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

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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.

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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

 

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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?

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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.

The curious predicament of Mr. Jones

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`Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

Well, I’m afraid`Curiouser and curiouser!’ hardly seems up to describing our prediciment. ‘Frighteneder and Frighteneder’, or ‘frustrateder and frustateder’ seems a more apt corruption of the English language to describe our condition than does Alice’s mild aberration of our tongue.  We truly are caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

Is there anyone out there who also feels like screaming out, “What the blazes is going on?” Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones? Dead right. Bob Dylan’s Ballad Of A Thin Man might have been written as a allegory for another era but it sure as hell seems to be phrophetic for ours.

I liked Melanie Phillips take on it on her blog yesterday.

She began by expressing her bewilderment about what was one of the strangest weeks in the politics of the United States. Stranger Things‘ world had nothing on it. But like that world, an even stranger upside-down world was lying beneath the surface. Our helpless bewilderment comes from the total failure of our media to instill any confidence in us that they are giving us any explanation of what is going on. They have become so much party to the opposition to the strange Trump administration that even when they are telling us the truth we are unable to take their word for it.

Her summing up of the week is this:

The sacking of the ineffective Reince Priebus was probably the right move – replacing him with the effective and focused Homeland Security head, retired General John Kelly. Trump’s public bullying of his Attorney-General Jeff Sesions as “weak” and “beleaguered” was appalling. The Scaramucci tirade was totally beyond the pale and besmirched both the office of president and the man who had appointed this verbal thug. The defeat of the Obamacare repeal bill was a serious setback. The questioning of Jared Kushner went precisely nowhere.

But then she calls out the mainstream media opposition to Trump for its partisan ignoring of what she sees as a major story waiting to get the media’s spotlignt – but doesn’t. A swamp from which it averts its gaze — “because this points to the fact that, rather than Team Trump being involved in situations that undermine the security and constitution of the United States, it is the Democratic Party that is increasingly in the frame.”

She is referring to the evidence given last week by financier, William Browder, the the Senate Judiciary Committee, revealing the connections between the shady media manipulator, Fusion GPS, Russian manipulators and the Democratic Party itself.

Phillips concludes:

Whatever concerns one may have about Trump’s character, this surely is the “swamp” from which he is trying to extricate his administration. He believes the Republican machine will prevent him from doing so, whether through inertia, incompetence or worse. The convulsions inside his administration, such as the ousting of Reince Priebus, are his attempt now to disengage it altogether from the Republican establishment. This is causing apoplexy amongst establishment types across the aisle, who regard the emergence of a presidential administration that slips its moorings in the party machine as the unleashing of a wild man.

But hey folks, that’s exactly what 63 million Americans elected Trump to do. He campaigned as someone absolutely outside all the normal rules and conventions of government; he was elected because that’s exactly what his voters wanted as their president since they had totally lost faith in the entire political establishment, including the wretched Republicans; and that’s exactly how he intends to govern. That’s how he will deliver on the promise he made to the people.

It’s called democracy; and at the end of it, America may emerge cleaner and stronger. Why? Because its ruling class is an Augean stables that needs to be cleansed and maybe only a wild man can do that. Uncomfortable? Without doubt. Distasteful? Certainly. Dangerous? You bet. Wild men always are. But the blame for this should be laid squarely at the door of all those in the Beltway and among its media sycophants who caused this to happen and have still not learned their lesson.

As Alice said, `Curiouser and curiouser!’ Or worse.

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard but you don’t understand
Just what you will say when you get home
Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?

 

Long live the Queen

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This might irritate some, but it shouldn’t. In reality it is all about reminding a people where they have come from, what their history is and how it has unfolded. It reminds them how it has given them the stable, even if imperfect, political system they – and much of the world – benefits from today.

Back Story, courtesy of the New York Times:

Queen Elizabeth II will announce Prime Minister David Cameron’s legislative program for the next year at the state opening of Parliament in London today.
Hours before her arrival, the royal bodyguards perform a ceremonial search of the basement of the Palace of Westminster, where the two houses of Parliament meet.

It’s a throwback to the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when Guy Fawkes tried to murder England’s king and its ruling classes by blowing up the House of Lords.

Led by parading soldiers, the Queen arrives in a gilded carriage drawn by four Windsor Greys and guarded by coachmen who are still called bargemen because the monarch used to come by river.

Members of Parliament are ceremonially summoned to the House of Lords by her representative, known as the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

In one of the more colorful rituals, he approaches the doors of the House of Commons, only to have it slammed in his face. The custom dates to the English Civil War and symbolizes Parliament’s independence from the crown.

Only after knocking three times with his ebony stick is he let into the chamber, where he announces, “The Queen commands this honorable house to attend her majesty immediately.”

Everyone then heads to the House of Lords, where the Queen recites the speech from her throne and wearing her diamond-encrusted Imperial State Crown.

Your Morning Briefing is published weekdays at 6 a.m. Eastern and updated on the web all morning.

Donald the victim?

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The American – sorry, the United States – electoral system has never looked so chaotic as it does in this election. If it were not for its relatively wise and sophisticated constitutional arrangement for balancing power within the overall political system, it might make the rest of us in the world very nervous indeed.

It has, of course shown its capacity for chaos before. Remember those dimpled chads of the Bush-Gore battle? The New York Times newsletter’s “Back Story” today reminds us that Donald Trump’s allegations of “rigging” the Republican Convention is not a new charge.

At the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting, despite Mr. Trump’s advantage in delegates, his opponents are arguing that it is not too late to stop him. If they are able to do so it will be thanks to the complex system of rules for choosing convention representatives. Those rules are why Mr. Trump is calling it “a rigged” nominating process.

Party conventions have faced those accusations before, the Times tells us, with one of the most famous examples occurring in 1960.

Former President Harry Truman resigned as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, calling the event “a prearranged affair,” fixed to give the nomination to John F. Kennedy.

Although Mr. Kennedy arrived in Los Angeles as the front-runner, having won each of the seven primaries he entered, his selection was not a done deal.

He didn’t reach the necessary vote total for the nomination until Wyoming, the final state scheduled in the roll call, pushed him over the top.

The political jockeying continued to the very end, with the convention floor briefly taken over by nondelegates who had slipped into the hall to support Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats’ nominee in 1952 and 1956.

The top Democratic Party official said the protest was “the best answer to charges of rigging for Jack Kennedy.”

What the top Republican Party official will be saying after July 18–21, when the Convention concludes in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, is anyone’s guess.

Hope for the powerless?

 

 

 

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Ireland’s parliament – Dáil Eireann

For most of the time ordinary people don’t want power. They just want to get on with their lives. Democracy relieved them of dictatorial, aristocratic and oligarchic abuses of power. In our democratic age we expect that all we have to do is choose, every few years, reasonable, just and capable people to look after our public affairs for us – and all will be well. That seems to be enough power to keep us going. But something radical has now happened. We do not seem to be in this comfortable place anymore.

David Brooks reflected on “powerlessness” in a column in the New York Times last week, relating it to an essay by George Orwell reflecting on an incident in his time as a colonial policeman in Burma back in the 1930s.

“In his essay”, Brooks tells us, “nobody feels like they have any power. The locals, the imperial victims, sure didn’t. Orwell, the guy with the gun, didn’t feel like he had any. The imperialists back in London were too far away.” He thinks this is the way much of the world is today, with everyone afflicted with a widespread sentiment that power is somewhere other than where you are.

Suddenly, we are not so sure that anything we think, say or do matters anymore. If it did why do I have to suppress this sense of fear and loathing every morning as I make my way to work past the Irish parliament and the offices of the prime minister of my country?

Brooks, writing in the American context, speaks of the confusion he sees right across the social and political spectrum where every group feels it is being hard done by in the system. A Pew Research Center poll asked Americans, ‘Would you say your side has been winning or losing more?’ Sixty-four percent of Americans, with majorities of both parties, believe their side has been losing more.

“Sometimes”, Brooks says, “when groups feel oppressed, they organize by coming up with concrete reform proposals to empower themselves.” He cites the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of this kind of response.

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George Orwell

Here in Ireland some people afflicted by this “powerlessness” syndrome hope that new political parties might give some respite. Others despair even of that when they look at the options that new fledgling parties provide. They hope that the wave of independent  non-party representatives expected in the next Irish parliament – the general election for a new Dáil will take place in about five weeks from now – will at least throw up something to relieve their pain and their anxiety. Others just look on this as a vain hope, convinced that what they see as a mildly to severely corrupt political and media establishment will manipulate the system to keep themselves in power.

Brooks thinks that “the feeling of absolute powerlessness can corrupt absolutely. As psychological research has shown, many people who feel powerless come to feel unworthy, and become complicit in their own oppression. Some exaggerate the weight and size of the obstacles in front of them. Some feel dehumanized, forsaken, doomed and guilty.”

The ultimate stand of the hopeless is a defiant but pointless one and is made when they feel overwhelmed by isolation and atomization. Having lost all trust in their own institutions, they respond to powerlessness with pointless acts of self-destruction. Brooks cites what is happening in the Palestinian territories as a classic example. “Young people don’t organize or work with their government to improve their prospects. They wander into Israel, try to stab a soldier or a pregnant woman and get shot or arrested — every single time. They throw away their lives for a pointless and usually botched moment of terrorism.”

In the United States today, on a macro level, everyone seems to be scratching their heads and asking themselves how this particular electoral cycle leading to the election of their 45th President got so crazy. On a micro level they are agonizing over the strange dysfunction of their legal and law enforcement system which two Columbia University journalism graduates have exposed in their riveting documentary series on Netflix, Making a Murderer.

For Brooks the first is a perversion brought about by feelings of powerlessness. As regards the second, no one seems to have any answers. It all ends up compounding the despair.

Brooks sums up the American dilemma: “Americans are beset by complex, intractable problems that don’t have a clear villain: technological change displaces workers; globalization and the rapid movement of people destabilize communities; family structure dissolves; the political order in the Middle East teeters, the Chinese economy craters, inequality rises, the global order frays, etc.”

Irish citizens seldom agonize over all of these issues – because they don’t expect their chosen representatives to have to deal with them. Our hapless and helpless representatives had to rely of an international troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to dig it out of the mess they let the country fall into in the mid 2000s. The smug way in which the current political establishment now claims credit for the troika’s vigilance in having guided us to a reasonably safe haven fools some but angers others.

Is Ireland safe from the horrors of the unsafe verdicts and law enforcement shenanigans portrayed in Making a Murder? Irish radio last week was debating whether the dreadful scenario presented in the series could happen in their blessed land. Indeed it could – and from time to time there have been suspicious signs that something like it has.

On the political front, thirty-eight percent of the Irish electorate looked on in dismay last year as a united phalanx of political and media forces effectively consigned the already badly wounded natural institution of marriage to the rubbish heap of history by effectively redefining it out of existence. In the previous year the same coordinated forces took the first step in removing from Ireland’s laws and constitution the right to life of unborn children. It is now building up forces again to complete this work and get Ireland to join the world club of states which judicially take the lives of millions of innocent human beings every year. Ireland legislators will do this again with the help of hand-picked lackeys to form “expert groups” and “citizen forums”, the modern equivalent of the packed juries of former times which put the veneer of justice on the killing willed their masters.

The citizens who see these developments as catastrophes feel as powerless as victims confronted by an alien force from they know not where. Their fear is compounded by the fact that this force comes in the form of a human agency whose framework of values is totally out of sync with everything they know about human nature, human dignity and natural justice.

The consequences of the exercise of power by this agency – or agencies either under their control or influence – are the cause of the loathing that they feel. Among these consequences are the slaughter of the unborn, the termination of lives considered “limited”, whether youthful or aged, the destruction of family and the redefinition of human nature itself by the adoption of a crazy gender ideology.

Some but not all of these things have arrived in Ireland. But they surely will and the feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it in the face of an entrenched alien force is breeding despair. How ironic is this in the very year in which Ireland’s people “celebrate” the centenary of the rebellion which led to their winning independence from Britain?

For more than 700 years Ireland was subject to the British Crown. For much of three centuries of that era, up to the later part of the 18th century, her people suffered bitter and lethal persecution for adhering to the principles of their Catholic Faith. There are many who now fear that the Irish political and media establishment’s adherence to new definitions of humanity contrary to their Faith will usher in an new era of persecution.

In Ireland’s history, constitutional change and violent rebellion, sometimes one, sometimes the other, were resorted to as a way of rectifying injustice and of bringing persecution to an end. The hope is that the former will be the means of choice this time to restore to the powerless their democratic voice in the face of something which at times does not look too far removed from a new tyranny.

In looking for a solution to the problem in his country Brooks argues:

To address these problems we need big, responsible institutions (power centres) that can mobilize people, cobble together governing majorities and enact plans of actions. In the U.S. context that means functioning political parties and a functioning Congress.

Those institutions have been weakened of late. Parties have been rendered weak by both campaign finance laws and the Citizens United decision, which have cut off their funding streams and given power to polarized super-donors who work outside the party system. Congress has been weakened by polarization and disruptive members who don’t believe in legislating.

If we’re to have any hope of addressing big systemic problems we’ll have to repair big institutions and have functioning parties and a functioning Congress. We have to discard the anti-political, anti-institutional mood that is prevalent and rebuild effective democratic power centres.

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David Brooks

So it may be for America – although I doubt it. In the Irish context is a party like Renua the solution? Or will it be the Social Democrats, or Sinn Fein? I doubt it even more. Why? Because none of these parties have anything of the vision of mankind which has in it the core truths which would enable it to frame consistent policies – social, political or economic – which will meet the needs of our nature and the aspirations which arise from that very nature. Some individuals within these movements have such a vision but these are dismissed by the establishment as “sanctimonious” dreamers. But these are the only hope that the powerless have. The fact is that there is no coherent collective voice in evidence yet which convinces the powerless that there is an alternative vision by which their country might be wisely and justly governed.

Until there is this substance in those currently hollow shells which pass for policies among all these alternatives, any new solution to our powerlessness will be fruitless. Until then the political and moral bankruptcy of our time will continue to plague us.

Don’t worry, yet…

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For anyone worrying about the world falling into the hands of this man, courtesy of the United States of America’s electorate, the message in today’s New York Times is, don’t – yet.

There is no doubt but that Donald Trump’s run for the Republication nomination as a candidate in November’s election has made it – so far -one of the most bizarre in recent memory. It will also make it at least the subject of an important footnote in polling textbooks in the future.

The Times’s editorial observer helpfully explains, however, why we don’t need to worry about it at this early stage of the race. It has all to do with the vagaries of polling. In real terms Trump’s dramatic showing in the polls is about as good an indicator of what is likely to happen as are the leaves at the bottom of your tea cup.

Read her well sourced analysis here and don’t lose confidence in the reasonably good sense of American Republicans. What we can hope for from the totality of the US electorate in November is a more moot question.

At the mercy of others’ personal will and judgement

This, surely, will not end well. American writer, Brandon McGinley, writing in The Federalist last week, sounded very nervous about where his country – and his country’s media – is headed. Writing from Ireland one can only feel the same nervousness about the situation here. Reflecting on Thomas Jefferson’s famous dictum, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” McGinley finds it now cast on the rubbish heap. He comments:

While it would be senseless for dissent to always be the most patriotic course, this popular concept points to something true: We have a solemn duty to advocate that the state conform itself to certain moral standards that are outside, or prior to, the state. The state is best—it fulfills its role, dare we say its nature, most perfectly—when it pursues objective standards of truth and justice.

Patriotism, then, is not about conforming oneself to the state, nor is it about encouraging the state to conform itself to the majority. It is rather about advocating tirelessly for the state to conform itself to the truth.

But what is truth? Pilate gave up on that one. The American Supreme Court gave up on it as well – and, by virtue of its all-pervasive influence, the rest of us are drifting in its aimless wake. Relativism rules and there is no truth.

Patriot-News will not be a household brand across the globe but it is part of the PA Media Group in Pennsylvania which boasts of  reaching millions and a Pulitzer Prize.

McGinley tells us that within minutes of the announcement of last week’s SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage Patriot-News announced:

“As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will no longer accept, nor will it print, op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.”

That needed further explanation to some people so  in a tweet later that day, the paper’s Editorial and Opinions Editor John L. Micek explained: “This is not hard: We would not print racist, sexist or anti-Semitic letters. To that, we add homophobic ones. Pretty simple.”

This was exactly the consequence which Justice Samuel Alito predicted in his dissent to the Court’s use of the “Selma analogy” in it majority judgement:

[The decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the (SCOTUS) majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.

It is here that McGinley sees the death of truth playing out in all its starkness. The new arbiter of all justice and morality has become – not even the will of the majority of the people, which itself is no arbiter of objective truth or morality either – the simple majority of the nine-member Supreme Court of the United States.

The decision to censor anti-same-sex marriage opinions is an incredible genuflection to The Nine of the Supreme Court, He says. Note the opening clause of the censorship announcement: “As a result of Friday’s ruling…” Micek may have gone on say this was about giving no quarter to bigotry, but the direct working is clear: They are excluding certain opinions because those opinions conflict with the Supreme Court.

The Patriot-News, he points out, isn’t censoring bigotry – because if it were, it would have been rejecting anti-same-sex marriage letters yesterday as well as today. The Court didn’t say anything about bigotry. He concludes:

 It is censoring dissent—dissent from the new orthodoxy proclaimed by our secular Magisterium, dissent from the prevailing viewpoint of our oligarchs, dissent from the state. And we are to conform ourselves to this orthodoxy not because it is good, but because the state so ordains it.

“As a result of Friday’s ruling…” Six simple words to turn dissent into sedition. Six simple words to the apotheosis of nine men and women. Six simple words to justify anything in the name of the state.

As the Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, Julian Burnside points out the right to life, freedom from arbitrary detention, freedom from torture, freedom of thought and belief, equality before the law etc. are readily accepted in principle. The disagreement arises when the question of protecting those rights is in issue.

The problem is that without our acceptance that there is an objective standard of truth, within the terms of the institutions which we have set up in our democracy, ultimately there is no limit to their power. We are at the mercy of the personal will and judgement – in this case, of nine people on a bench; in other cases, at the mercy of the judgement of elected representatives.

Burnside warns:

There is not much room for complacency. Within the scope of its legislative competence, Parliament’s power is unlimited. The classic example of this is that, if Parliament has power to make laws with respect to children, it could validly pass a law which required all blue-eyed babies to be killed at birth. The law, although terrible, would be valid.

One response to this is that a democratic system allows that government to be thrown out at the next election. This is true, but it is not much comfort for the blue-eyed babies born in the meantime. And even this democratic correction may not be enough: if blue-eyed people are an unpopular minority, the majority may prefer to return the government to power. The Nuremberg laws of Germany in the 1930s were horrifying, but were constitutionally valid laws which attracted the support of many Germans. At times, majoritarian rule begins to look like mob-rule.

This is the state we’re in and with our denial of the existence of any objective truth we have no grounds for opposing the decision of any majority – be it one of five against four, or 38 percent against 62 percent. We are at the mercy of those we elect – so we had better do our best to elect the best available; in other words, those who see that there is a truth beyond their own noses and the realm of emotion. Otherwise there is no guarantee that soon we might not be electing anyone. Democracy must rest on truth or it is nothing.