11 October 2021

double standards

Facebook has been criticised for not censoring content described as "divisive". I have not seen any of the material to which this refers; some it may well be unpleasant. But is the current attack on Facebook partly an excuse for attempting a more general suppression of the kind of material the il-liberal elite do not like — in other words, anything that deviates too much from their preferred philosophy?
   If censorship is to be applied against viewpoints that are divisive, perhaps we should start with the material disseminated by contemporary humanities departments. The social theories currently à la mode in academia encourage women to resent men, the poor to resent the rich, blacks to resent whites, blue-collar workers to resent the bourgeoisie, and so on. Inequality is said to be due to "oppression", and some of the theorists openly try to galvanise people from certain categories to feel angry and bitter.
   These theories have about as much empirical support as creationism, but are treated as akin to gospel truth, presumably because academics find them enormously appealing (for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious).
   We can see the consequences of this be-angry-because-inequality-is-oppression ideology for freedom of speech. People who dare to express the 'wrong' opinions are physically attacked, or subjected to cancel culture or other forms of psychological abuse.
   Unsurprisingly — considering how many students are exposed to them — the popularity of these theories has spread beyond academia into the media, the arts, and the teaching profession. Have relations between the sexes, classes or races improved as a result? It's doubtful.

If US legislators are considering applying regulatory restrictions to internet companies, let us hope they'll bear in mind that it's not only US citizens that are affected. In theory, an entrepreneur in another Western country could build a rival social media company, but we know that in practice the network effect, and the resulting global near-monopoly gained by Facebook, make that improbable. If another business were to gain significant market share from Facebook, that business would most likely be based in California.
   In other words, the 7.5 billion people on the planet who are not Americans may end up being passive recipients of the censorship decisions made by the USA’s political class.

No doubt the left-leaning staff of social media corporations already apply algorithms to de-emphasise views they regard as too stridently right-wing. Perhaps they could also develop algorithms to de-emphasise Marxist claptrap.

12 September 2021

coercive medical treatment is evil

I have nothing per se against any of the COVID vaccines currently being offered. Just so long as they go on being offered and freely taken up, rather than imposed.
   It is — or ought to be — a basic moral principle that no individual should be forced to submit to medical treatment.
   One can reasonably be prevented from doing something which has as a clear consequence the causing of harm to another individual. But no person should be penalised by the state (or by those acting under pressure from the state) because he fails to do something which might generate benefits, unless he has chosen a role which requires him to act in such a way (e.g. lifeguard).
   Even more obviously, no person should be forced to submit to an invasion of his body, simply because the invasion will allegedly benefit others. This would-be justification is on a par with other arguments that claim to legitimise the suffering of individuals by reference to the interests of society. Nazi government officials harassed and murdered Jews, or incited others to do so, on the grounds that doing so was in the interests of German society. Bureaucrats in Stalinist Russia helped to bring about the deaths of millions of Ukrainians, on the grounds that abolition of private farming was essential for the good of Soviet society. The idea that such measures could be regarded as being 'in the interests of society' now seems bizarre, but at the time the arguments proved compelling for many members of the elites.
   The supposed let-out in the case of COVID vaccination is that the vaccine will do no one any harm. But whether a medical intervention will have good or bad effects on a person ought ultimately to be for that person alone to judge.
   What does it mean to be coerced? Clearly if the law requires one to be vaccinated, as in Turkmenistan, that is coercion. If medical treatment is a condition of travel, there is an argument that we are dealing with a condition rather than coercion. If an employer, for reasons of their own, demands that an employee receive treatment and the power to do so was included in the contract the employee signed prior to employment, there is an argument that this is no more coercion than anything else required under the terms of a contract. (Note to trade unions: consider agitating against the use of employment contract clauses that provide this power.) However, if the employer is compelled by the state to require employees to receive treatment, as US President Joe Biden is proposing, then we are clearly dealing with state coercion, with the employer forced to act as agent of the state. People may in general be able to avoid travel without great hardship, but few can afford to give up their jobs.
   If our elites don't seem to give much weight to certain basic moral principles, or seem relatively uninhibited about displaying authoritarian tendencies, we should not be surprised. The elites are captivated by the belief that they only ever want the best for us and know what it is, a belief which just happens to fit with the expansion of their powers.
   Doctors and nurses who knowingly participate in coercive medical treatment ought to feel shame and guilt.

31 July 2021


A short new article is up on the website, on the subject of prejudice and policy responses.

29 March 2021

intellectual monopoly —> authoritarianism

For many people, doing 'research' in the humanities seems to mean: generating support for the answers they want to hear. The idea that research might be about truth, or providing a balanced picture, or at least maintaining a plurality of perspectives, has become passé.
   It is not clear whether unbiased, value-free humanities research is even possible. If it isn't, the ultimate answer may be for the state to stop supporting it. Why should taxpayers finance biased research? Especially when the direction of the bias is predictable: it is likely to reinforce the role of the state, and to favour increases in intervention.
   Until such time as the state gets out of the humanities, there is an ongoing need for alternative perspectives. Every year, billions of pounds/dollars/etc. are poured into the academic humanities, using money compulsorily collected from taxpayers. And the overall conclusions generated by all this 'research'? Subject to some minor internal variation, basically that:
- capitalism is bad,
- conservatism is bad,
- there needs to be more state intervention.
   By now, the academic humanities are, for all intents and purposes, an ideologically mono-cultured monopoly. Those who disagree with the ideology are derided, insulted and demonised. In one sense, this is not surprising. We know that monopoly power, once acquired, tends to be jealously guarded and not readily surrendered. Potential rivals can expect to be treated in a ruthless and underhand fashion.
   The humanities professors, facing no serious criticism from within their own ranks, and having authority on their side — after all, they are officially appointed representatives of authorised truth-institutions (universities) — can get away with intellectual authoritarianism. If you show signs of dissent, the professors are certain to call you out. That is now, it seems, their principal role: to monitor for ideological correctness, and to censure deviation.
   What about those who wish to present alternative viewpoints? They are forced to scurry around for private support outside the system (which is used by their critics as ammunition against them) or to rely on their own means. Private support for pluralist perspectives is in any case scarcely available. Billionaires have, it appears, have bought into the dominant ideology and don't see any need for a plurality of viewpoints; like everyone else, their priority has become virtue signalling. Any funding they contribute simply goes into reinforcing the monoculture.
   The dominance of Marxism and Marxist-style feminism in many areas of the humanities is a major contributor to the rot. Marxism doesn’t seek truth, it already 'knows' the truth; dissent is therefore wrong and to be discouraged. Culture must promote the right kind of social change — if it does not, it is sure to be what Marxists label as 'oppressive'. Anyone who disagrees with the orthodoxy can therefore be presumed to be a moral villain, providing a convenient excuse for censorship.

16 October 2020


Due to a shortfall in external funding, this blog and associated articles are on hold until the new year.

02 October 2020

academia: is Politics a pseudo subject?

Four years ago, scanning Oxford University Press's Politics blog prior to the US presidential election, I was astounded by the level of partisanship of the posts (written by various humanities professors). The intellectual niveau may have been higher than that found in the left-wing broadsheets, but the sneering and contempt for Donald Trump was comparable. Did the academic establishment not realise how this might come across, to anyone other than those sharing their prejudices? I didn't look at many of the posts after the 2016 election but let us hope, for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy, that the blog did not go on to complain about the evils of attempting to interfere in other countries' elections via the pumping out of digital propaganda.
   This time around, the blog seems more restrained. The tone is pious pontification rather than aggressive derision. However, the bias is still in evidence. In each of the recent posts that mention Donald Trump, the attitude to the incumbent president is clearly hostile. One post contrasts Trump's America unfavourably with the virtuous leftism currently prevailing in Portugal; a second endorses a description of Trump's immigration policies as "cruel"; while the third argues that Trump's resistance to face masks can be compared to sex scandals because both phenomena "reveal who is able to violate the social norms in a society with little consequence".
   The obvious failure to keep normative values out of what is supposed to be objective analysis illustrates either the impossibility in principle of Politics as an academic subject, or the fact that academic neutrality is bound to fail when the political tastes of the academic elite are as homogeneous as they currently are (and diverge significantly from those of electorates). Either way, the OUP blog reinforces the impression that the status of Politics is that of pseudo subject. In other words, a bit of a joke — and not a harmless one.

18 September 2020

coming soon

New article in progress. Expected to be published next month.

Meanwhile, enjoy Social Mobility ‘Research’ (part 1) if you haven't already read it.

04 September 2020

biology: competition & cooperation

The idea that selfish competition is an essential part of evolution has sometimes been misrepresented. The fact that animals typically engage in intense competition for resources requires us to acknowledge that humans, like other animals, are probably hardwired to some degree for competitive behaviour. This should dampen any temptation to regard such behaviour as a vice, but does not mean we have to regard it as virtuous.
   More importantly, the fact that humans are social animals may require us to modify the simple selfish-gene picture. Cooperation in humans appears to go beyond kin selection (i.e. beyond cooperation between close relatives with many genes in common), though the evolutionary mechanisms for this have not been fully elucidated.
   Critics of sociobiology, however, seem just as capable of misrepresentation. In an introductory chapter to Blackwell's Companion to Ethics, academic philosopher Mary Midgley complains that sociobiologists
sometimes point out [that their use of the word 'selfish' is technical], but nearly all of them get carried away by its normal meaning and may be heard preaching egoism as ardently as Hobbes.
I don't have access to some of the references Midgley cites in support of this allegation, but neither E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology nor Hobbes's Leviathan can meaningfully be accused of "preaching egoism", in the sense of holding it up as a moral ideal.
   In the following passage, Midgley seems herself to get carried away to the point of preaching, albeit in the opposite direction.
It is essential to distinguish the mere fact of happening to 'compete' from the complex of human motives which current ideology endorses as fitting for competitors. Any two organisms may be said to be 'in competition' if they both need or want something they cannot both get. But they are not acting competitively unless they both know this and respond by deliberately trying to defeat each other. Since the overwhelming majority of organisms are plants, bacteria etc. which are not even conscious, the very possibility of deliberate, hostile competition is an extremely rare thing in nature.
   Moreover, both at the conscious and the unconscious level, all life-processes depend on an immense background of harmonious cooperation, which is necessary to build up the complex system within which the much rarer phenomenon of competition becomes possible.
   Competition is real but necessarily limited. For instance, the plants in a particular ecosystem normally exist in interdependence both with each other and with the animals that eat them, and those animals are equally interdependent with each other and with their predators. If there had really been a natural 'war of all against all', the biosphere could never have developed in the first place.
There may be some technical way in which this passage could at a stretch be defended as correct, but prima facie it seems misleading, if not plain wrong. Midgley seems to be (deliberately?) confused about the concept of competition, and she surely exaggerates the degree to which ecological interdependence can be interpreted as "harmonious cooperation".

Quotations are taken from Mary Midgley, 'The origin of ethics', in A Companion to Ethics, ed. Peter Singer, Blackwell 1993, p.9 and pp.5-6. Accordingly to Wikipedia, the late Midgley was the first winner of Philosophy Now's "Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity".