The practice of (biased) journalism

truth-166853_640-jpg_resized_620_

The Radio Times, the BBC’s mass circulation listings magazine, promotes a programme on the issue of abortion this week with the following introductory paragraph.

There are few topics as delicate or contentious today as abortion. From Donald Trump’s global gag rule, which sparked international outrage earlier this year, to Ireland’s forthcoming referendum on whether to repeal its abortion ban in 2018, it is one of the most polarising issues of our time

The word “delicate” is ok. I think we can all accept the objectivity of “contentious” as well. But when we move to Trump’s “global gag rule” we begin to feel a little unsure of our ground. No one likes being gagged and people who gag others are generally objectionable. Then there is “international outrage”. Was there no support for his policy move? The final blow to our confidence in the BBC’s honesty, fairness and integrity comes with the Irish reference.

The Irish are not going to the polls next year to repeal or not repeal an “abortion ban.” They will be deciding whether or not to continue to vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn, whether or not to remove from their constitution the article which says:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Am I playing wth words? No, I am trying to do what the BBC is failing to do – use words as objectively as I can, stating the facts without the colour of my opinions attached. My effort at trying to describe what the BBC programme is hoping to do would go something like this.

There are few topics as delicate or contentious today as abortion. From Donald Trump’s policies on Planned Parnthood funding, which sparked international outrage among pro-choice supporters earlier this year, to Ireland’s forthcoming referendum on whether to repeal its law on the right to life of the unborn  in 2018, it is one of the most polarising issues of our time.

No matter what your personal opinion on the issue might be I would hope that you would be reasonably comfortable reading that ‘intro’ to the subject. You might still detect something of my personal opinions there but I would also hope that you would detect something of my respect for your right to an opposing opinion. The Radio Times simply  clobbers me over the head with its strident language. Sad.

On reading that opening paragraph in the magazine who could have any expectation that what this programme will present will be anything other than another apology for abortion on demand?

And sadly this is just one small example of the rampant abandonment by so many journalists of any effort to present facts dispassionately when they at the same time proclaim a commitment to that very ideal. The consequence of all this is that they not only destroy our confidence and trust in a great public institution but they undermine the strength and value of their own opinions. If we cannot trust them to give us the facts honestly then we cannot place much value on the opinions which they are calling on those “facts” to support.

 

Daring to ask a question – paying a high price

illiteracy-is-bondage

If illiteracy is bondage, the moral variety is even more so. The moral illiteracy of our age is astounding. It is revealed yet again in an Irish context in the controversy surrounding a well-known radio journalist, George Hook, who found himself suspended from his job for asking a simple question with insufficient delicacy. In fact, the delicacy was not the real issue. It was that he asked the question at all.

But what exactly did he say? In the context of a rape charge involving a drunken threesome he had no doubt that, if guilty, the rapist had committed a horrible crime. However, Hook’s undoing was that he then had the temerity to ask a universal question, “But is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?

Mr Hook also said: “There is personal responsibility because it’s your daughter and it’s my daughter. And what determines the daughter who goes out, gets drunk, passes out and is with strangers in her room and the daughter that goes out, stays halfway sober and comes home, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I wish I knew what the secret of parenting is.

“But there is a point of responsibility. The real issues nowadays and increasingly is the question of the personal responsibility that young girls are taking for their own safety.”

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of a Rape Crisis Centre, said Mr Hook’s comments were problematic, wrong, and entirely irresponsible. “When someone is raped the only person responsible is the rapist.”

Chris Donoghue, the group political editor at Communicorp, a media company that owns the station Hook works for, tweeted about his colleague saying, “Someone needs to go to town on Hook. It’s disgusting.”

A day or two later he tweeted again saying: “Thanks for msgs, I’m not trying to be a hero or outspoken. It’s a basic thing for everyone to stand for. Rape is never a victim’s fault.”

This is moral illiteracy – showing a total and wanton ignorance of the rational concept of moral culpability, or lack of it.

Put simply and taken out of the sordid context of rape, if I see a “Beware of the dog” sign and, after ignoring it, get badly bitten, at best I am a fool, at worst I am morally culpable of negligence relating to my bodily integrity. If I get into a car with a drunk behind the wheel do I not have to ask myself some questions about my common sense, my moral sense and certainly my sense of responsibility with regard to my own safety and well-being? If my companion drives off the road I will not have perpetrated that act but my injuries – possibly my death – will be a witness to my gross imprudence as well as to the driver’s criminality. Perhaps the moral ignorance which makes people think otherwise comes from the widespread equating of legality with morality.

Camille Paglia, Laura Kipnis, cultural critics and feminists who talk a lot of sense  about drinking on campus have made themselves very unpopular with the moral illiterates.

“If you’re to going drink 11 ounces of liquor, that’s destructive on a lot of levels. In terms of self-protection, you just cannot know what’s going to happen when you’re comatose,”  Kipnis argues in her new book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus. She also makes the point: “To say that women don’t have to be part of the solution is almost perverse.”

Paglia’s new book, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism, reprises previously published essays. A professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, she suggests less boozing and more “take-charge attitude” might spare young women from rape – or what she described in a 2014 Time article as “oafish hookup melodramas arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.”

Then we had an older and a wiser Chrissie Hynde, founding member of the rock band The Pretenders telling us in her 2015 memoir Reckless that she’d been raped by a biker gang member at the age of 21. The moral illiterates found it incomprehensible that  the singer blamed herself for “playing with fire,”

Poor George Hook thought he might get away with adding his tuppence-worth of moral wisdom to all that. Little did he know the depth of ignorance he would have to contend with as the moral illiterates bayed for his blood and attempt to destroy his career with relish?

 

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.

 

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.’

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.