Implicit in this aspect and in all forms of socialism (whether national or international) is an attack on Western individualism and self-reliance, for socialism and fascism are one in conceiving of the individual as a product of unique social forces. Hence, all socialists and fascists attack the very notion of “individual rights,” believing that “if the culture is at the root of the individual’s identity and meaning, then the culture must acquire a mystical, even a God-like status.”[3]  

         Richard Wagner, the most notorious musician of this movement, invoked triumphalist German folk-life and warrior lore in his operatic extravaganzas. The most influential recent philosophical giant evoking this lore was the brooding philosopher from the Black Forest, Martin Heidegger. His wife sounded like one of our own multiculturalists when she said that fascists like herself and Martin had not committed “the fatal error” of believing in the equality of all human beings (for them, all races are uniquely different); rather, their whole struggle was “to recognize the diversity of peoples and races.”[4] These seekers of inner truth were arguing passionately that human identity burns with a profoundly local, racial, tribal, and national flame, and that the enemy of true identity is the philosophy of the French-type of universalism and internationalism. This, Herder had described as “the slime of the Seine.” This reaction was feeding the flames of national socialism and the Nazi program: Heidegger was for a time Rector of Freiberg University and the unofficial philosopher of the Nazi party. The party slogan intended to sum up “identity,” was Blut und Boden – “blood and soil.” I have developed arguments elsewhere that trace the course of this Romantic passion as it was shaped by the German philosophical reaction to Western thought, and how in politics it developed into fascism.[5]

               Without stretching the point, it seems clear that the recent, if now fading “post-modern” movement (which also repudiates all universal thought), and the moral and cultural relativism that accompanied it (which rejects all universal moral and cultural standards), found a confused - and confusing - home in Canada. In a 2006 Library of Parliament Research Report on “Canadian Multiculturalism,” the authors say that “As fact, ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada refers to the presence and persistence of diverse racial and ethnic minorities who define themselves as different and who wish to remain so.”[6] To this official extent, Canadian multiculturalism identifies and promotes separate racial and ethnic identities, and as such, it must be understood as a clearly-expressed nationalistic form of soft multi-fascism – a fascism not of a single race (as in War-time Germany) but of many races, or tribes. The history of classical political and moral liberalism in Canada is still, and will likely always be strong enough to inhibit any unitary fascism of the type seen in Europe. But if I am correct that soft multi-fascism is already present,  then we have begun a journey down  a potentially dangerous road.  At the least this means Canadian multiculturalism is an official racist doctrine.

           A recent social study by the University of Toronto confirms this predictable trend: compared with their parents, the second generation of visible minority immigrants now feels less, not more Canadian.[7] Professor Zheng Wu of the University of Victoria found that the higher the concentration of people from their own ethnic group in the neighbourhood, the less adult immigrants feel like they belong to Canada.[8] The prestigious Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has vigorously underscored the fact that immigration and diversity are reducing social solidarity and social capital.”[9] In 2004 a Statistics Canada report revealed that whereas Canada had six “visible minority neighbourhoods” in 1981, by 2001 there were 254. Some time ago, the American Senator Huey Long warned, “When fascism comes to America, it will come in the name of democracy.” People will vote for it. Well, we voted, and it is here now, in a soft form. It is everywhere in the West under names like multiculturalism and diversity. Soft, but here, nonetheless.[10]               

 

 


[1] On this, see the fascinating work by James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998).

[2] J. L. Talmon, Romanticism and Revolt: Europe 1815-1848 (New York: W.W. Norton &Co., 1967), p.96 ff.

[3] Gene Edward Veith Jr., Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview (St. Louis: Concordia, 1993), p.37.

[4] Cited in Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Modern Fascism, p. 134 [emphasis added].

[5] William D. Gairdner, The Book of Absolutes: A Critique of Relativism and a Defence of Universals (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), esp. Chap. 11, “German Philosophy and the Relativist Revolt Against Western Civilization.”

[6] See Michael Dewing, Marc Leman, Political and Social Affairs Division, Parliamentary Research Branch, Current Issue Review: “Canadian Multiculturalism, Revised March 16, 2006. This report is weakened by spurious assumptions with respect to Canada’s constitutional founding. For example, on p.2 the authors State that Canada’s English and French Founders “appointed themselves the official founders of Canada.”

[7] Jeffrey G. Reitz, Rupa Banerjee, Mai Phan, Jordan Thompson, “Race, Religion, and the Social Integration of New Immigrant Minorities in Canada” Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, September 2008 (contact: Jeffrey.reitz@utoronto.ca ).

[8] “Ethnic Enclaves Weak Link, Study Finds” (National Post, June 2, 2010).

[9] See Robert Putnam, E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the 21st Century, cited in Herbert Grubel, The Effects of Mass Immigration on Canadian Living Standards and Society (Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, 2009)

[10] A fascinating treatment of this historical and political trend is Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007).  

Thursday
Feb092017

Canada's Phony Refugee System

There is currently much agitation in the USA over immigration and refugees. Canadians are prone to judge the American dust-up with a certain supercilious air, while knowing very little of the situation at their own doorstep. 

What follows is an except from Chapter Thirteen of The Trouble With Canada ...Still! (2010). I encourage visitors to this site to get the book and read the whole chapter. It is quite a shock. 

If things have changed, I suspect they have only gotten worse. 

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

Phony Refugee Claimants

           The UN estimates that over 4 million human beings are smuggled into various countries each year, most of them by criminal organizations that reap over $7 billion from this enterprise. They are told: If you want to get into Canada fast, just lie. Tell the border officials you will be “persecuted” or tortured if you are forced to return home.

           In 1987, according to the Department of Immigration, more than 26,000 people claimed refugee status[1] in Canada. Based on the standard used by the United Nations Convention on Refugees, nearly 85 percent of the claims were found to be false. Such scandals have been known for a long time: in 1981, even our very liberal Immigration Minister Lloyd Axworthy complained of the 75,000 refugees we took in that year that “a lot of them are claiming they left for political reasons, but in fact it’s economic.”

          Nothing has changed. In 2002, citizens from 152 different nations many of which no other nation in the world but Canada would consider to be refugee-producing, claimed homeland persecution and therefore a right of asylum in Canada. How can this be? How can people who enter Canada illegally get away with naming almost every nation on earth as a place dangerous to life and limb? How soft-headed are we? Very: a Canadian federal court judge recently declared the United States of America “unsafe” for refugees! And … in December of 2004 Canada’s government passed a law enabling anyone charged with a capital offence in another country to seek legal asylum in Canada.  In this way, as former Canadian ambassador James Bissett put it, we “laid out the welcome mat for murderers.”

           I would say Canada is now in a tight spot on this score. We have signed UN treaties against torture, which prevent us from deporting phony asylum-seekers claiming homeland persecution, and we have passed laws saying that all “individuals” in Canada automatically have the full Charter rights and freedoms of citizens. Now there are obviously some very unsafe countries in the world, and we must always be open to helping genuine refugees according to our own capacities, as long as they do not overwhelm us. But the vast majority of asylum-seekers are economic refugees out “immigration shopping,” which means they are hunting for the country with the slackest entry conditions, the greatest number of free benefits, and the least likelihood of sending them back home. Having chosen Canada, they then choose to lie, break the rules, and jump the immigration queue under false pretenses. How false? Hard to say. Martin Collacott, former Canadian high commissioner to Sri Lanka informs us that “in one year alone, 8,600 Sri Lankans with refugee claims pending in Canada, applied to the Sri Lankan high commission in Ottawa for travel documents so they could go back to Sri Lanka for visits.” Most European nations now avoid this problem by refusing all refugee claimants from “safe” countries (those with a democratic system, a rule of law, etc). Canada proposed this idea as recently as 1989 but it was opposed by a self-interested immigration lobby (there is no other kind, it seems). At any rate, this is how Canada has become “a home away from home” for millions of people whom we subsidize to ensure their deepest identities here are still rooted in their countries of origin. 

             Since 1985, over 700,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada without proper scrutiny. Actually, with no scrutiny whatsoever.  Many of them are brought here with false documents by clever human smugglers, for large fees. Smugglers guarantee them at least a few years here, fully-paid by Canada’s government until their case reaches the front of the refugee-hearing lineup. But after a few years (if they get married and have a baby or two), it is unlikely they will get tossed out. Their offspring are automatically entitled to Canadian citizenship, and they are granted a full hearing, given tax-paid legal services, rights to appeal if denied entry, full medicare, dental, and social services, the lot. Canada remains the only western nation without any preliminary screening process for sorting out potentially deserving claims from those that are manifestly unfounded. At a cost of $10-$12,000 per year per claimant, estimates are that we spend a billion dollars per year dealing with this mess. One step we could take is to change the rules: Canadian citizenship should not be granted to immigrant children unless their parents are already Canadian.

             More shocking is the fact that although many thousands of phony refugee claimants are ordered to leave Canada each year … most of them don’t. In May 2008, Canada’s Auditor-General reported that there were 41,000 warrants of arrest outstanding on illegal immigrants. They are somewhere in Canada, but authorities do not know where. We do not know how many of them may have communicable diseases, or criminal records, or are terrorists.  Canada’s most notorious asylum seeker was “the Millennium Bomber” Ahmed Ressam who in reality was an Al-Qaeda operative. He lied when showed up in Canada, was admitted as a refugee, and was then caught crossing the border into the U.S. with a truck-load of high explosives. He was on his way to blow up the Los Angeles airport.  

 

Is “The Economy” a Good Reason for More Immigration?

          Many argue that because we have an aging society, a changing ratio of retirees to workers, and falling fertility rates, we need lots of immigrants or the economy will eventually go into a tailspin. This argument seems plausible - at first- because without sufficient bodies who will buy the food, rent the offices and retail spaces, buy the diapers, and so on? The prospect of a rapidly falling population is scary, and the looming demographic winter seems real. Canada’s own Annual Report on Immigration notes that immigration will be “a key source of workforce growth in the future.” But bad thinking has produced what looks like a false assumption.

           Canada’s first serious study of this question was carried out in 1985 by The Macdonald Royal Commission on “The Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada.” Its conclusion was that “immigration did not contribute to economic growth, but in fact caused a decline in per capita income and real wages in Canada.”[2]

          Now the C.D. Howe Institute has warned (July 2009): “for Canadians to expect more, younger immigrants to counteract the effects of low past fertility on workforce growth and aging would be a serious mistake.”[3] The Institute’s sophisticated projections tell us that “only improbably huge increases” in “net” immigration rates (after subtracting all those who return home) of “more than 2.5 times” recent rates (600-700,000 new immigrants per year) have any chance to “offset” the consequences of lower past fertility. Even when “age filters” favouring much younger immigrants were plugged into the projections, they showed the need for a future Canadian population ranging between 60 and 200 million people before the current aging and falling fertility factors were neutralized. Projections relying on immigration flows to improve the economy tended “to produce explosive population growth, with ludicrous terminal numbers….” In the year 2050 Canada would need 7 million immigrants.

           The conclusion was that better and faster results could be achieved by raising the age of retirement from 65 to 70, boosting natural fertility rates from the current 1.5 children per women to 2.1, and increasing productivity (real output per worker) by 1 per cent. The authors also cite a major 2004 study of the European situation by the RAND corporation. It concluded that “immigration could do little to mitigate the challenges created by low fertility in the European Union” because, as in the numerous Canadian studies cited, “the momentum of the resident population largely overwhelms immigration’s influence.” More sobering: the United Nations Population Division has concluded that for Europe to rebalance its own demographic mixture to avoid eventual collapse it would require over 700 million immigrants by 2050 - more than the present population of the whole of Europe! [4]

          In his survey of Canadian immigration research, Martin Collacott points out that “the government’s own research” indicates that immigration plays a minor role in boosting the economy. “Overall economic performance of newcomers,” he writes, “has fallen below that of earlier immigrants and people born in Canada. A major reason for this is the priority given to family-class immigrants,” none of whom is required to bring any marketable skills to Canada, nor to speak either official language.[5] Underlining the problem of immigrant illiteracy, Frank McKenna of the TD Bank Financial Group said that the immigrant illiteracy issue is “sort of like boiling a frog, it's not … something that would alarm people, because it's not all that evident; we just gradually become poorer as a nation as a result of this loss of potential.”[6] Adding to the complexity is the fact that immigrants to Canada increasingly are coming from areas such as Asia where English and French are not native tongues (up to 40% of Canada’s new immigrants speak neither English nor French). The concern is that the economic wellbeing of newcomers has been deteriorating over the past twenty-five years, with unemployment and poverty levels significantly higher among immigrants than among Canadian-born citizens.

           In sum, too many immigrants arrive with no skills, no common language with which to engage with their host country, and immediately demand free social, medical, dental, and unemployment benefits. This phenomenon is all but international now and is causing some panic in many established welfare States because, as European analyst Martin Paldam found, “the traditions of protection of the weak cause adverse selection of immigrants, so that most are unskilled.” However, welfare States, he warns, only survive if they stand on an implicit compact: we all give, in order, if necessary, to receive. People will accept high levels of taxation if they believe recipients of welfare are like themselves: if they “have made the same effort to be self-supporting and will not take advantage.” However, “if values become extremely diverse in a diversified population, then it becomes difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a risk-pooling welfare State.”[7] In plainer words, if you set your country up to attract freeloaders – they will come.

          George Borjas of Harvard University (himself an immigrant) and perhaps the world’s most acknowledged authority on this question, echoes the findings of other major studies done since the mid-1980s by mainstream economists in Canada, the USA, Australia, and the UK: the only significant economic impact of immigration is to reduce the wages of native workers.[8] 

           In 2007 a Statistics Canada study, “Chronic Low Income, and Low Income Dynamics Among Recent Immigrants” revealed that notwithstanding the emphasis on education in the “skilled worker” category of immigrants, “their earnings in relation to native Canadians were significantly lower and continue to deteriorate.”[9] Professor Alan Green of Queen’s University has stated categorically that “the current political posture of using immigrants to solve economic problems is no longer valid.”[10] 

          To conclude: a recent study by economist Herbert Grubel of Simon Fraser University revealed that the 2.5 million immigrants who came to Canada between 1990 and 2002 received $18.3 billion more in government services and benefits in the year 2002 alone than they paid in taxes for that year! Grubel states that this amount was more than the federal government contributed to health care in 2000-2001, and more than twice what it spent on defence.

          And finally – let us bash the “Bigger is Better” myth. A bigger economy is not necessarily a stronger one. China, for example, has a huge economy because it has more than a billion people. But in per capita earnings it is around 100th in the world - whereas Canada is in the top ten. As long as a strong economy of any size continues to produce sufficient numbers of babies to maintain viable age-to-dependency ratios (ratio of born to dying, and workers to retirees), a country will remain stable. Small but strong stable economies such as those of Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Austria, Singapore, and Hong Kong, do not have to be big. Neither does Canada.

 

 

Coming…  or Going? How Committed Are They to Canada?

            A 2006 Statistics Canada study revealed something rather astonishing. Many thousands of immigrants do not come here to become Canadian or make Canada their home: more than one-sixth of all immigrants who come to Canada return to their native countries within a year, and one-third within 20 years! So if over twenty years we took in 5 million immigrants, some 1,666,000 went back home. Any citizen forking over tax dollars to screen, interview, educate, and supply free government medical, legal, language training, and subsidized education services to admit millions of people to Canada as citizens in the first place, might be forgiven for getting a little angry at learning they take what they want from us and then go back home (not to mention the amounts of cash they send out of Canada while they are here. The bulk of the returnee-immigrants in the 25-45 age group are people who entered Canada in the “skilled worker” or “business” category; some 40% of all professional male immigrants leave Canada for good within a decade. Readers will be forgiven for thinking many of the immigrants who come are “citizens of convenience.” But do they know much about Canada’s deep culture? Would they die to defend Canada? Don’t hold your breath. If our own government tells us so many skilled workers and professionals are leaving, who stays?

         Canada is at war just now, and we have had a very proud history of immigrant warriors willing to fight and die to defend us. But is this true since multiculturalism took hold, that is, since we began subsidizing and encouraging immigrants to maintain their original identities? In “Who Fights and Dies for Canada?”[11] Douglas Bland, chairman of Queen’s University’s Defence Studies Program answers the question bluntly: “Young white men, that’s who fights.” Of the 133 Canadian to who died in the recent war against terror (as of January 2010) there were six soldiers from visible minorities. Despite significant efforts since 1982 to attract military personnel from all social groups, visible minorities - now at 16% of Canada’s total population - make up only 3.4% of Canada’s armed forces. But then, how many of Canada’s soldiers, visible or not, are from big cities? Either way, this race-divide further underlines the urban-rural civil war of values to be discussed below. Here is a more interesting question: if Canada went into a direct war today against say, an Islamic country: would our immigrant-citizens from that country fight with Canada, or against? In the past, when we insisted on assimilation and patriotic allegiance, we knew the answer. Today, it remains a question mark. I think all immigrants to Canada should be required to sign a Vow of Citizenship that among many other things would include a statement to the effect that in the case of a conflict or war with their country of origin, they would, if required, unhesitatingly defend and fight for Canada.

 

 


[1] The terminology, as explained by Martin Collacott, is as follows: Canada is the only country in the world that uses the term “refugee-claimant” as an exact equivalent of the term “asylum-seeker” used by other countries (i.e. someone who arrives on your soil and asks to be accepted as a refugee for permanent resettlement). When it comes to the general term “refugee,” our usage is the same as that of other countries: it refers to people who have fled their own country and are living somewhere else until they can either return home or are accepted for permanent resettlement somewhere else– usually with the help of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

 

[2] From an article by James Bissett, former Ambassador and Executive Director of the Canadian Immigration Service,  “The Current State of Canadian Immigration Policy,” p.6, 2008

[3] Robin Banerjee and William B.P. Robson, “Faster, Younger, Richer?: The Fond Hope and Sobering Reality of Immigration’s Impact on Canada’s Demographic and Economic Future,” C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, no. 291, July, 2009.

[4] See Christopher Caldwell, Reflection on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p.47.

[5] Martin Collacott, “Canada’s Immigration Policy: The Need for Major Reform,” in Public Policy Sources, The Fraser Institute, No. 64, 2003. 

[6]He is referring to the story of how if you drop a frog into a pan of boiling water, it will immediately leap out. But if you start with cold water and gradually raise the temperature, the frog will sit until it dies (National Post, Sept. 28, 2009).

[7] Martin Paldam, cited in Herbert Grubel, “Immigration and the Welfare State in Canada: Growing Conflicts, Constructive Solutions” Public Policy Sources No. 84 (Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, September 2005), p.24ff.

[8] See George Borjas, Heaven’s Gate: Immigration Policy and the American Economy (Princeton University Press, paperback, 2001).

[9]  James Bissett, “The Current State of Canadian Immigration Policy,” p.7, 2008. From Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 11F009MIE – 2007198.

[10] Cited in Herbert Grubel, ed., The Effects of Mass Immigration on Canadian Living Standards and Society (Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, 2009), p. 9.

[11] National Post, Nov. 7, 2009

Monday
Jan302017

How I Reversed My Vascular Disease

                      Let me begin with what will strike anyone familiar with the matter of vascular disease as an heretical statement:  I am fairly certain that my vascular disease is in the process of reversing, as the numbers at the end of this brief story seem strongly to indicate. So I want to share this story, because if my personal experience is tested and proven in a sufficiently rigorous way with a large group of subjects, the consequences for the relief of human suffering would be quite astonishing.

                    I first began limping, due to a very painful left calf muscle, at the age of 73 on a beautiful spring day in 2014. I was on the way to our mailbox at the end of a long country driveway when it began, and I thought -  "A charley-horse.  It will heal soon.  No problem."  But it lasted for three months. At one point, I couldn't walk for more than a hundred yards without needing to rest until the pain went away, and for a former Olympic athlete who has kept physically active at a very high level all his life, this was rather disconcerting.

                     After a basic ultrasound scan, I got the bad news that despite a good diet and lifelong participation in endurance sports, I had serious vascular disease in both legs, and I ended up with the top vascular specialist at Toronto General Hospital.  More serious scans followed.  Meanwhile, the limping had stopped, which was a great relief. But the specialist warned: "This is a progressive disease, it will be back." Until then, I was to see him annually for ultrasound monitoring to track the rate of narrowing of my arteries. So I went home a little shocked and depressed, but was soon all over the internet and Google Scholar, looking for good research on this disease in the best medical journals. What I found out, and what I did, in the somewhat desperate hope of at least stalling, if not reversing this condition, amounts to a rather surprising story.

             It is a story about dynamite, the Nobel prize, and a substance produced by the human body called Nitric Oxide (the chemical symbol is NO). Alfred Nobel, who suffered from heart disease, and died of it in 1896, had been informed by his company doctor of the curious fact that of their  many thousands of employees, the hundreds who were being monitored for their angina, had remarked how they felt much better when at work, than at home on the weekends. Nobel's many factories produced dynamite, which is made with nitroglycerin, which emits Nitric Oxide as a gas. The company doctor realized there was some mysterious connection between this gas, which permeated all the factories, and the relief of angina. So he begged his boss to go into the factory and breathe some in daily. But Nobel refused, insisting that nothing so destructive as dynamite could possibly heal the sick, and soon thereafter, he died, aged 63.

                  This interesting and ironic tale is related in a little book by Dr. Louis Ignarro, entitled NO More Heart Disease, to which I was led by my own research in the medical journals . The "NO" in the title is a play on the chemical symbol for Nitric Oxide.  It happened that Drs. Louis J. Ignarro, Robert F. Furchgott, and Ferid Murad were jointly awarded The Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1998, "for their discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system." Why was that important? Because the small amounts of Nitric Oxide that are produced naturally by the human body have the effect of relaxing the lining of arteries and blood vessels. This in turn improves blood flow, lowers blood pressure, alleviates limping, and other clinical symptoms of vascular disease.

               So the hunt was on for ways to boost the body's own supply of Nitric Oxide.  It soon became clear that some natural amino acids such as L-Arginine, which are found in red meats, poultry, fish and dairy products, boost the body's own production of Nitric Oxide.  Experiments have shown that patients put on an intravenous drip of L-Arginine get an immediate boost of Nitric Oxide, which dilates all their blood vessels and arteries. But feeding people pounds of these foods, or hooking them up to an IV drip all day is impractical.

                 So in his book, Dr. Ignarro recommended taking a combination of NO supplements and anti-oxidants in what I call the "Ignarro cocktail." This is a combination of L-Arginine powder (which can be made in a lab. He recommends up to 6 grams/day), L-Citrulline (750 mg/day), and the anti-oxidants Folic Acid and Alpha-Lipoic Acid. So, in a hopeful, but I admit highly skeptical frame of mind, I bought all these powders and pills, and have been taking them daily for two years.

                  Just before I began this solo experiment, within minutes of cycling up a moderate hill, I was getting extremely sharp ischemic pain in the front-thigh areas of both legs (specifically, in the rectis femoris and vastus medialis muscles). This was so painful I actually considered giving up the cycling I have loved for four decades. However, within a month of taking this daily cocktail - and I am speaking now as a natural-born skeptic - I was simply astonished to find that on the same hill, same rate of pedal rotation, same gearing - my intolerable pain had reduced to a bearable level, and nothing I could do by way of more intense effort could produce the former acute pain.  As a clinical fact,  an effect of this magnitude, and so soon, was simply hard to believe. Now I was more determined than ever to stay on the cocktail.

                 After one year of this self-treatment, I underwent the exact same ultrasound scanning as the first year. These scans measure the speed of blood through the arteries. When you pinch a hose, the water speeds up. Similarly, when an artery is narrowed by vascular disease, the blood-flow speeds up, and the speed is expressed in the number of centimeters the blood flows per second. The result is called "Peak Systolic Velocity," or PSV, and to my ever-hopeful but cautious delight, after one year on the Ignarro Cocktail there were some improvements (lowered blood-flow speeds) in parts of my right leg, which had the least disease. This was dismissed as an insignificant random variation by my vascular specialist and his staff. But I thought otherwise, because by this time, after a year of self-treatment, my sharp thigh pains had almost completely vanished from both legs. So I decided to stay on the Cocktail for another year.

                 In December of 2016, more than two years after my first baseline ultrasound, and after 24 months of daily boosting of my Nitric Oxide levels, I had my third ultrasound, and the rather astonishing results shown below popped out of the scanner. The 2016 column for each leg gives the PSV numbers for all ten sites scanned on each leg, and upon seeing them, my jaw dropped. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.  The medical intern who reviewed these results with me was also staring at the results, rather speechless. She couldn't believe her eyes, either.  Significantly lower PSV speeds in 17 of the 20 sites scanned in my legs, for some of them, more than 40%? Might this have resulted from a change in my blood pressure compared to the last scan? But we checked. The blood pressure was exactly the same on both scans. So she ran out of the room to get the vascular specialist. I waited, somewhat stunned. Did I dare believe that the solo experiment on which I had embarked was not just slowing, or stalling, the progress of this terrible disease, but perhaps (could it be?), it was actually reversing it?  Unheard of!

                  My specialist appeared, with an appropriately skeptical scientist's demeanour. Then he studied my PSV numbers, looked at the improvement in 16 of the 20 "wave-form" numbers, and then at the fact that the plaque in my aorta has almost disappeared, and said: "These numbers are significant." He then asked more detailed questions, took notes on what I have been doing, wondered out loud what this might mean, said a solo experiment is of course inconclusive, but still ... "these are great numbers."  Then he was called away to care for another patient. Meanwhile, I went home, wondering if this could be the match that would light a fuse for further research - work that could possibly alleviate the suffering of millions.

                  Vascular disease is due to some combination of lifestyle and genetics. I don't know exactly what. But I will continue with this regime for another year in the hope of further reversal. I will also do my best to spread this news in the hope that others who suffer from vascular disease may benefit. 

                   If anyone reading this has knowledge of vascular disease experts who may be able to help substantiate this experience by way of setting up a controlled experiment, please forward this story to them, and ask them to feel free to contact me if they wish. 

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

                                                          My  Vascular Ultrasounds    

Blood flow is expressed in Peak Systolic Velocity (cm. per sec.). The 2016 column tells the story.  I can't seem to align the columns precisely. But you get the idea ...                             

                                                      Right Leg                                                          Left Leg                      

                                              2014     2015         2016                          2014        2015       2016      

                                                ________PSV_______     %/+-             ________PSV_______        %/+-

common iliac prox.              136        129           148    ( +15)              127        155        135          (-13)

external iliac distal              170        176            134    (-24)                155        164        123          (-24)

common femoral                154         122            152   (+26)                118         120          80         (-33)

profund femor. prox            238          265             64    (-76)                163        160          121       (-24)

superfic. fem. origin            116          116            68    (-41)                   54          65            67        (0)

"                 "      mid          150          109            83    (-24)                   83        118            77       (-35)

"                  "     dist           167           138          50    (-64)                  418       438          353        (-19)

popliteal prox                         93             78          66   (-15)                     61         84             56        (-33)

anterior tibial DP                    57             86           51   (-41)                    42        88             78         (-11)

posterior tibial PT                   43             62              45   (-27)                  33        58             28         (-52)

Overall percentage change:               Right Leg:    (-29.7%)                                             Left Leg: (-24.4%)

Average Decline in PSV, Both Legs combined:                                     (-27%)

* Aorta Scan.  For 2014, the technician reported:  "web-like plaque noted in distal aorta with turbulent     flow."  For 2015, the same technician reported: "Unable to document previous web-like plaque."  For 2016, another technician reported: "only minor plaque"

Comment: This Table of PSV results seems to show that by the time of the 2015 scan, after a year of self-treatment,  the disease was still progressing in the worst (left) leg, but was beginning to reverse in least blocked (right) leg. But ... one year later, the disease seems to be reversing in both legs.

Wave Forms: The Wave Forms also improved, compared to the year prior, in 17 of the 20 sites scanned.

Monday
Jan162017

Tom Wolfe and "The Kingdom of Speech"

                Yesterday, I read Tom Wolfe's 185-page book, The Kingdom of Speech (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016).  It's a curious but apt title for such a book, implying, as becomes apparent by the end, that the human ability to speak: to formulate and utter fine-grained sounds - with voice, lips, tongue, and teeth - is unique, and has produced a spectacular result. All human beings are able to convey to other human beings, complex and wholly abstract concepts, formulas, feelings, present and future intentions, and so much else, and this has made us, well ... kings of the earth. It's our Kingdom now. We are controllers of the whole planet. Even, perhaps, little gods. An animal like no other on earth. The apes? Not even close.

               Without confessing any religious convictions of his own, this fashionable literary giant who wields an acerbic pen with a keen eye for the low and the lofty details of every subject he tackles, has struck a reactionary gong that will reverberate for some time. In a thoroughly-researched manner, with lots of his signature irony, biting sarcasm, and gimlet-eyed detail, Wolfe reveals the reprehensible manner in which the gentleman scholar Charles Darwin and his intellectual buddies contrived to cheat Alfred Wallace of his rightful claim to have been the first to propose the theory of evolution of species by natural selection.

                  Wallace was "a flycatcher" chasing down rare bugs in Malaysia (when he wasn't suffering from malaria), when the theory of "evolution by natural selection", rooted in what he called "survival of the fittest," first entered his brain with such force that he jumped out of his sick-bed and wrote a twenty-page paper outlining the theory. Wolfe writes: it was "the first description ever published of the evolution of the species through natural selection." Wallace immediately sent it to Darwin and asked for his opinion. might Darwin arrange for its publication, if he found it worthy?

              Wallace's paper profoundly shocked Darwin, who had arrived at the same theory, but had never written a word of it. Not one. He realized that Wallace had just possibly "smashed" his life's work. But ... was there still some wiggle-room? He would have to move very fast to claim priority. So, thinking himself too decent for direct deception, he arranged to have two of his aristocratic science buddies write an "abstract" of his theory. Indirect deception might work. Unbeknownst to the lower-class, busy-bee flycatcher Wallace, who was still in Malaysia, these buddy-boys arranged to present Darwin's abstract, along with the Wallace paper, to a meeting of the Linnean society in London, on July 1st, 1858.

                However, it so happened that by tradition papers were always presented to Society members in alphabetical order, and ... as D precedes W in the alphabet, the effect created by having Darwin's abstract presented before the Wallace paper was that Darwin was the first creator of an original theory explaining the evolution of the species. The room gave Three Cheers for Darwin, and a Big Yawn for Wallace, whose paper, delivered only an hour later, already seemed derivative. Darwin had arranged to scoop the scooper, while salvaging his sense of personal decency.

           The first half of  Wolfe's engaging book is about the Darwin-Wallace drama, and about how later in his life, well-published and famous in his own right, Wallace got a revenge of sorts by publically attacking the idea that Darwin went on to develop in his next book The Descent of Man: that humans had evolved from apes. His main objection (and Wolfe's) to Darwin's Man-is-just-an-evolved-ape theory, is that evolution theory cannot explain how natural selection could possibly create something like a human brain (and human speech) that has capacities far beyond anything that simple natural selection and survival might have required at the time. In effect: how could natural selection create the largest and most impressive computational and concept-creating organ in the known universe, when the most complex natural challenge for the survival of the species was ... where to get the next meal?

              In short, Wallace argued (as does Wolfe) that there is an immense - a virtually unbridgeable - gap between the stunted mental capacity of an ape, and the intellectual sophistication of a human being. Oh, sure, many other species - birds, ants, bees, and so on - have their own complex "languages" and systems of communication. But no language other than human language can create symphonies, philosophies, poetry, physics, mathematics, and so on. Why, humans have even developed "metalanguages" - language about language, as no other animal has, or ever could, do. Wallace got a revenge of sorts as a potent public critic of his own, and of Darwin's theories, and went on to become a believer in human spiritual potential.

                   Reacting to this unanswerable challenge to his theory, Darwin just threw up his hands after trotting out a lot of embarrassing guesswork about how humans developed language by mimicking bird-sounds, or from mothers coo-ing to their babies (called "motherese"). The end result of the first half of his book is that Wolfe dismisses all claims of evolution theory to explain human language (and therefore, implicitly, to explain human beings).

           The second half is about Noam Chomsky, and this strikes close to home for me. I began graduate studies in linguistic theory at Stanford University in 1965, the very year Chomsky's ground-breaking book Syntactic Structures was published. To make a long story very short, before Chomsky, a lot of language theory was mired in semantics, in meaning. Let me give an example. In every high school in the world, students learned that a "noun", say, is "the name of a person, place, or thing." But this was confusing. Is love a "thing"? Is a concept, a "thing"? Teachers would gloss over such questions. To teach grammar was to teach a lot of leaky rules and semantic definitions which had far too many exceptions.

              Not Chomsky. He and his colleagues were exploring the possibility of describing human language(s) as "structural" systems. You could eliminate meaning entirely from the description of a language by describing the functions and rules, or laws governing the generation of any utterance acceptable to a competent speaker of a language. You could then speak in terms of "generative" or "transformational grammar", and so on. A "noun" could be described as anything that you could put in an empty functional slot, such as "The _____ went down the road." Whatever it is acceptable to put in the blank slot is a noun. No need for semantics. Everyone was intrigued. Finally, the study of human language would be analytical and scientific. It was intriguing.

               As for grammatical rules? I have just pulled Syntactic Structures off my shelf. On page 15, the 27 year-old Chomsky wrote:

              The notion "grammatical" cannot be identified with "meaningful" or "significant" in any semantic sense. Sentences (1) and (2) below, are equally nonsensical, but any speaker of English will recognize that only the former (1) is grammatical:

1) Colorless green ideas sleep furiously

2) Furiously sleep ideas green colorless

               He closes with this statement: "I think we are forced to conclude that grammar is autonomous and independent of meaning ..." and then proceeds to describe the system he was inventing, all by his lonesome. It was an ingenious attempt to explain how a virtually unconscious system that he assumed was universal in all human beings, is able to generate perfectly acceptable complex sentences that the speaker and the listener may never have heard before. How is that possible? There had to be an "organ" somewhere within each of us - in the brain? - something Chomsky later called a "universal grammar" (UG), a kind of language-generating capacity enabling human beings everywhere, even children as  young as two, to generate unlimited novel but grammatically-acceptable utterances. Else, how can a tiny child who hasn't the slightest inkling of the deeply complex rules of a grammar, do this? Chomsky and his followers have spent more than forty years trying to explain how the "language organ" works. But no one has ever found such an organ.

                Wolfe then proceeds to describe in some detail how an American linguist named Everett, a former Chomsky student, spent thirty years studying a Brazilian tribe called the Pirahã, whose language shares almost nothing with other human languages. Everett concluded that there is no universal language organ at all. Language has nothing to do with evolution. It seems to be just a cultural tool that man has invented, time and again, to create meaning. Wolfe concludes that language must be just a mnemonic system, an artifact - "the mother of all mnemonics" - just a sign-system humans invent repeatedly, using sounds and words, to create meaning.  

                    Well, in May of 2014, we learn, Chomsky and a half-dozen of the world's most brilliant language theorists, gave up their hunt for the language organ. I was unaware. In a ten-thousand word essay entitled, "The Mystery of Language Evolution," Wolfe says, they finally ran up "a white flag of abject defeat and surrender ... after forty straight years of failure."

                     Here is the authors' joint statement about this failure:

Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved. We show that, to date, (1) studies of nonhuman animals provide virtually no relevant parallels to human linguistic communication, and none to the underlying biological capacity; (2) the fossil and archaeological evidence does not inform our understanding of the computations and representations of our earliest ancestors, leaving details of origins and selective pressure unresolved; (3) our understanding of the genetics of language is so impoverished that there is little hope of connecting genes to linguistic processes any time soon; (4) all modeling attempts have made unfounded assumptions, and have provided no empirical tests, thus leaving any insights into language's origins unverifiable. Based on the current state of evidence, we submit that the most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever, with considerable uncertainty about the discovery of either relevant or conclusive evidence that can adjudicate among the many open hypotheses (https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/12406903).

                     Frankly, I think they gave up too soon. The fact that humans everywhere create complex rule-bound linguistic structures may not point to any dedicated biological organ of the brain. But it strongly implies some universal human capacity that is hard-wired, as they say, to produce universal language structures. Another professor of mine at Stanford, Joseph Greenberg, was a language typologist who did a lot of field-work, and wrote a great deal about "Language Universals". Only some factor or hard-wired capacity common to all humans could explain the existence of universals.

                     Be that as it may, having deftly eviscerated both Darwin and Chomsky, with the plain truth that neither was able to explain the human capacity for speech, Wolfe, ends by concluding that language-production is still a mysterious imperium. Standing in admiration of the impressive towering skyscrapers visible from his window, wraps up with the thought: "To say that animals evolved into man is like saying that Cararra marble evolved into Michelangelo's David."

[Note: Readers who wish to study an extended scientific critique of evolution theory, will enjoy "The Top Ten Scientific Problems With Biological and Chemical Evolution," by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, available at http://www.discovery.org/a/24041]              

Monday
Jan022017

Mill's Limits on Liberty

This is the last blog-installment taken, slightly revised, from chapter Eight, "The Road to Hyperdemocracy," in The Trouble With Democracy (Stoddart, 2001, and BPS Books, 208).

 

The Nuisance Factor                                                           

                  What is regrettable about our modern notion of freedom is that it so largely and exclusively rests on Mill’s simple principle of liberty, while conveniently ignoring his own clearly-stated limitations. In these, he confronted the difference between opinion and action head on, as well as the matter of nuisance. Mill declared that “No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act” (3), and more strongly: that “the liberty of the individual must thus far be limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.” (3).

                  Mill’s many limitations on individual freedom are conveniently forgotten because they are themselves a nuisance to the libertarian spirit. For by right and custom the definition of what is mischief and who is a nuisance is controlled largely by the offended party, not by the offender, and thus the idea of nuisance constitutes an external control of personal liberty. In admitting this, Mill throws the power to define the limits of freedom to those outside the “circle” of freedom and privacy he has struggled so hard to draw around each of us. For example, he says that to shout in public that private property is robbery is an act that must go unpunished, for it is but private opinion. But to preach this to an excited mob, is punishable. Now if we think of university radicals as an excitable mob, this rule alone would put thousands of socialist-minded university professors in at least a figurative jail. Such limitations give us a strong sense of the extreme abstractness and narrowly-defined privacy latent in Mill’s notion of freedom, and how correspondingly powerful his faith had to be that properly protected, even such a small circle of freedom for almost everyone would lead,  via his Talking Cure,  to the spontaneous goodness and perfection of human society. In the sense that modern egalitarian democracy has crowded out the guarded liberalism with which his sense of freedom was originally associated,  however, it has almost inverted Mill’s limitation: we now include almost every form of action and personal behaviour as a protected freedom, but roundly and publicly scorn and officially punish the wrong opinions. Girls in Ontario may walk bare-breasted if they wish, but may not make a “sexist” remark. As one wit has pointed out,  it is now legal for someone to masturbate on stage, but only if he or she is paid at least the minimum legal wage.

                   Truth to tell, the few concrete cases Mill cites are easy ones, and we would commonly agree they ought not to impinge on our freedom. He ridicules such things as religious discrimination against eating pork (by Muslims), or against practicing other than Roman Catholic worship (the Spaniards), the wealth one-upmanship prevalent in the democracies (America), the property prohibitions or pay-equity demands of the socialists (everywhere), the laws against drinking booze (in Canada and the USA), and so on.

                       Of greater interest, however,  is Mill’s complaint against the idea that there is a “social right” to control any behaviour of others that we deem might result in an expense to the rest of us. Before the advent of the democratic welfare state he had a good point, but today when this is the most common form of governance the behaviour of everyone else - their medical, welfare, social service, and education costs, for example - indeed are paid for by all, and thus must concern all. It is a great irony that this notion of social right he defined as “far more dangerous” than any other interference with liberty, and yet we can fairly say that the modern democratic state has arisen largely to enable the practice of Mill’s theory of individual freedom. In other words we have privatized morality, just as he demanded, with the result that we now have a heavy-handed regulatory welfare state because there is no other public guide for collective moral behaviour.

                      In sexual matters, Mill was in some matters the ultimate libertarian, in others draconian. He sanctioned polygamy as a harmless institution, and supported divorce at the choice of either party (no requirement for mutual consent). He never entertained the criticisms that polygamy favours the wealthy and the strong who can garner all the best women, or that unilateral divorce is a violation of the marital contract that injures the observant spouse deeply, and thus a mockery of a true marriage contract that exposes helpless children to gratuitous adversity. Yet on the heels of this invitation to abandonment of spouses and children, he advocated forbidding marriage unless the parties can show proof of financial means to support a family, and “compulsory labour” for those who refuse to support their children. He called the mere act of having children in countries threatened with overpopulation “a serious offense” against all those who labour, because those children grow up to compete for limited jobs. He wanted to make “a certain minimum of general knowledge” for all children “virtually compulsory,” but did not want government education. So he would fine or extract labour (a form of corvée slavery) from fathers if any child, after taking a state exam for proficiency was shown not able to read. In place of Big Brother, we are to have Big John. And because “trade is a social act,” selling anything sexual - even an idea, presumably - and certainly selling or renting such things as pornography, he would severely censure. Trade in general he would highly regulate as well as the workplace itself to protect workers and the public. It now appears that Mill simply approves laws he likes and disapproves those he doesn’t, and that no “principle” is at work at all. But we must look deeper. His selection principle is almost identical to the primitive, or pre-lapsarian Christian morality imagined to have existed in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.  All are free. All are equal. All are sinless. All have loving and spontaneous selves. All are capable of experiencing the divine within (for Mill, the equivalent is his quasi-divine liberty). All struggle against the “despotism” of authority in the form of Custom and moral opinion. What he gives us is yet another iteration of the old 14th. century worldview of the Adepts of the Free Spirit, though he has camouflaged his updated version with such Romantic terms as “originality,” “spontaneity,” “individuality,” “progress,” and “human nature.”

 

Coercive Freedom

                      Mill includes two very interesting cases to justify his arguments. He says we are justified in interfering in freedom in certain ways such as by suddenly tackling a man who is about to cross an unsafe bridge. He argues that although liberty consists in “doing what one desires,” the man obviously does not desire to fall into the river (5). But is his justification true? Let us disregard for the moment the ancient argument that we become more free not by expressing, but by denying certain desires to which we are enslaved. The psychological and moral manoeuvre Mill has invoked here is the same technique of  Substitute Judgement that we saw has played such a role in all totalitarian political movements in the name of freedom and well-being of the people. For the endangered man’s own judgement, Mill says we legitimately may substitute our own, and then interfere with the man’s liberty for his own good. After utterly and confidently rejecting a totalitarian freedom of the people, he opts, so to speak,  for a totalitarian freedom of the individual.

                      Again, we wonder why he feels it is alright to use force to stop a man from injuring himself physically by falling into a river, but not from injuring himself or his character psychologically or morally in many other ways by falling into addiction to cocaine, or alcohol, or gambling, or stealing, or pornography, or any other vice. In anticipation of this objection, he advocates a “registry” and lots of regulations for such things as dangerous drugs. He also advocates heavy taxation of all stimulants. Perhaps most interesting and vague of all, he appears to invite myriad state regulatory and police actions by proposing that society use “antecedent precautions” to ward off anticipated dangers to itself. This leaves very little room for liberty as he defines it.

 

All Commitments Are Forms of Slavery

                   Perhaps the most interesting case of all is his claim that a free man cannot sell himself as a slave because in doing so he would “abdicate his liberty,” thereby denying himself any future use of it, and so would no longer be free. The principle of freedom, he says, “cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom to be allowed to alienate his freedom” (5). This requires comment from many angles. If, according to his first principle it is illegitimate for someone to interfere with our self-regarding freedom as we form our own plan of life, then it is simply not true that we cannot freely choose to be unfree. For example, millions of ordinary people choose to limit their freedom every day. They choose many strict and legally enforceable moral, financial, marital, and employment bonds that limit them in hundreds of ways. An extreme instance of choosing to be unfree is the criminal who commits a crime so that he may be sent back to jail, thus choosing to enslave himself. The reality is that at the moment of choosing to sell ourselves into slavery, we are free, and fully aware that for a certain period we will not be as physically free as we are now. As mentioned before, some ancient peoples, sometimes whole cities voluntarily agreed to enslave themselves for a period of time to purchase protection, avoid war, or make reparations. The argument that freedom cannot be surrendered is false. And to reply that even if it can be surrendered, this ought not to be allowed by law is to prefer one form of enslavement to another. Clearly, Mill maintains his position not out of logic, but from ideological necessity, because for him to admit that we can freely alienate our freedom would be to admit that human bondage can be freely assumed by contract, and even transferred. There must be another reason Mill fought so hard to bar the argument that we cannot surrender our freedom.

 

Absolute Freedom Means No Moral Commitments

                   A good explanation is that freedom and slavery both relate directly to morality and contract. Mill needed to sustain the Romantic argument for his principle of absolute personal freedom as the fundamentally inalienable moral condition for all moral action. For him and his ilk, authenticity means that all personal and social bonds may be freely assumed and freely revocable, or they cannot be bonds. In other words, the chain of argument for all freedom radicals is that morality requires freedom, and freedom requires revocability. The key issue here is that for freedom radicals human bonds are primarily a product of the will, whereas for the true conservative, they are primarily a product of personal, social, or moral obligations that transcend and are usually prior to the will. Hence for the radical, contracts must be honoured as viable only so long as all parties continue to support them in feeling and spirit. But if any party to other than a financial contract loses interest or becomes disaffected, Mill says the contract ought to be freely revocable (5).

                 We recall that Rousseau, another, albeit very different sort of freedom radical, had said the same thing. Mill does not say contracts can be revoked only provided we have grounds of honour, or a breach of duty, but for what surely seems the most frivolous of reasons; namely, that  “the feelings of both parties” may no longer be “in harmony”! (5). But to Mill and his kind, this is far from a frivolous motive, for to be an unwilling partner in a contract means to be a slave to the will of another party, and hence to have lost one’s personal freedom as a moral agent. Such a person is deemed to be no longer human, and falls immediately back into the Gnostic darkness of ignorance. That is why Mill - and all similar radicals today - attacks the institution of marriage so forcefully: a disaffected spouse becomes simultaneously a slave not only to the will of the other spouse, but also to the moral authority of society.

 

Spontaneous Democracy of The Moment

                   This relates directly to the language of democracy and revolution. Whether for Rousseau or Mill, a healthy democracy is one in which all laws are revocable by the free will of the people at any moment. The people must not be bound by laws other than of their own making that express their immediate will. They must not be bound even by the laws of a prior legislature of the people, or else they enslave themselves to past wills. This profoundly radical, anti-conservative view of the core meaning of moral freedom and slavery has lain at the heart of the conflict between liberals and conservatives from time immemorial.

                      Radical democrats see the precise moment of choice, whether for individuals or whole peoples as a mystical moment of true freedom which loses its purity as soon as it is encumbered. The moment of freedom is a character-altering, transforming  instant that distinguishes a free person or people from slaves - or mere ape-like automatons. That is, freedom appears - and can disappear as suddenly - in the form of a personal revelation, and is experienced and sustained most intensely, in its mystical purity, so to speak, if all obligations and contracts remain revocable by either party. In this view, only continuous revocability makes freedom authentic. As if to please Mill, and just like those first Jacobins, we have ourselves wholly restructured the institution of marriage, that most intensely personal as well as wholly social “contract,” to satisfy this claim of freedom. Rather, we have eliminated marriage in its original sense, for today it is impossible in many Western democracies for an individual legally to bind him- or herself for life in marriage. Such modern democratic radicalism is a form of anti-sacrament aimed at emptying the spiritual content from human relations in order to advance the larger goal of atomizing society by privatizing and secularizing morality. The French Jacobins who passed the first no-fault divorce law in history, merely beat us to it and set the pattern. A high official of divorce during the French Revolution proclaimed that “the torches of Hymen are lit again for you on the altars of liberty; marriage is no longer a yoke, a heavy chain; it is no more than what it ought to be - the fulfilling of Nature’s grand design, the payment of a pleasant debt which every citizen owes to the patrie [the nation].”[i] Sadly pondering this, a French actress of the time accurately declared that now “a republican marriage is the sacrament of adultery,” and her characterization of this formerly Christian sacrament would have pleased any radical democrat.

                       The conservative argues the contrary. True wisdom, as Burke so wisely put it, follows both nature, and human nature, which is “wisdom without reflection, and above it.”[ii] And so, as he put it, if a society is to have  meaning, it must be as an enduring  partnership “between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”[iii] Society is formed by the living history of the whole people, a slowly-evolving organism sustained by the past, restraining the present, and speaking to the future. If we cannot truly bind ourselves, as individuals or nations, honouring past obligations and future commitments, which means a willingness to limit our freedom greatly under specified conditions, then true obligation and commitment are impossible. If true freedom and democracy are to mean the end of all binding promises, then they also mean the beginning of wholesale distrust and social chaos. We see now that Mill’s argument about slavery, like so many of the others he used,  had a “logic” that was not properly logical. It was ideological; that is, wholly dependent on the self-serving nature of his underlying assumptions. As for most of us, his logic was a mask for his politics.

 

 Some Conclusions

                                          In conclusion, we have seen evidence in his own words that contrary to the way in which he is normally presented, Mill was far from the coldly logical utilitarian rationalist. Though ostensibly in search of an individualist solution to the problems of collectivism, Mill’s alternative surprises, even shocks us because it rests on a notion of the individual Self every bit as fanciful, Romantic, and above all absolutist as Rousseau’s notion of the corporate Self. By now it would appear that the whole edifice of Western democracy emerged in the 20th Century as a struggle between these two forms of political mysticism or,  if we prefer, as a war between opposing political religions. Mill appears at first to have won this war, for the language of freedom as articulated by him, then developed, transformed,  and applied selectively by subsequent generations, now wholly dominates our public discourse. But we will see that Rousseau has had a revenge of sorts.

                    In the modern democratic dialogue the essential historical tension between freedom and order has become increasingly disconnected from the knowing will of the whole people, or from any sense they might have of themselves as a moral community obedient to a higher good, or law, or ideal. The modern tension is instead increasingly between the satisfaction of unencumbered individual wants and rights on the one hand, and powerful bureaucratic forces steered by political, academic, and legal elites, on the other. The supposed role of the State is now to ensure that we can each satisfy ourselves as long as we don’t hurt others in the same pursuit. The traditional forms of social, religious, or moral authority that aim to direct or control our wishes are deemed illegitimate, even a residual aspect of physical or moral slavery. We may rightly suspect a subterfuge here, for nothing is more pleasing to the modern State than the gradual weakening of traditional forms of authority that the State may just as gradually replace.

                Accordingly, the ancient dualistic metaphor of the Self as the site of an internal war between good and evil whose prize is the soul, is now thoroughly discredited, even scandalous in high society. The Sinful Man model has been deliberately trashed, not because proven wrong, but because it is unflattering to the ideal of the transparently good authentic Self, to the Sinless Man model we now prefer. The central terms of the modern struggle between freedom and order, then, are no longer the people and God, or personal virtue and vice, or even civic virtue and corruption, but rather, Self and State. The definition of the good life, of civic as well as personal virtue, has passed altogether from the public to the private realm. Morality itself has been privatized without the slightest public notice for the simple reason that it is no longer officially required. Accordingly, moral concepts of good and evil have become antiquated, replaced by sociological and psychiatric terms of therapy. The view of the pure and good Self struggling to be free from an oppressive and imperfect world has replaced the largely Christian view of an imperfect or impure Self (or soul) tormented by weakness and corruption within God’s good creation. In historical terms, this transposition of the two opposing historical Models of the Self has been rather sudden, and it clearly signals the re-emergence of the ancient Gnostic pride that has never entirely disappeared. Once having settled on the conceit that evil originates outside the Self, believers eagerly adopt the logical and moral imperative to reform all of society, if not the whole world. Of ourselves, no reform is necessary except the casting off of all limits to perfect self-expression. Modern, so-called “expressive individualism” is our flippant name for this venture. To foster maximum self-expression, the traditional state aiming at virtue has been dislodged by the welfare state as provider of goods and security as well as social therapist and educator, with enormous tutelary and fiscal power over the lives of supposedly free individuals in search of their own private good.

           All of this has been the condition precedent necessary for the resolution of the ideological conflict into which virtually all the Western democracies, each at its own historical pace, have mutated. That resolution I have come to call "libertarian socialism," a regime-type which is far from perfectly libertarian or perfectly socialist, but which contains enough of each of these once-contradictory systems to say it is a practical blend of the two. This unique political form has been arranged, and the contradiction avoided, by splitting the body politic into two halves: the private body of the citizen, and the public body of the state. A near absolute liberty is granted to each citizen with respect to whatever the sexual and bodily desires they may will for themselves within the law - abortion, homosexual practices, transgender rights, easy divorce, wall-to-wall pornography, gay marriage, legal prostitution, and so on - while at the same time a universal egalitarian state establishes a high general taxation, and punitive regulations and laws, governing the universal provision of whatever goods and services to all citizens equally that such a government deems the right of the state to control and provide.

               Those interested may follow the further development of this unique political and moral mutation in The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree (Encounter Books, 2015).

 


[i] The anti-sacramental theme is treated roundly in Thomas Fleming, “The Sacraments of Anti-Christ,” in Chronicles (December, 1996).

 

[ii] Edmund Burke, Reflections On The Revolution In France ( London: Penguin Classics, 1986), p.119

 

[iii]  Burke, Reflections, p.195.

 

Friday
Dec302016

Mill's "Good" - Only a Personal Good

Only A Personal Good

                   The central message sent by Mill to the modern democracies has been his insistence that we must be left free for “framing the plan of our life to suit our character” (1), and that “the only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way” (1), as long as we do not harm or impede others in the same pursuit. Volumes could be written on these distinctions. But let us cut to the chase. The modern democracies took this directive from Mill as a sanction for the supposedly “neutral” state, or “procedural republic,” in which a framework of law is established that is supposed to be neutral as to the ends of society. But as mentioned before, this has been a deception, for this supposedly neutral environment has unleashed an egalitarian-democratic war against traditional morality and civil society in the name of the progressive welfare state, as we shall see.

                   Even worse, if Mill meant something more than satisfying our appetites and desires, and it is certain he did, then he invites paradox. For the “good” John aims for beyond his simple pleasures in life may readily conflict with the  “good” of Mary whenever their ideas are converted into actions. Further, how is it possible to have convictions to act for the good without having complementary convictions as to the bad? Can the good possibly mean anything without its opposite? And if we are to be free to “unite” in like-minded associations, and to “express” individually or together our ideas, is it possible to “pursue” these things without repudiating the bad in order to protect the good? Finally, if society is but a mass of freely-choosing men and women acting under the principle of utility, does this not mean they are required to safeguard the general happiness with force, if necessary? And if so, who decides what that happiness is?

 

“Multitudes of Promising Intellects”

         Throughout On Liberty we sense an over-weaning and frankly irritating interest in “intellectuals,”  “genius,” and the “higher” intellect, with Mill persistently asserting a direct connection between certain knowledge of the good, goodness itself, and higher intelligence (to be supplied by a lot more “education”). Notwithstanding his snobbism and obvious preference for the values of his own class and kind, however, it is clear that Mill was obliged to believe in the higher intellect of the authentic and free self in order to make his theory work, just as he was obliged to believe in higher, better, and more enlightened stages of society. More freedom leads to more expression of genius and this filters down to society (hence his preference for representative democracy, rather than the direct sort). He distrusted uneducated people. But more importantly, without a belief in intellectual, moral, and social  “progress,” Mill would have deprived himself of any “good” for his newly freed individuals to “pursue.”

                       So he worried deeply about “the multitudes of promising intellects combined with timid characters who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought” (2) - lest they be accused of being “irreligious or immoral.” Of course we wonder how they can have bold and vigorous thoughts if they have such timid characters, poor things. No matter. Much is revealed in Mill’s concern. He despises the weight of religious and moral opinion on the free intellect, and so rejects such opinion out of hand, but he immediately replaces them with his own moral vision of the goods of natural reason, social and intellectual progress, and “truth,” all of which he believes spring into existence with freedom.

                  As for the connection between genius and politics? He asserts that no government of whatever sort could ever rise above mediocrity “except in so far as the sovereign Many have let themselves be guided ... by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted and instructed One or Few. The initiation of all wise or noble things, comes and must come from individuals; generally at first from some one individual. The honour and glory of the average man is that he is capable of following that initiative; that he can respond internally to wise and noble things [he means can “vibrate” with them, in the Romantic sense], and be led to them with his eyes open” (3). Implied in this opinion is Mill’s philosophy of democratic rule by chosen representatives, individuals who “stand on the higher eminences of thought,” who have experienced the stirring of the authentic self and have been led by nature and their own genius and eccentricity to lead others. This is the Romantic root of his democratic snobbism. He requires such individuals to be not morally “better” than the mass (which, awkwardly, would imply the imposition of their views on others), but different, nonconformist, and “eccentric,” which to him and all other Romantics is a code word for ... better. He directly equates the amount of eccentricity in society with the amount of moral courage, revealing again his Gnostic view of reality. Mankind wallows in the darkness of ignorance, but individual freedom begins the process of enlightenment. Some are naturally brighter than others and once freed must lead society to ever higher levels of perfection. This is his secular version of Calvin’s Elect. Justice on earth arises spontaneously from the actual process of intellectual freedom in which false views are purged, life is simplified, and truth emerges victorious.  

 

Mill’s Dialectic: Truth and Harmony From Dialogue

                Many of the most moving and spirited passages in On Liberty are songs of faith in praise of  “truth.” What truth? Mill cannot say. For him, truth is not eternal or established, or a moral ideal, or a settled custom or opinion, but a process that may yield any number of results according to the situation. He insists truth must arise from the process of his Talking Cure in which all positions, especially those of the minority are considered in their fullest diversity. Then truth will spontaneously appear, and not otherwise, because “wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument” (2). Thus did Mill clearly articulate the great secular dream of Western liberal democracy: “Truth in the great practical concerns of life,  is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites ...” (2) [italics mine]. In short, truth is not established, nor fixed in advance, nor written in law or religion. Rather it is an ever fresh creation, and Mills’ faith is that it will always be found provided absolute individual freedom is present. He did not seek the truth of an abstract General Will,  as did Rousseau, but a truth that arises as an original result of a dialogical balancing process, and cannot be known in advance. Needless to say, such a truth will always be “good” because of the freedom of the participants and its form of manufacture, and this is how Mill removes the need for any transcendent moral standards. Because we are free, then on all disputed questions “the truth depends on a balance to be struck between two sets of conflicting reasons” (2). Which is to say that truth is never absolute, but always a compromise. Combining? Balancing? Reconciling? Accordingly, Mill articulated the great modern liberal turn away from telos, or ends, to praxis, or process; from the goal sought, to the seeking; for at least at this present stage of “an imperfect state of the human mind” (2), there is no fixed destination for human beings, only a journey.

                      Yet at the end of this process, in what history must judge as an astonishingly naive passage in view of the horrors of the following liberal-democratic age, Mill sees his own vision of the New Jerusalem, for “as mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase: and the well-being of mankind may almost be measured by the number and gravity of the truths  which have reached the point of being uncontested” (2) [italics mine]. Here, progress and truth march arm in arm toward final social harmony, simplicity, and human well-being. Then, in a movement of mind that again reveals the underlying dualistic framework animating him, he warns us that “the cessation, on one question after another, of serious controversy, is one of the necessary incidents of the consolidation of opinion; a consolidation as salutary in the case of true opinion, as it is  dangerous and noxious when opinions are erroneous”(2) [italics mine]. For Mill, then, truth springs solely from the right process, and error from obstructing that process. It is the revelation of individual liberty that opens the door to authenticity and true choice-making. This necessitates the repudiation of all prior custom, opinion, and religious or moral standards, which leaves us with the collision, balancing, and reconciling of authentic personal views. This process of its very nature produces human progress, well-being, and the blessed cessation of conflict. Though he is very careful to add that even progress does not produce a final truth. It only subsititutes one incomplete truth for another that is “more wanted” in the circumstances. So in short form, the process is as follows:

individual freedom > authenticity > choice-making > collision of opinions > purgation of error > situational truth > a higher individual freedom (and around again).

                       Having said all this, if Mill were ever to return, he would surely flee in terror from the results of his handiwork: the modern view, first that all “values” are equally “true,” and then (its certain consequence) the repudiation of the basic concept of truth itself as oppressive and “hegemonic.” He would especially have reviled the way so-called post-modern intellectuals depict all truth-claims as a camouflage for personal or class tyranny. In this sense he was the last liberal thinker.  

 

The “Choice” Mantra

               The rejection of transcendent truth, custom, and tradition as unitary sources of value in favour of the Romantic ideal of the authentic and spontaneous Self meant that meaning would no longer have a discoverable source outside us, but millions of internal sources in the individual choices of free, truth-creating human beings. In a striking sentence Mill dictates the terms of such a world, in which “the only unfailing and permanent source of improvement is liberty, since by it there are as many possible independent centres of improvement as there are individuals” (3).  In this sense Mill was a type of existentialist thinker. Man’s essence does not precede him, is the implication; the meaning of life and of the universe is not, as most classical thinkers and Christian theologians have taught, something external to be discovered by patient searching. Rather, it is created by ourselves: for “the human faculties of perception, judgement, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice” (3). This he feels so extremely that he actually says that “he who does anything because it is custom, makes no choice ... he who lets the world ... choose his own plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation” (3).

                    The strength and vituperation of Mill’s objections to any form of imitation - which we saw above in his dislike of Classical poetry and art - touches his every judgement on politics and morality. The bitterly emotional force of his arguments against Custom are likely rooted in a personal rejection of his own robotic education at the hands of his domineering father. As a result of his crisis he turned away from the power of all received opinion to the power of the Self and free choice. The Self became his new lamp and source of truth, and the foundation of all social perfection, the most important focus of which is man himself. For, he says, “it really is of importance not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the works of man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in importance is surely man himself” (3) [italics mine]. Now this is the sort of comment for which Mill has been faulted as contradicting himself. For if we are to be absolutely free as individuals, why would we be constrained to perfect anything at all, whether ourselves, or “man himself?” Nevertheless, Mill insists on the evil of all imitative men, whom he labels derisively,  as “automatons in human form” - and on the spontaneous goodness of the free chooser. His core belief is that a society of free choosers will progressively become perfect of its own accord. It is difficult to imagine a more euphoric, utopian, and essentially rudderless vision.

                       Needless to say, the ideal of free choice as the sole foundation of human authenticity and goodness is a potentially dangerous ideal because merely choosing something cannot make it good. For example, we may choose to lie, steal, and cheat. Whole societies may and do choose to oppress, liquidate, or make unjustifiable war on other human beings. There is obviously no necessary connection between choosing and goodness.

                    The contrasting, and deeply conservative view of freedom is that we are fortunate to learn from the wisest and best of our kind. The history of any civilization is a kind of process of filtration through which cumulative wisdom is available in the form of useful customs, laws, and traditions that constrain us to act in a civilized fashion, and what makes us civilized ought not to be subjected to re-examination every minute. Automated behaviours such as shaking hands, apologizing when we sneeze, getting up to help the elderly or weak, expressing gratitude for kindness, and the like, are things without which even the simplest daily transactions would be impossible. It is largely the inherited and predictable decencies that enable us to behave freely as a people by avoiding constant friction and bewilderment, or second-guessing every motive, and not the ridiculous and impractical idea that we should re-examine and then choose or reject each act anew as an original personal invention. In short, the civilizing process is indelibly historical. Despite this, a jaded and seemingly resentful Mill argues that  “the despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that disposition to aim at something better than customary, which is called, according to circumstances, the spirit of liberty, or that of progress or improvement” (3:595, italics mine). We see again that Mill’s case advances only by a relentless combination of abstractness with the euphoric hope of perfection.

                   This is precisely the revolutionary implication of modern ethics that underlies our democratic politics. The individual as the ultimate source of value has become the common standard since Mill. Modern hyperdemocracy , by which activist courts commonly read meanings into abstract Bills of Rights and Charters in favour of a hypothetical individual deemed to possess democratic “rights,” with nary a mention of any obligations, rests on this notion. And yet we know that the use of the word “ethics” is absurd if there is no social or morally constraining context, and that the moral ends of society cannot be decided by individuals acting alone. Mill was also clearly aware of this conundrum, and so in place of traditional ethics he substituted the naturally good freely-choosing individual, investing him with ideals of an abstract “liberty” and “progress” which combine to act as a continuous and inexhaustible moral horizon.   

 

Mill’s Moralism and The “Inconveniences”               

                Despite everything he claims, in Chapter I of On Liberty, Mill seems to recant in Chapter IV, or at least offers so many caveats that he well earns his reputation as a sometimes contradictory and confusing thinker. He once again attempts to draw an imaginary line between individual and social behaviour, stating that “to individuality should belong the part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to society the part which chiefly interests society” (4). This phrasing sets up a tug-of-war between the individual and society because it leaves the definition of each sphere of interest to each party. So we expect him to propose a contractual arrangement to define the spheres and how they relate. Instead, Mill surprises us by rejecting the Lockean notion that society is based on a contract, declaring that we all owe society a return for the benefits received, that we are all “bound to observe a certain line of conduct” toward each other, vaguely defined as avoiding injury to each other’s interests (which by “tacit understanding” may be considered rights), must bear our share in defending society, and so on. Then, in what seems an abrupt about-face after so many pages spent scorning coercive social and moral opinion, he says that if the acts of an individual are “hurtful” to others or lack “due consideration for their welfare,” the offender “may be justly punished by opinion,” though not by law (4).

                      Now here is Mill saying that public opinion is in fact a useful coercive moral force, and warns that we utterly misunderstand his book if we think he means “that human beings have no business with each other’s conduct in life, and that they should not concern themselves about the well-doing, or the well-being of one another, unless their own interest is involved” (4). Then, again seemingly in contradiction to his strict prohibition of moral meddling in the lives of others, he adds, “there is a need of a great increase of disinterested exertion to promote the good of others” (4) [italics mine]. The essence of his message is that to get the horse to water we may use lots of carrots, but no sticks, and he calls this “disinterested benevolence.” What is interesting, of course, is to know how we can promote the good of another unless we have a pretty firm idea of what it is, and therefore of the bad that threatens to prevent us from obtaining it. Mill then informs us that “human beings owe each other help to distinguish the better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid the latter.” People should, he feels, be “ever stimulating each other to increased exercise of their higher faculties, and increased direction of their feelings and aims towards wise instead of foolish, elevating instead of degrading, objects and contemplations” (4) [italics mine].

              Clearly Mill proposes a moral community in which we all have a duty to encourage the good and discourage the bad, but in which all are nevertheless free to choose their own plan of life and must be left alone in things that concern only themselves. Having said this, he allows that without oppressing another’s individuality, we may nevertheless openly avoid his company and advise others to do the same if we think he will have a pernicious effect on them; we may give preference to others over him (that is, actively discriminate against him) in his job-seeking (though should not do so if a job might help him). A bad person, in short,  might “suffer very severe penalties at the hands of others for faults which directly concern only himself ,” but Mill assures us he suffers penalties only as “spontaneous consequences of the faults themselves,” and not because they are “purposely inflicted on him for the sake of punishment.” Then, in a most extraordinary passage,  he reveals his personal moral requirements of others. He warns that “a person who shows rashness, obstinacy, self-conceit - who cannot live within moderate means - who cannot restrain himself from hurtful indulgences - who pursues animal pleasures at the expense of those of feeling and intellect - must expect to be lowered in the opinion of others ...” (4). He calls these moral punishments “the inconveniences” of such bad behaviour (all of them rooted in Christian morality, we might add) and says that they are “inseparable from the unfavourable judgement of others.” Now I ask, what is public opinion, and the social and moral coercion against which Mill has spoken so sternly, if not a set of attitudes “inseparable from the unfavourable judgement of others”?

                       As if now squeezed by his own retractions, Mill closes by giving a number of petty examples of behaviour in which we ought not to interfere because they purportedly concern only the individual. Gambling, drunkenness, incontinence (inability to control oneself or one’s appetites), idleness, and uncleanliness are foremost. Mill agrees that such behaviours may affect society in a minor degree, but a person may only be restrained from these things if he has violated a “distinct and assignable obligation” to someone else, or to society at large. Otherwise, let him live as he chooses.

                      It is extraordinary how we may want to agree with Mill in order to defend our freedom, and yet how easily we may find arguments against the cases he gives. Gambling in one’s own home or that of a friend, he says, is fine, but public gambling must never be allowed. Those pursuing such vices ought to be “compelled to conduct their operations with a certain degree of mystery and secrecy” (5) so that no one knows about them except the users. That is the best society can do. Drunkenness must be allowed, but never in a person who has been an unruly drunk. Idleness is no one’s concern, of course, unless the idler falls onto the welfare rolls and takes our money. Uncleanliness is not a problem either, we may suppose, unless the rats in your neighbour’s uncollected garbage visit your home or the drunk asleep on the bus-seat beside you reeks of vomit.

                     Mill covers off objections to his liberty principle by admitting that “whenever there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual, or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law” (4:italics mine).  But it would seem that in permitting society (or a majority?) to assess the risk of damage as a criterion he destroys most of his prior argument, and indeed he does say that “if society is of the opinion” that social or legal punishment is necessary for its protection, then it is legitimate (5). In this vein, and somewhat surprisingly given the general nature of the topic, Mill includes as offenses against others, everything which is a “violation of good manners,” such as the many “offenses against decency” on which he says “it is unnecessary to dwell” (5) -  because all may be rightfully prohibited.

 

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 42 Next 6 Entries »