Category Archives: Political People & Politics

The Golden Age

“Creating the future is a frightening enterprise, especially when we do it without any awareness of the past. I am amazed how little we actually care to examine past human experience. It’s like hunting in a wood full of bears, ignoring all the disarticulated skeletons of dead hunters, and confidently proclaiming that bears don’t really exist. They belong to the past!”—Joseph Gresham Miller

Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_The_Golden_Age_-_Google_Art_ProjectDo you dream primarily of what is, what once was, what could have been, or what could be? Your answer to this question tells me almost everything I need to know about you. Political conservatives locate their Golden Age somewhere in the not-too-distant past (e.g., the 1950s), whilst religious fundamentalists locate it somewhere in the unsullied early history of their movement (e.g., the Early Church for Pentecostals, the Pious Predecessors for Salafists). Progressives and starry-eyed idealists locate it somewhere in a future purged of the sins of the present, whilst Romantics locate it in a past purged of modernity, a pastoral place that looks a whole lot like The Shire described by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Most environmentalists seem to locate it in some eco-friendly pre-modern past wherein we all lived in happy harmony with sweet Mother Earth. Computer geeks locate it in a shiny future replete with flying cars, robots, and killer apps, whilst defenders of the status quo, apologists of the present like Steven Pinker, insist that we’re living in a Golden Age right now. The outliers, of course, are the pessimists, like Arthur Schopenhauer and St. Augustine, who insist that life in The City of Man has always more or less sucked, and that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a Golden Age.

St. Augustine argues in The City of God that Original Sin has so corrupted human nature and the natural world—with sin, disease, and death—that the reformation of the individual and of society will always, of necessity, have to be a highly circumscribed exercise. All is not possible, insists the Bishop, because the freedom to do good is habitually hemmed in by this-worldly corruption. “The choice of the will,” avers Augustine, “is genuinely free only when it is not subservient to faults and sins.” St. Paul the Apostle likewise believes that decisive victory in the war against sin is not possible in a fallen world; the battle is, instead, fated to rage on and on, even within his body: “I know,” he once lamented, “that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:18-19). Like Paul, Augustine maintains that there are some intractable human problems which the individual and society will have to grapple with again and again, until the end of time. Perfection can be nothing more than a noble goal in The City of Man. Always before us, yet perpetually out of reach. A beacon on the horizon of a fallen world.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Ethical Followership

flock-of-sheepA well-functioning society cannot consist merely of leaders. We can’t all be leaders at the same time. Most of us have to be followers most of the time. Yet you won’t see any wealthy suburban kids going to Followership Camp this summer. Nope, they’ll be going to Leadership Camp. Nor will you see any of the same kids enrolling in Followership Programs next semester. Nope, they’ll be enrolling in Leadership Programs. It’s laughable, when you really think about, and dangerous: because the biggest ethical challenges these young people are likely to face in their lives will be about ethical followership, not ethical leadership.

As sophisticated moral dramas like NCIS make clear, ethical followership is all about balancing the competing claims of equally noble virtues. It’s about knowing when to acknowledge the claims of loyalty and when to listen to the cries of justice; when to follow orders and when to disobey them; when to trust your boss’s judgement and when to question it; when to play by the rules and when to break them; when to cover for your colleagues and when to blow the whistle on them.

Moral dilemmas such as these are resolved easily by none but the single-minded. After all, die-hard supporters and die-hard detractors have at least one thing in common: they’re never forced to make difficult choices. Because it’s easy to say YES all the time or NO all the time. What’s hard is to know when it’s time to say YES and when it’s time to say NO.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Fans, Non-Fans, & Football Hooligans

FDGB-Pokal, 1. FC Lok Leipzig - Dynamo Schwerin, AusschreitungenIn a secular democracy such as ours, politics and religion are sort of like sports: you can ignore them for the most part and be a non-fan, like my friend Aaron Haspel, or you can be a fan, like me, who roots for the home team and never misses a game. Do I wanna see my team win? Yes! Big time. Am I willing to do anything to see to it that they win? No. Can I live with the fact that my team isn’t going to win all the time? Yes. Can I listen to criticism of my team without freaking out? Yes. Am I, at times, disappointed with my team’s performance? Yes. Do I think that the people rooting for the other side are evil monsters? No. Do I think they’re deluded idiots? No.

If you’re an ideologue, your answers to questions of this stamp are not like mine. And therein lies the difference between an ideologue and a fan. Like football hooligans, ideologues view anyone who’s not rooting for their team with suspicion. If you’re not with them, you’re against them. And anyone who’s against them is evil (or stupid). This includes, I hasten to add, not only those fans who are actively cheering for another team, but also non-fans, like my friend Aaron, who really don’t have a dog in the race. So far as the ideologue is concerned, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

I was raised to believe that apathetic citizens like Aaron were a clear and present danger to the Open Society. We had to find a way to engage these people, these non-fans, and turn them into fans, or all would soon be lost. I no longer subscribe to this silly view. Fans and non-fans aren’t the problem. It’s the football hooligans. They’re the problem. An Open Society such as ours which consisted of, say, 40% fans, 40% non-fans, and 10% football hooligans, could probably function, and function well, more or less indefinitely. But what if something traumatic happens, something polarizing, something which radicalizes a lot of the fans? What if half the fans morph into football hooligans? Is that a sustainable situation? Can it work? I seriously doubt it. My guess is that an Open Society with that many football hooligans in it won’t be open for long.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Libertarians, a libertarian world won’t be perfect. But it doesn’t need to be.

John Faithful Hamer recently posted a great aphorism:

Having an answer for everything is the infallible sign of not having an answer for everything.

And followed it up with these candid remarks:
As is no doubt obvious, Chris, this aphorism is the product of recent dealings with people (three in one day!) with airtight ideological armor. One was an old-school communist I work with (who you know), another was an otherwise sweet Muslim friend who thinks the answers to everything are to be found in the Qur’an, and the last was a brilliant but intransigent libertarian.
As a libertarian, that last part resonated with me.

I’ve always tried to convince my libertarian compatriots away from trying to do what John just talked about: that is, arguing that libertarianism solves everything. Many libertarians—especially market-fundamentalist types—believe that their libertarian world will also maximize utility. (And here, you can fill in whatever you like for “utility”.) On virtually any issue, they will have a ready response detailing why and how a libertarian world—fitted, of course, with laissez-faire capitalism—will be the best at solving it.

It won’t. At some point, you just have to bite the bullet.

I remember being praised for my honesty by a gracious non-libertarian professor a while back for having admitting this. I said: “Look, sometimes a libertarian world won’t have as much x, or be able to address problem y as well as we would like. Indeed, there will always be problems that might be better solved through a central state apparatus (government intervention). But that’s the cost of respecting individual rights.”

What libertarians need to focus on is that last part. Sure, libertarians, it might feel like you’re “losing the debate” when you can’t convince the other side that a libertarian world will completely solve the issues with which they are concerned. But remind them: “What, then, is your solution that doesn’t violate people’s rights? Isn’t that a consideration too? What solution do you have for achieving your goals that doesn’t involve coercing or conscripting people into projects against their will or consent?”

If they can give you an answer that apparently solves every social problem without any apparent trade-offs, then you should be suspicious, for it looks like we’re back at square one. Having an answer for everything is the infallible sign of not having an answer for everything.

—Chris Nguyen

The Dirt Drawer

017FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was afraid of Martin Luther King—“the most dangerous Negro in America”—and it’s fairly well known that he had a small army of agents watching him 24/7, reading his mail, wiretapping his phones, and listening in on his conversations—just as it’s fairly well known that King cheated on his wife with some regularity. What’s far less known is that the FBI often used this information in decidedly diabolical ways. For instance, at one point, Hoover sent a threatening letter to King which said, in essence: we’ve got proof of your infidelities, we’ve got sex tapes, and, unless you commit suicide, we’re going to release them to the public in 34 days: “You are finished. . . . King you are done. . . . The American public, the church organizations that have been helping—Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are—an evil and abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is.” Kill yourself. Or we’ll kill your reputation. Of course King didn’t kill himself. Nor did he bow out of public life. But King was an exceptionally courageous dude. Made of tough stuff. I can’t help but wonder how many politicians, activists, and journalists have shied away from serious political issues after they received a letter like this.

Texting, email, digital photography, social media, and the proliferation of high-quality video equipment have radically transformed 21st-century communication. There’s a record of pretty much everything now. In practice, this means that there’s a great deal of dirt, or stuff that can be construed as dirt, on pretty much everyone under the age of 30, and many of those above it. What does that mean for the future of The Open Society? Do we want to live in a culture were public figures can be disgraced and taken down at a moment’s notice whenever they challenge the powers that be? If, like me, your answer to that question is NO, then we need to become far more critical of exposés. If something embarrassing becomes public, when they’ve got dirt in The Dirt Drawer on everybody, the first question to ask is “Who benefits?” not “Is this true?”

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

The Great Wall of India

10626817_10152382893102683_6818992889370798341_nIn my dream, the pretty South Asian reporter with a British accent was talking about something called the The Great Wall of India. They had built it, she said, along the north end of the Bay of Bengal, on the southern limit of the continental shelf, about 200km from the vulnerable shoreline shared by India, Bangladesh, and Burma. Composed entirely of materials manufactured out of captured carbon, the seawall continues along the edge of the continental shelf for a staggering 500km.

Part of the Global Marshall Plan Initiative, the original purpose of The Great Wall of India was to protect the most densely populated place on Earth from the worst ravages of climate change; however, quite unexpectedly, it has become an excellent source of habitat for marine life (especially baby fish). As a direct result of The Great Wall of India, fish stocks in the Bay of Bengal (as well as the Indian Ocean) have been bouncing back at an astounding rate. Local fishermen are reporting catches the likes of which have not been seen since the early twentieth century.

Though they had originally hoped to be done by 2032, unforeseen engineering problems delayed completion of The Great Wall of India by a little over seven years. As such, though it was supposed to take 15 years to build it, it ended up taking closer to 22 years. Even so, when construction came to a close six months ago, in the fall of 2039, the citizens of the world beheld it with a kind of divine awe. Paid for completely with worldwide carbon taxes, The Great Wall of India is now (in 2040) the largest human-made structure on Planet Earth. It can be seen clearly from space.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2017)

p.s. It occurs to me now, and only in retrospect, that the reporter in my dream looked a whole lot like my friend Sara Nuzhat Amin (minus the British accent, of course).

Survey Time!

103990447-img_7216-600x400Quiz Time!

Hi kids! It’s quiz time again. As you know, at this time of year I like to do a pop quiz to see if you’ve been paying attention to ol’ Doc King as he’s banged on in Psychology Research Methods Class throughout the year.

As you all know, this year the topic was “Surveys”. Surveys are a great way to gather data, often anonymously and in large amounts. Some people think that everyone always lies on them—but actually when we compare the information gained there with other methods (called “validating”) we get useful results: But only if we construct our surveys intelligently!

So, as in previous years we decided to test your knowledge by putting together a purposely (and, if I say so myself, laughably!) bad survey. And this year’s one was a treat because we had help from a celebrity. He asked not to be named, so let’s just call him “Professor Drumpf”…

Anyhow—this was his survey. As normal it was riddled with ridiculous errors. Your task was to list all the errors—the things that would make this survey utterly useless to anyone with even a passing respect for science, or the fair collection of data. And, I’m glad to say—you all did really well. As a reminder: Here’s the complete quiz.

https://action.trump2016.com/trump-mms-survey/

Of course—as you all spotted, pretty much every single question was so badly constructed as to render the survey totally without value except as an item of comedy, or to test one’s questionnaire making skills. Well done students! However, some of the questions posed special issues and rather than deal with the question papers individually, I’ve put them together here.

Those Howlers

We led you in gently with the first three…even putting a “No opinion” on the questions to make the questions appear legit. Having got your guard down we then hit you with question 4!

4) On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)

Immigration

Economics

Pro-life values

Religion

Individual liberty

Conservatism

Foreign policy

Second Amendment rights

(The question asks for “the worst” and then allows you to tick multiple boxes. As most of you realized—this would confuse anyone remotely familiar with normal human logic.)

Bonus points if you spotted that question (4) also led the respondents to particular conclusions by mentioning only “Republicans” and no other parties.

6)  Which online sources do you use? (Select as many that apply.)

Drudge Report

Breitbart

National Review

Weekly Standard

Free Beacon

Daily Caller

American Spectator

Red Alert Politics

Other

Question 6 was a doozy, wasn’t it? It caught a couple of you out…By only mentioning Far-Right news outlets and not allowing any write-ins for “other”, the survey maker would have stacked the deck in their favor (assuming they were a real survey maker and not a gag one like this one!)

7)  Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?

Yes

No

No opinion

Question 7 was, as most of you spotted what we call in the trade a “complex question”: E.g. it asks for more than one thing at a time.

Someone might agree with the first part (“Tells the truth about Republican positions” while not the second “Tells the truth about Republican actions”). Indeed—given that the Republican party might itself say one thing and do another—this is a very possible position for a rational person to hold. This question would smear those things together. And you all spotted it—well done you!

8) Hillary Clinton still gets a free pass from the media as she continues to lie about sending classified information on her secret server.

Yes

No

No opinion

Question 8 (“Hilary Clinton gets a free pass”) was, as you all spotted—a leading question. Technically it’s “question-begging”—assuming the conclusion in the question, like asking “do you still grab pussies?”

9)  The mainstream media takes Donald Trump’s statements out of context, but bends over backwards to defend Hillary’s statements.

Yes

No

No opinion

Question 9 was both the errors of (7) and (8) rolled into one. It was a complex question and a leading question! Well done to those who potted the double-error.

11) The mainstream media needs to do more to expose the shady donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Yes

No

No opinion

Question 11 (“Shady donations”) was another leading question. We thought we could slip that by you by putting that word later in the sentence—but you all spotted it. It also manages to sneak in an undefined but vaguely perjorative term “mainstream media” without defining it.

25) More time is spent covering fake “scandals” involving Trump than real scandals involving Hillary and our national security.

Yes

No

No opinion

As you all spotted, this one contained begging the question, leading questions, complex questions and managed to push the “social desirability” element to the fullest. Who doesn’t want to care about “national security” after all…

And, last but not least…

Every piece of data collection should start off with an ethical declaration and a reminder that your data will be kept confidential. Especially important in this day and age where some officials will take your phone, demand your password, and download every text, FB post, and drunken sext to your ex (that you now regret) at the border of certain countries.

This survey asked for personal details at the end without saying these data were only to be collected to prevent repeated surveying of the same individual. Naughty naughty! And well-spotted, students.

Now, some of you thought you could get extra credit by speculating on the possible state of mind or political motives of someone who could construct such a survey. Might I remind you that terms like “narcissistic”, “delusional” or “possible psychedelic drug abuse” are only appropriate in the context of properly conducted clinical interviews? In a similar vein, speculations about “testing the ground for a dictatorship” or similar have no place in psychology.

We are scientists, not politicians. That said, we didn’t remove any marks for these speculations and found them most entertaining. I’m sure our guest professor will agree.

—Robert King

Dear Justin: All is Forgiven

im-mad

When Trudeau announced that he was reneging on his electoral reform promises, I was pissed. Big time. But I’ve had a change of heart. What Trudeau said the other day in his much maligned mea culpa is actually, when you really think about it, true. Our present system forces political parties to at least try to appeal to the whole country. And that’s good for the country because it forces parties to moderate their message and choose more reasonable leaders.

My friends and I were all psyched about electoral reform when we thought it would necessarily mean more votes for the NDP and the Greens. But clearly we didn’t think this shit through. Because that’s not at all what it necessarily means. In fact, it’s far more likely that it’ll mean more votes for a far-right party that gets its news from Breitbart News and Rebel Media.

If the electoral reforms I once supported were put into place tomorrow, I fear that, by 2020, we’d have a far-right political party in Parliament led (directly or indirectly) by the likes of Ezra Levant. This openly racist party wouldn’t get more than 15% of the vote, but the legitimacy representation in Parliament would give to their toxic ideas, and the long-term damage to our political culture, would far outweigh the size of their electoral success.

“This was my choice to make,” the PM said the other day, to a booing crowd, “and I chose to make it with full consequence of the cost that is possibly going to come (from) it, but I will not compromise on what is in the best interests of Canada. That’s what Canadians elected me for.”

Justin just took a bullet for his country.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

Why Kevin O’Leary is an Existential Threat to Canada

kevinThe Conservative Party of Canada is shopping around for a new leader. Kevin O’Leary, the front-runner, doesn’t speak French. To my mind, this ought to disqualify him from serious consideration.

For a system of government such as ours to work, a Canadian Prime Minister must try to govern in the interests of the whole country (or, at the very least, as much of it as possible). The great conservative Edmund Burke makes this clear in his “Speech to the Electors of Bristol” (November 3, 1774): “parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”

Trudeau has shown his commitment to doing precisely this by supporting things (like pipelines) which will benefit regions of the country that didn’t vote for him (indeed, would never vote for him). To some extent, Harper made manifest the very same commitment by vastly improving his French in the full knowledge that Quebecers weren’t going to vote for him. In a federal system, gestures like this are incredibly important. Harper got that. Trudeau gets that. O’Leary does not.

The Republican Party didn’t even bother to run candidates in the South in 1860, much less campaign there. And yet Lincoln won. The message to the South was loud and clear: We can win federal elections whilst completely ignoring you, pretending you don’t even exist. As you might expect, the South was like, screw this, we’re out of here! Soon after that, a civil war broke out. It claimed the lives of 620,000 Americans.

Choose wisely, Conservatives, choose wisely. Order is fragile.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

Welcome to Likeville

iknowwhereimgoingtolive_32818b_4859529The promise of Social Media Land was always, to some extent, an imperialistic dream. The geeks who created this online world were all, to a man, urban liberals who hoped the Internet would bring the light of civilization to Sameville, a mythological small town where everybody’s white and wrong. The enlightened minds of the multicultural metropolis were going to bring the true gospel of diversity and tolerance to the benighted citizens of Sameville. If these guys had a theme song, it would be a cover of Walter Donaldson’s Jazz Era classic—“How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” (1919)—entitled “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down in Stupidlandia (After They’ve Seen Portlandia)?”

how_ya_gonna_keep_em_down_on_the_farm_after_theyve_seen_paree_sm-2-073The dream came true. Well, sorta. When I was a kid, there were still people in my working-class neighborhood who believed that if you scared a pregnant woman, her baby would be born with a tail. Ignorance like this of shockingly medieval proportions was everywhere to be found. Few of my friends had a working 20th-century knowledge of human anatomy, much less the natural world. But I’m happy to report that the Internet, and especially Wikipedia, has cleared up much of this ignorance.

My children have access to far more accurate knowledge about things like how a woman gets pregnant than most of my friends did at their age. What’s more, to the best of my knowledge, none of their friends believe in babies with tails. To some extent, then, the Internet has indeed been a force of enlightenment in our world. But its enlightenment has been limited in scope, in part, because the geeks who dreamed of conquering small-town ignorance failed to anticipate the emergence of Sameville’s online doppelgänger: Likeville.

16These days, any simpleminded partisan with a political ax to grind can find a Likeville, an online community of like-minded whack-jobs who’ll happily Facebook-like every stupid thing he says. Likeville isn’t just a safe space for stupid, it’s boot camp for bullshit. Likeville arms its citizens with plenty of ideological ammunition (e.g., bogus stats, pre-fab arguments, etc.). Before long, what was once a more-or-less harmless, single-issue troll has morphed into something far more monstrous and formidable: a veritable Swiss-army knife of bullshit, a perfect storm of bad ideas, a walking Wikipedia of stupid.

Alexandre Bissonnette is a product of Likeville. And what he did in Quebec City ought to be a wake-up call. If the Mosque Massacre proves anything, it’s that these Frankenstein creations of the Internet, these Likevilles, aren’t just a major obstacle to 21st-century Enlightenment; they’re a serious threat to peace, order, and good government.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)