James Damore – down but not out

james-damore-has-an-above-decent-chance-of-winning-his-legal-case-against-google

James Damore is not giving up. Good for him. Attacks are coming at him from all sides, and not always displayng either the logic or the fairness with which he prsented his case to Google – and now to the world at large. One commentator helpfully notes that the problem with a lot of the counters to his now-famous memo is that they inject arguments to points that were never argued in the first place. “It’s almost as if you have to presciently qualify each statement you make to inoculate. It’s f…ing ridiculous. And then they bury you in the references to scientific articles that have nothing to do with the original arguement.”

The madnss inherent in all this is that the so-called champions of diversity are denying the very reality of diversity and the so-called enemies of diversity are the very ones protecting our rights to be diverse and live with and enjoy the characteristics of our own natural gifts.

Here is Damore’s response to an article in which issue was taken with his memo and the case he made against aspects of the dominant culture in Google. The article, entitled Here Are Some Scientific Arguments James Damore Has Yet to Respond To, was answered in Damore’s characteristicaaly polite and reasonable manner as follows. He wrote, “Please let me know if you don’t think I addressed the arguments well enough.”

His implicit model is that cognitive traits must be either biological (i.e. innate, natural, and unchangeable) or non-biological (i.e., learned by a blank slate). This nature versus nurture dichotomy is completely outdated and nobody in the field takes it seriously. Rather, modern research is based on the much more biologically reasonable view that neurological traits develop over time under the simultaneous influence of epigenetic, genetic and environmental influences. Everything about humans involves both nature and nurture.

“My document was countering the notion that everything is nurture, which is what the dominant ideology at Google states. I never deny that it’s a combination of nature and nurture, just that we shouldn’t ignore nature.”

Several major books have debunked the idea of important brain differences between the sexes. Lise Eliot, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, did an exhaustive review of the scientific literature on human brains from birth to adolescence. She concluded, in her book “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” that there is “surprisingly little solid evidence of sex differences in children’s brains.”

Rebecca Jordan-Young, a sociomedical scientist and professor at Barnard College, also rejects the notion that there are pink and blue brains, and that the differing organization of female and male brains is the key to behavior. In her book “Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences,” she says that this narrative misunderstands the complexities of biology and the dynamic nature of brain development.

“I never talk about women and men having fundamentally different brains and I mention several times that there’s overlap in the population on many of these traits.”

American businesses also have to face the fact that the demographic differences that make diversity useful will not lead to equality of outcome in every hire or promotion. Equality or diversity: choose one. In my opinion, given that sex differences are so well-established, and the sexes have such intricately complementary quirks, it may often be sensible, in purely practical business terms, to aim for more equal sex ratios in many corporate teams, projects, and divisions.

“This quote doesn’t contradict what I wrote (it even agrees with the population level differences). I agree that diversity can be useful, I just disagree with our policies.”

Still, it is not clear to me how such sex differences are relevant to the Google workplace. And even if sex differences in negative emotionality were relevant to occupational performance at Google (e.g., not being able to handle stressful assignments), the size of these negative emotion sex differences is not very large (typically, ranging between “small” to “moderate” in statistical effect size terminology; accounting for perhaps 10% of the variance). Using someone’s biological sex to essentialize an entire group of people’s personality is like surgically operating with an axe. Not precise enough to do much good, probably will cause a lot of harm. Moreover, men are more emotional than women in certain ways, too. Sex differences in emotion depend on the type of emotion, how it is measured, where it is expressed, when it is expressed, and lots of other contextual factors. How this all fits into the Google workplace is unclear to me. But perhaps it does.

“This is talking about my comment on higher average neuroticism among women. I stated it to provide a non-sexism explanation for why women on average show more anxiety on our internal surveys and why women are underrepresented in high stress jobs. These are population level statements and are never meant to apply to an individual.”

In the end, focusing the conversation on the minutiae of the scientific claims in the manifesto is a red herring. Regardless of whether biological differences exist, there is no shortage of glaring evidence, in individual stories and in scientific studies, that women in tech experience bias and a general lack of a welcoming environment, as do underrepresented minorities. Until these problems are resolved, our focus should be on remedying that injustice. After that work is complete, we can reassess whether small effect size biological components have anything to do with lingering imbalances.

“I would have to ask for actual evidence. Also, the average difference in interest in people vs. things is large (more than a standard deviation): only ~15% of women have the same level of interest in “things” as the median/average man and the proportional disparity increases as the interest increases.”

The true underlying distributions would be useful if Google’s hiring process was to select people at random from the population, put them through a standard test of the single “quality” variable of interest, then take the ones who passed the test and discard the ones who failed. As a description of how recruitment processes don’t work, this is pretty spot on. Google (like any other company — I first started making this argument in the 1990s when McKinsey were publishing their incredibly influential, amazingly wrong and massively destructive “War For Talent” series) fills jobs by advertising for vacancies or encouraging through word of mouth and recruiters, using interview questions and tests which might have unknown biases, and recruiting people for their suitability for the roles currently vacant (which is not the same thing as “quality” because companies change all the time but keep the same employees. Each one of these stages is enough of a departure from the random sampling model to mean that the population distributions are not relevant.

“Google is a huge company that hires thousands of “software engineers” a year, I don’t know why population distributions wouldn’t be relevant, especially if we take the entire tech industry into account. Someone please tell me if they find the quoted argument intelligible though.”

There are sme more good supportive comments on the Redit post in which this was published.

 

Horror in Charlottesville – and a warning from history

This is the most frightening sequence of film I have seen in a long, long time. I can only compare it to the scenes some of us – of a certain age – watched on Irish television back on the evening of October 5, 1968 . But this is at a much, much deeper, rawer, level of horror. What is most terrifying about this is the realisation that in Ireland those events were the beginning of what we euphemistically called “the Troubles” but which was in reality a blood-soaked civil war – a civil war which went on for thirty years.

The depth of injustice and the depth of prejudice and hatred which were at the roots of Ireland’s conflict were real, palpable and now, with hindsight, measurable and understandable. But for that hindsight to become a force capable of staunching the flow of blood from the wounds inflicted in that war, it took those thirty years. It also took 3000 lives.

In Charlottesville and in the precursors to Charlottesville – which only history will eventually be able to confirm as precursors to this and subsequent murderous follies which seem all but inevitable – can be seen the same ingredients which were present in the horrors of Ireland’s troubles. Here we also have: a class of citizenry denied human respect and equal rights – in practice if not always in theory – by another class; a fear of loss of privilege by that ascendant class generating a hatred of those perceived to be threatening their privilege – and a racism masquerading as religious fervour.

Add to that mix a State authority whose stance in the face of the unfolding chaos was at one moment seen as compromised by one side, at the next moment by the other side. In the resulting confusion the rule of law itself seemed to disintegrate.

Is this what is now facing the United States of America? In January this year, my namesake, Michael Kirk – without an “e” – made a compelling documentary for PBS television. He called it Divided States of America. It ended with little promise that things would get any better. One could only see them getting worse before, one hoped, they would get better. Its non-promise now looks ominously prophetic.

All we can say, with a quivering voice, is God Save America – or even more apt, God Help America.

Michael Kirk’s PBS documentary here:

 

The death of Socrates and the sacking of James Damore

dav_soc

More people in the world today probably know who James Damore is than know who Socrates was. No problem – for there is a strong possibility that Damore may be the Socrates of our age. Just as the death of Socrates at the hands of the Athenian Democracy was the call back to truth for the civilization to which we still are holding on by our fingernails, the sacking of James Damore by the authorities at Google may be what will bring our civilization back to its senses again.

Western democracies – and the corporations which populate them – are in the grip of a lie. They are, year after year, making their way towards some oblivion in which truth no longer matters, where the foundations of science and philosophy, the work of great minds and inventors over millennia, are being torn asunder and replaced with dreamy emotion-generated ideology.

Socrates was put to death for corrupting the morals of young Athenians by an oligarchy whose moral sense had as much substance as that of the statues of the Gods they thought they worshipped. James Damore has been sent off into the desert to die by one of the greatest corporations on the planet. The culture which pervades that corporation, we can probably assume, pervades all the similar corporations for which Damore’s skills were a perfect fit and where he might have hoped to find employment. For calling out that culture and telling the truth which his scientific mind and expertise helped him to understand and explain, he will be no more welcomed by them than he was by Google.

The modern Athenian jury is still out on Damore. He has stated his case for the defence but the prosecutors of the New Morality of Political Correctness are still arguing their case. Public opinion is not smarter today than it was in the time of Socrates. Athenians two and a half millennia ago let the authorities there have their way with one of the greatest thinkers the world has ever seen. The culture of political correctness – which is at the heart of everything that Damore is questioning, and really all he has done is ask questions – has such a hold on our political institutions that nothing is certain about the outcome of this trial of truth.

Watch this space.

bn-uq685_google_fr_20170811124736
James Damore
Damore has put his case and commented on the public response and misrepresentation he has had to suffer in the past week.

I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.

Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.

His summary of his analysis of the problem with Google is as follows:

 

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression

  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression

  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

He concludes his memo with specific suggestions:

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

My concrete suggestions are to:

De-moralize diversity.

  • As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”

Stop alienating conservatives.

  • Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.
  • In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.
  • Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is require for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.

Confront Google’s biases.

  • I’ve mostly concentrated on how our biases cloud our thinking about diversity and inclusion, but our moral biases are farther reaching than that.
  • I would start by breaking down Googlegeist scores by political orientation and personality to give a fuller picture into how our biases are affecting our culture.

Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races.

  • These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive. Instead focus on some of the non-discriminatory practices I outlined.

Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.

  • Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.
  • There’s currently very little transparency into the extend of our diversity programs which keeps it immune to criticism from those outside its ideological echo chamber.
  • These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.
  • I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.

Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity.

  • We should focus on psychological safety, which has shown positive effects and should (hopefully) not lead to unfair discrimination.
  • We need psychological safety and shared values to gain the benefits of diversity
  • Having representative viewpoints is important for those designing and testing our products, but the benefits are less clear for those more removed from UX.

De-emphasize empathy.

  • I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.

Prioritize intention.

  • Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offense and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions.
  • Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.

Be open about the science of human nature.

  • Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.

Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.

  • We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.

  • Some of the suggested methods of the current training (v2.3) are likely useful, but the political bias of the presentation is clear from the factual inaccuracies and the examples shown.

  • Spend more time on the many other types of biases besides stereotypes. Stereotypes are much more accurate and responsive to new information than the training suggests (I’m not advocating for using stereotypes, I am just pointing out the factual inaccuracy of what’s said in the training).

For this he was sacked.

Here is a fifty-minute interview with Damore by Dr Jordan B Peterson, himself a victim of the thought police in his own country. It reveals both the stupidity and injustice of what has happened as well as something of the character of the victim.

 

Fired by Google – Damore’s story

 

bn-uq685_google_fr_20170811124736

The Wall Street Journal today publishes James Damore’s account of why Google fired him.

I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company’s code of conduct and “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company’s “ideological echo chamber.” My firing neatly confirms that point. How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument?

We all have moral preferences and beliefs about how the world is and should be. Having these views challenged can be painful, so we tend to avoid people with differing values and to associate with those who share our values. This self-segregation has become much more potent in recent decades. We are more mobile and can sort ourselves into different communities; we wait longer to find and choose just the right mate; and we spend much of our time in a digital world personalized to fit our views.

Google is a particularly intense echo chamber because it is in the middle of Silicon Valley and is so life-encompassing as a place to work. With free food, internal meme boards and weekly companywide meetings, Google becomes a huge part of its employees’ lives. Some even live on campus. For many, including myself, working at Google is a major part of their identity, almost like a cult with its own leaders and saints, all believed to righteously uphold the sacred motto of “Don’t be evil.”

Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

But echo chambers also have to guard against dissent and opposition. Whether it’s in our homes, online or in our workplaces, a consensus is maintained by shaming people into conformity or excommunicating them if they persist in violating taboos. Public shaming serves not only to display the virtue of those doing the shaming but also warns others that the same punishment awaits them if they don’t conform.

In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.

Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement.

Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

It saddens me to leave Google and to see the company silence open and honest discussion. If Google continues to ignore the very real issues raised by its diversity policies and corporate culture, it will be walking blind into the future—unable to meet the needs of its remarkable employees and sure to disappoint its billions of users.

—Mr. Damore worked as a software engineer at Google’s Mountain View campus from 2013 until this past week.

Appeared in the August 12, 2017, print edition of the Wall Street Journal as ‘Why I Was Fired By Google.’

Back to the future… or the end of the road?

alice-in-wonderland-banner
Can it really be this bad?
A British Conservative government minister, Justine Greening, says that gender is virtually meaningless by proposing to let adults come in off the street and change it at will. “Pronoun Committees” on campus warn, “If you fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.” Does anyone hear an echo, “Committee of Public Safety”? From there it was but a short step to the guillotine. Mozzilla’s CEO was removed from the company he founded because he privately supported traditional marriage – and that was also disrespectful, hurtful and oppressive. It certainly was for him – but that didn’t matter. A Google engineer is the latest casualty of the thought police because he expressed an opinion of doubtful orthodoxy.

This is just a very small sample from a long catalogue of seemingly mad events which are taking place around us. But they are not mad. They are the result of a cold, calculated dogma that has pervaded our culture. We are, in truth, not a million miles, not even a few hundred miles from the nightmare of Stalinist Russia, where to write an opera (Prokofiev), compose a symphony (Shostakovich) or pen a novel (Pasternak) which was out of synch with the ideology of the State would reduce your career to ashes and even endanger your very life.

Is there anyone out there prepared to defend mankind from this self-destructive ideology? Yes there is, perhaps too timidly yet, but the principles are sound and if this onslaught of injustice persists then surely the perennial voice of reason will be heard loud and clear.

For seventy-plus years Marxism was a political force in the Soviet Union, backed up by a lethal totalitarian state. In that time the one enemy which it constantly singled out for annihilation was the Christian religion. Wherever Christians were found the grotesque regime’s apparatus  first sought to corrupt them. Failing that it sought to crush them. After soviet Russia led the way a handful of Eastern European followed under its tutelage – or its tanks. China and some Asian countries then joined the monstrous regiment and in the fifties and sixties of the last century the ideology made a largely unsuccessful attempt to subvert Latin America.

Eventually, bearing within itself the seeds of its own destruction, the states which embraced it began to crumble and fall. But to the very end Christianity remained its perpetual enemy and number one target for persecution and extermination. Even in the last decade of its hegemony it sought to assassinate – and almost succeeded – the Vicar of Christ on Earth.

Why was this so? Why should the followers of a peace-loving prophet from 2000 years ago be such a threat to what at first sight might be described as just one more attempt to solve the problems mankind faces in organising this world to meet the daily needs of its inhabitants?

It was so because the vision of humanity held by the followers of Jesus Christ, based on the belief and understanding that this God-man in fact created the world and all that is in it, is radically at odds with that of Karl Marx, his antecedents and his disciples. The essential contradictions inherent in the Marxist vision of man, its utterly flawed anthropology, eventually killed it – but not before it left tens of millions dead in its wake. These contradictions, these flaws, were called out and opposed by authentic Christianity from the moment they first made their appearance. For that reason Christians became the constant and number one enemy and Marxists had to corrupt them or wipe them off the face of the earth. Despite pretences to the contrary, peaceful co-existence for a thorough and clear-sighted Marxist was never going to be an option with this enemy in full bloom.

We may feel relieved that this form of Marxism, while not extinct, is now largely moribund. That would be naive. Marxism itself is still with us in an even more insidious form, currently seeking to corrupt but increasingly looking like reverting to its crushing mode once again. Because it is no longer a unified ideology it is even more dangerous and pervasive. Its new suit of clothes was acquired from what we call the Frankfurt School. Here, already divining the self-destructive excesses of Soviet Communism in the 1930s, adherents of the basic core of Marx’s materialistic determinism articulated a “new improved model” which we now call neo-Marxism. This new manifestation of Marxism, often not even calling itself Marxism, again sees itself confronted with the same enemy – the Christians.

The core materialism which was at the heart of Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto is also at the heart of this new Marxism. This is the central error of the ideology which Christians must of necessity oppose. It must set its face against it because it is an error which denies the central truths of man’s nature and essence. From this central error springs a series of maladies which are now afflicting Western society and which in time will also spread to every other cultural environment on the planet: from it springs gross consumerism; rampant individualism of the “me, me, me” variety – proclaiming absolute freedom which is no freedom at all. From it also flows the scourge of gender ideology and all that it spawns; finally, the ideology which proclaims the right to destroy human life before birth and force its termination before its natural end.

But making a stand against the materialistic ideology of our time is to rule you out as a candidate for public service. We remember the rejection by the European parliament of Rocco Buttiglione. They haven’t gone away, you know. Governor Sam Brownback has been nominated by the President of America to join his administration as an ambassador for religious freedom. The so-called Human Rights Campaign, beloved of Barak Obama and the Clintons, which says Christian ministers should be forced to not only publicly approve of homosexuality but endorse it officially with God’s blessing, is outraged.  They are outraged because Gov. Brownback has defended the rights of Christian and other religious student groups to have membership standards consistent with the group’s religious affiliation. For them, to require members of Christian groups to believe Christ’s teaching amounts to promoting “hateful discrimination”. Most hateful of all of course is the fact that, as governor, Brownback supported Reality Birth Certificates that note biological sex. They consider biological reality and genetic science to be a “deadly” prejudice and an attack on one’s true “identity,” which for them is oh-so-solidly and rationally based on feelings and one’s current whim. Cue Justine Greening.

The warning signs are there that a new hegemony of this ideology is already with us. We can now see a new era of materialistic ideology slowly – or maybe not so slowly – gaining ground in the political square, in the halls of learning and in the schools where it is being inculcated in our children.

Last week, Campus Reform reported a lecturer at the University of Michigan advocating the “retraining of preschool children to make them less heteronormative.” Defining “heteronormativity” as a culture in which “heterosexuality is always assumed, expected, ordinary, and privileged,” she argues that the issue is especially important because preschools contribute to the “reproduction of inequalities pertaining to gender and sexuality,” such as gender roles and “gendered feelings”.

Furthermore, this new materialism is now being voluntarily adopted lock stock and barrel by political establishments in state after state around the world. They euphemistically call it “evolution in their thinking”; they call it getting in step with history; what they fail to do is call it what it really is: indoctrination in an ideology which is errant nonsense.

An example of the consequences: working within the laws which our indoctrinated legislators have put in place for our common good, we were told last week that a man has given birth to a baby. We negate the judgement of our sense and the principles of biological science when we call a woman a man. This is the “progress” of progressivism. In a similar case in Sweden, a woman manages to grow a beard and calls herself a man. She then gets pregnant by a man who thinks he is a woman and between them they have two children. These children in their turn are deliberately not being told what they are, boy or girl. They will decide for themselves. The truth is they won’t. They will be what they are and that is it.

The probability is that by writing this I am breaking a law. What law it is or in what country I might be prosecuted I do not know for sure. But I suspect that that some law brands me as a “hate-criminal” and  I am sure that the time is not far distant when the law will catch up with people who point out the folly and injustice of these ideas. Since breaking laws incurs punishments they will be punished.

Do I exaggerate? No. The esteemed University of West Virginia has warned its staff and students that referring to someone by the “wrong” gender pronoun is a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. In a totally different jurisdiction, Dr. Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor in the University of Toronto, refused to adhere to the university’s policies on pronouns, requiring him to refer to students  as “ve”,”ver” or “vis”. He was threatened with legal action.

From the time of Adam man has known sin. Human history gives an account  of how we cope with the consequences of our malice and our weaknesses. It is often a sad story, it is can be salutary, it is sometimes heroic. But this is a different sin. Until modern times mankind’s understanding of our wrong turnings have been, in a sense, within the parameters of our own nature. The Judaeo-Christian response to those wrong turnings was corrective and didactic. We often resisted correction and were slow learners – but seldom if ever did we reject them on the basis of their being unnatural, alien, or foreign to what was deemed to be the very nature of the species. That, with Marxism, has all changed. The Judaeo-Christian vision of man and the Marxist vision of man are now radically and fatally at variance. Mankind is now engaged in a fight to the death. If Marxism is victorious in that conflict then mankind is doomed to self-destruct. We are very near the Gates of Hell – but Christians do have a promise about that.

No figment of the conservative imagination

Some people say that the so-called culture war is a figment of the conservative imagination. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Read this extract from a bulletin from the frontline of that war. Then read Rod Dreher’s entire piece. It is heartbreaking on two levels – first because it tells the story of helpless victims of crazy ideologues; second because it tells a story of intelligent people being corrupted wholesale by that same crazy “progressivist” ideology.

This morning, for the first time – it has been around for awhile – I watched a video which shows the appalling fulfilment of Allan Bloom’s terrible prophesy of nearly 40 years ago about the future of  American generations. We are now two generations on and this is what America and – God help us – the rest of the West following in its tracks, has left us with.

 

Now read this extract from Dreher’s snapshot report from the frontline. If you can take any more then read his full reflection.

 I read this op-ed piece from today’s New York Times, in which Katherine Stewart says that people like us — parents who have chosen to withdraw their kids from public schooling, or not to send them there in the first place — are Jesus-crazed racists who hate democracy, or at best useful idiots of said villains. It is liberal crackpottery at its purest. Andrew T. Walker responds:

Most public school parents I know see public schools as as place for their child’s learning, to know one’s neighbor, and to celebrate milestones whether through football games or proms.

In a parallel universe where pluralism and diversity are actual liberal values, this author [Steward] would prize and herald the virtues of school choice as part and parcel of ordered liberty. But not if you see public schooling primarily as a vehicle for social change. The whole op-ed is a shocking revelation of the moral imagination of modern-day progressives — bring your child before the state to receive the requisite social values or else the whole system is being undermined.

Confession: My child attends a classical Christian school. More confession: We chose this for our child because we believe that what public schools value as true, good, and beautiful do not align with what we believe is true, good, and beautiful. It’s a conflict of visions, and in America, we’re blessed to have options.

We teach our child about diversity and seek to live it out. We also want our child to have an education foundation that prioritizes our Christian faith, while also seeing its relevance to modern society’s deepest, metaphysical questions. That’s our personal conviction arrived at by prayer, study, and conscience. Others are free to disagree.

But this is a conclusion that people like Stewart cannot handle, because she cannot cast alternative models of education in any affirmative vision. She can’t conceive of a Christian education model, for example, that is pro-culture, deliberately non-fundamentalist, and one that seeks to nurture and incubate the pillars that propped up a free society — among them human dignity.

Read the whole thing. Then read David French’s response to Stewart, focusing on her demonizing the term “government schools” as a dog whistle. Excerpt:

Why do libertarians and Christians intentionally increasingly use the term “government schools” to describe public education? First, because it’s true. Public schools are government schools. Second, because it’s clarifying. Too many Americans are stuck in a time warp, believing that the local school is somehow “their” school. They don’t understand that public education is increasingly centralized — teaching a uniform curriculum, teaching a particular, secular set of values, and following priorities set in Washington, not by their local school board. The phrase is helpful for breaking through idealism and getting parents to analyze and understand the gritty reality of modern public education. The phrase works.

And so it must be squashed. And there’s no better way to discredit any modern idea than by tying it to a Confederate past. It’s certainly easier than addressing the core of the fundamental idea — that it’s better for America if more parents enjoy the educational choices that wealthy progressives take for granted.

Wealthy Americans have enormous educational advantages. They can afford private-school tuition (and many do just that). They can afford homes in the best school districts. They can employ private tutors and create the most lavish and interactive home-schooling experience. The rest of America? They’re typically reduced to no choice at all. There’s the mediocre public school in the moderately priced neighborhood or the dreadful school in the cheapest district. That’s it. There is nothing else.

Guilt trip

I read this article, on my iPad, felt quite ashamed and then decided to post it. He concluded:

We’re engaged in a war, and technology wields the heavy weapons. Rod Dreher published a bestseller called The Benedict Option, in which he urged people of faith to retreat behind monastic walls as the Benedictines did—after all, they preserved literacy and culture during one of the darkest eras of human history. I don’t completely agree with Dreher, though I’m convinced that the preservation of reading will require something akin to the Benedict option.

As soon as I post it I’m going to close down my devices and open a book.

Gender mayhem and the new Babel

30154-babel-800w-tn

The announcement last weekend that the British Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants to change the law so that people are free to specify their gender on their birth certificate regardless of medical opinion, provoked dismay and outrage among conservative people. Not all liberal people were happy with it either – but for the libertarian gender-benders it was like the dawn of a new age.

Tim Stanley, in the Daily Telegraph, took a critical if sober view of it. He didn’t think it would really fly. I wouldn’t be so sure, given the extent to which the very foundations on which common sense and the politics of the common good have been so badly warped. Stanley acknowledged:

Life is messy and the individual should navigate it with free will. But it’s precisely out of deference to the complexity of the human experience that we cling on to certain principles – principles that reflect not just our ideals but the realities of our nature. Biology is one of those realities, and it helps define us as men and women. Because biology is so vital, if you try to rewrite the principles to please one tiny minority, you impact upon the lives of absolutely everybody.

He adds, The Tories are meddling in affairs that are well beyond their intellectual grasp or the country’s willingness or capacity to accept change. Greening is asking the British public not only to accept a radical notion that most will find exotic but to rewrite the daily narrative of their own lives – and behave as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. It is, I suspect, too big an ask.

In The Times (London), Clare Foges struck a warning note suggesting that it would be unwise to be complacent. Storing up trouble for our children now and in future generations was what was on her mind.

Many of the adults among us may dismiss this with an inward roll of the eyes, too polite or too wearied by political correctness to demur. But children are increasingly presented with these complex and confusing ideas as unarguable fact. They are being led to believe, on social media and in schools, that gender is simply a lifestyle choice.
On Facebook, users can choose from a buffet of 71 gender options: polygender to two-spirit person. Last year the children’s commissioner sent a form to schoolchildren asking them to pick one of 25 genders that they identified with (withdrawn once the press started to take an interest). Girlguiding has said that boys as young as five who identify as girls can join the Rainbows or Brownies. Scores of schools have abolished “boys” and “girls” from their dress code. One of the country’s leading private schools, St Paul’s Girls’, now considers requests from students to be known either as gender-neutral or as boys. Pupils aged 11 to 15 “can have discussions at any time to explore their gender identity”. No doubt where St Paul’s leads many other schools will follow.

How did this happen, we might ask ourselves? What wrong turning led us to this Chaos? Losing our grip on the Cosmic reality that is God, denying the divine, must surely be somewhere near the heart of it.

Romano Guardini, puzzling over the paradox of an omnipotent God allowing himself to be ignored by his creatures, asks us rhetorically if man can actually turn his back on God? How come it is possible  – if God is really the all-powerful One standing at the beginning and end of time, in history and in eternity, in us and above us in heart and heaven, – that he can be denied, blasphemed, even—incomprehensible mystery—overlooked and forgotten?

Frightening as the prospect is, he confirms:

It is possible—this and more. For it is also possible for God, the one Reality, to exist, and for man, his own creature to declare: God is dead! Man can behave as if God did not exist. He can act, judge, proceed as if nothing existed but himself, man, and the animal, and the tree and the earth. It is possible for man (who has a vital soul through which he exists as man, through which he is joyful or sorrowful) to insist that he is soulless. All this is possible because seeing and understanding, serious contemplation and acceptance of reality are vital processes, hence dependent on man’s will and profoundest disposition. Thus also his capacity for negation is illimitable.

And the consequences are what we have now got. Our capacity for negation is in overdrive.

Roger Scruton put his finger on it in his new book, On Human Nature, when he says:

Take away religion, take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art, and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness. Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead. Biological reductionism nurtures this “living down,” which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. It abolishes our kind——and with it our kindness.

And it is precisely the milk of human kindness which Foges tells us we should be relying on in our efforts to deal with our differences and our diversity. She wants our guiding instinct in these matters to be kindness and warns that in seeking to support the tiny minority of children who feel trapped in the wrong body we run the risk of creating a world of confusion and anxiety for the rest.

But ultimately where does kindness come from? Even in a civilization which acknowledges the existence of God there is a struggle to maintain it against our inherent tendency to selfishness. But in any world we know of – contemporary or historical –  where the existence of God is denied our record is horrific. Individuals who have lost their faith in God can be sustained in their humanity by the mores ingrained in them by a believing society, but when that society itself rejects God, and surrenders itself to the values of self-centred and utterly narcissistic individualism, then we all re-enter the tower of Babel. That is what is now threatening us.

Guardini contemplates this reality when he writes, in his reflection on the last chapters of the Revelation of St. John, that:

Unconverted man lives in the visible world judging all that is or may be by tradition’s experience and by the rules of logic. But when he encounters Christ, he must either accept him and his revolutionary approach to truth or lose him. If he attempts to judge also the Lord by the standards of common experience, he will soon notice that he is dealing with something outside experience. He will have to discard the norms of the past, and take Christ as his new point of departure. When he no longer attempts to subject Christ to immediate reason and experience, he will recognize him as the supreme measure of all possible reality.

A big part of modern man’s ‘problem’ with God is surely rooted in his refusal to accept God as God and not as something in his own image. Doing this is no risk to his innate pride and self-centredness. But God is not made in our image. We are made in his image, and made by him. Ignoring that spells big trouble. Guardini continues:

The intellect jealous for its own sovereignty rejects such recognition, which would put an end to its world-anchored self-glorification, and surrender it into the hands of the God of Revelation. This is the ‘risk’ any would-be Christian must take. If he takes it, a profound revolution begins…. And to the degree that the searching individual experiences such spiritual revolution, he gains an amplitude, a superiority, a synthesizing power of reason that no natural insight can match.

Those of us now facing this new Babel, this incomprehensible confusion in our society and in the hearts and minds of so many, have a difficult choice to make. We are being faced with a world-view which has attempted to compromise with the substance of our nature and identity because it has abandoned one of the defining truths about our existence – we are the creatures of the Living God. If there is to be any hope of rescue from this state, Guardini, back in the 1930s, told us what must be done:

The term ‘Christian culture’ must be purged of all that is questionable in it. The gulf between Revelation and the world must reopen. Perhaps a new period of persecution and outlawry must come to shake Christians back to a living consciousness of the values for which they stand.

Mankind, once again, has a great adventure before it.

 

On recession, regression and renaissance

They said it would take ten years. It did, just about that. I’m no measurer of economic development and progress but it does seem that the Great Recession is over and the waters of a kind of prosperity are lapping the shore once more. In Ireland we are more or less on out feet again, if some recent headlines are to be taken at face value.

“New property millionaires are being created at a rate of a dozen a week. There are now close to 4,000 homeowners in Ireland whose property is worth €1m or more”. Not to mention the spectacle of cranes flying over the City of Dublin. It is now ranked fifth in the world for prime retail rent growth.

That headline and those cranes might be a two-edged sword and doubtless will be causing some to cross their fingers in the hope that it is not a sign of a boom before the next bust.

File_007 (1)
A Dublin skyline

But what about the more crippling recession – or rather, regression? Any sign of remission there? It is a regression wider, deeper and ultimately more damaging than any in the material order and it is still draining the blood from the living tissue our civilization. We now live in nations where values have become so fragmented and have been so weakened by their fragmentation that they no longer seem up to the task of holding our societies and communities together.

However, there are voices calling us to our senses. Eugene Vodvolaskyn, Russian academic philologist and novelist is one. Joseph Ratzinger, emeritus Pope Benedict XVII, is another. Philosopher Roger Scruton is a third. There are more – but where are their disciples, without whom they will just be voices crying in the wilderness.

rian_01481857_vodolazkin_468
Eugene Vodvolaskyn

All three of these see a two-fold development in our culture which is near the heart of the disintegration which threatens us: excessive individualism and secularization. It is twofold because the one leads to the other. Indeed, like malign cells in the body, they complement each other and feed off all around them. Excessive individualism has no room for the Other – and certainly no room for God. Secularism, by eliminating God, has nowhere to lead us except to worship the Self.

Scruton in his book, On Human Nature, reminds us of how Milton conjured the truth of our condition from the raw materials of Genesis, and in doing so set a standard for art which was truly human. We might add Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes, like Milton, inheritors of the treasures of the High Middle Ages who have never been surpassed in their vision of what is is to be human and divine. Modern man and much of his literature, his philosophy, his politics, in his flight from God is a wrecker.

“Take away religion, take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art,” Scruton writes, “and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness. Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead. Biological reductionism nurtures this ‘living down,’ which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. It abolishes our kind — and with it our kindness” (P.49).

Pinpointing these two maladies as key issues to be faced if our civilization is to be rescued from this regression, Vodvolaskyn traces the degeneration in this way:

“In the modern age, the individual required recognition. Faith required lack of faith so that the believer would have a choice and so that faith wouldn’t be a mere everyday habit. This train gathered speed but didn’t stop. It kept moving even after reaching its station. It now seems to have gone pretty far beyond its destination. The cult of the individual now places us outside divine and human community. The harmony in which a person once found himself with God during the Middle Ages has been destroyed, and God no longer stands at the center of the human consciousness.”

Vodvolaskyn echoes the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his famous “Warning to the West“, given after his exile from Russia.  Humanism of the modern age, the former tells us, takes it that the human being is the measure of all things. While, he says, the same could be said of the Middle Ages, there is one vital qualification. “For medieval man there was one correction: The person is the measure of all things, if it is understood that the measure was given by God.”

Roger Scruton adds that thinkers in the eighteenth century compounded the degeneration. He rightly points out that our academic political philosophy has its roots in the Enlightenment, in the conception of Citiznship that emerged with the social contract. That contract replaced inherited authority with popular choice as the principle of political legitimacy. Not surprisingly, he says, it has had little time for piety, which—if acknowledged at all—is confined to the private sphere” (P 126).

The concept and definition of “person”, explored by Scruton in his book, is a key to the entire crisis. Our civilization has now such a garbled concept of the person, its nature and dignity, its unified essence as body and soul, that it has all but shipwrecked us on the rocks exposed by the receding waters.

Without the correction supplied by medieval man, in Vodvolaskyn’s view, humanism becomes inhuman. With excessive individualism, the rights set down for the individual multiply. The Russian foresees a demand inevitably coming for a right to cross the street against a red light. Take that literally or metaphorically. Ultimately, he argues, because our concept of rights is anti-humane at its core, it activates the mechanism for self-destruction. “The right to suicide turns out to be our most exemplary liberty.”

Ireland, not too long ago was still a safe place to negotiate the world, to raise a family, to pursue the good life. It was holding on, albeit somewhat superficially, to the more metaphysical world view characteristic of the Middle Ages which Vodvolaskyn identifies. It is no longer so, at least in the urbanised and materialistic sectors of its population. While there are still many there who feel that true value and virtue have been swept away by fickle modernity, there are many others rejoicing and celebrating the change.

What has happened to Ireland is what is likely to happen to any cluster of humanity whose moral compass is put in the hands of entertainers, celebrities and a political class whose members care more about their media image and so-called legacy than about the true good of the people.

Ireland may be fast approaching a cultural condition illustrated by Vodvolaskyn in the following anecdote. He recounts an encounter, some 20 years ago, with a Dutch pastor, an advocate of The Netherland’s culture of tolerance, who took him on a tour of Amsterdam.

“The Dutch people are tolerant, he told me, and hence in Amsterdam, there are no ethnic or religious minorities, an achievement made possible by the fact that although a majority of residents are of Dutch descent, only around 25 percent call themselves Christian. His enumeration of the achievements of Dutch tolerance concluded with an account of the removal of a stanza about the help of God from the national anthem of the Netherlands. As you can understand, explained the pastor, various people have various gods, and they can be offended that the anthem names only the Christian God. This is a triumph for tolerance, isn’t it? Listening to him, I thought, if this is a triumph, what would catastrophe be like?”

That was before the spectre of jihad made its appearance on Dutch soil. One wonders what the pastor is thinking today.

Vodvolaskyn, in an essay entitled ‘The New Middle Age’, published in First Things over a year ago, as a philologist might be inclined to do, identified the world as a text.

“As in the Middle Ages, the world itself is becoming a text, though the texts vary in these two cases. The medieval world was a text written by God that excluded the ill-considered and the accidental. The Holy Scripture, which gave meaning to the signs that were generously scattered in daily life, was this world’s key. Now the world is a text that has any number of individual meanings that can be documented. Think of the blogger who describes, minute by minute, a day that has passed.”

But the modern age, with its false humanism, centered exclusively on man, repudiated the Christian vision. The progressivist delusion clouded the picture and abandoned the vision of a unified world where the past and the present were one force.

Vodvolaskyn, being Russian, looks at the modern world from that perspective. But he is also profoundly Christian and fully aware of the historic unity of spirit which Christianity brought to what we call the West. He is also deeply optimistic about the potential which this spirit still has to transform and renew the now decaying civilization in which we find ourselves.

Both Vodvolaskyn and Joseph Ratzinger – surely not only one of the greatest popes of the modern age but also one of its wisest political philosophers – see that the changes that have to come have to take place in our hearts as well as in our culture and in our reason-based political institutions. For both of them utopian dreams are paths to disaster for mankind – as they have shown themselves to be from Cromwell’s time up to the age of ISIS.

Ratzinger points out in Values In A Time of Upheaval:

“The enthusiastic messianism of an eschatological and revolutionary character is absolutely foreign to the New Testament. History is, so to speak, the kingdom where reason rules. Although politics does not bring about the kingdom of God, it must be concerned for the right kingdom of human beings, that is, it must create the preconditions for peace at home and abroad and for a rule of law that will permit everyone to ‘lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way’ (1 Tim. 2: 2). One could say that this also implies the demand of religious freedom. Similarly, the text is confident that reason can recognize the essential moral foundations of human existence and can implement these in the political domain.”

Scruton, for his part, warns us of the totalitarian traps which the modern philosophies of Peter Singer and Derek Parfit , both icons of progressivism, set for us with their consequentialist moral reasoning.

“Both philosophers overlook the actual record of consequentialist reasoning. Modern history presents case after case of inspired people led by visions of ‘the best,’ believing that all rational beings would adopt those visions if only they would think about them clearly. The Communist Manifesto is one such Vision. It gives a picture of ‘the best’ and argues that all would work for it, the bourgeoisie included, if only they understood the impeccable arguments for its implementation. Those who stand in the way of revolution are self-interested; but they are also irrational and would change sides if they thought seriously about principles that everyone could will to be laws. Since their interests prevent them from thinking in that way, violent revolution is both necessary and inevitable.”  (P97)

Vodvolaskyn argues for a conservative project and thinks that if the West is able to move beyond its geopolitical disagreements with Russia, it will see one possible future for our common European civilization. One of his fears, which he elaborates in another more recent essay, is that if Russia attempts this by means of a harsh dictatorship of the majority, then it will fail and destabilize society no less than, say, “the dictatorship of the minority that we can observe at times in the West.”

Today as ever, he holds,—contrary to progressive conceits—it is possible for a society to recognize a place for religion and uphold traditional notions of marriage and family. For Scruton it is not only possible. It is essential. In his book he subscribes to the “deep insight” shared by Burke, Maistre and Hegel, that the destiny of political order and the destiny of the family are connected. “Families, and the relationships embraced by them, are nonaccidental features of interpersonal life.”

Contemporary progressivism’s deconstruction of the family is at the heart of our society’s catastrophic regression.

But piling hope upon Vodvolaskyn’s hope, we look for a new Renaissance. But this renaissance will not be a rediscovery of the ancient world. It will be a rediscovery of the treasures of the Middle Ages, cast aside so dismissively by those who consider the word medieval just another expletive. Western Europe, Russia, and the United States, he maintains, represent various branches of a single tree. The basic systemic feature of this civilization is Christianity, both as a religious practice and as a specific kind of culture. If European civilization is fated to survive, it will require a rediscovery of Christianity. And that will, he says, take place both on the level of persons, of  nation-states and at a pan-European level.

Once more, we live in hope.

The glory and the shame inevitable in all conquest

I have been watching, over the past month, the superb series made under the aegis of that supreme documentarist, Ken Burns. It is the PBS series, ‘The West’.

It is a nine part series, most running for about an hour and 20 minutes each. In it the history of America’s westward expansion is chronicled, explored and described through the stories of many who lived, suffered and perished in what was an extraordinary mass movement of people across the land mass that we now know as the United States.

In the opening scenes a voice talks over the spectacular images of North America’s beautiful and sometimes terrifying landscapes. He tells us that the story we are about to hear is one which both makes the heart swell with pride and at the same time shrink in shame. It is an incredible story. But it is a story which – at one point in one of the nine episodes – we are reminded by former Texas governor, Ann Richards, follows the pattern of all conquests. It is replete with barbarism and injustice, with heroism and idealism – but above all, a kind of inevitability. Furthermore, it is a reminder of the fallibility of men, even of men who sincerely set for themselves the highest of ideals.

Everything in the story ‘The West’ tells us bears out and illustrates a reflective column by Michael Gerson in a recent edition of the Washington Post.

By definition, America can’t be a normal nation. It stands for more than getting and keeping. Its greatness is a greatness of spirit. And its failures — such as slavery, segregation and the shameful treatment of Native Americans — are not only legal but also spiritual failures. They are blasphemy against our country’s creed.

Does anyone think or talk like this now? They need to. There is so much dehumanization in our politics, and the main role of the Declaration is humanization. Its ideals are desperately needed and roundly ignored.

How do we measure our loss? It might be a useful exercise to take political arguments and apply the Declaration as a kind of suffix. So: We should fear Latino migrants as gang members and murderers . . . and all men and women are created equal. Or: Muslims are a threat and should be kept out of the country . . . and all men and women are created equal. Or: Spending on AIDS treatments for foreigners is a waste . . . and all men and women are created equal. Or: The human cost of a failing health or education system doesn’t matter . . . and all men and women are created equal. Or: Human beings can be dismembered up to the moment before birth . . . and all men and women are created equal.

Donal Trump rode to victory last year on the back of a slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. Seeing ‘The West’ will make – or should make – every subscriber to that aspiration ask themselves about the cost that might be paid again if that greatness were to be pursued as ruthlessly and as incompetently as on the first path empire.