Monday, 30 September 2019

Why Safe Spaces Don't Really Exist

This week the University of Edinburgh has been criticised for hosting an “anti-racism” event in which white people were due to be banned from asking questions. The conference was organised by the Resisting Whiteness group, which opposes racism and describes itself as a QTPOC (queer and trans people of colour) organisation. There are apparently two “safe spaces” at the event - and for one of which, white people will be barred from entering. The report said "the safe places are meant for those who feel “overwhelmed, overstimulated or uncomfortable”. Their aim is to “amplify the voices of people of colour" by not be giving the microphone to white people during the Q&As.

While the intentions are deeply disturbing, and indicative of a failing culture, I actually think the concept of safe spaces is a dubious one - there are not really any safe spaces, at least not at the intellectual level in universities. A place of sanctuary is a viable safe haven, such as for groups of addicts or women recovering from domestic abuse, but there are no real safe spaces in terms of intellectual ideas.
It's not just that attempted safe spaces stifle thought and erode free expression - the people within the walls of their self-constricted safe spaces are never really protected from what lurks beneath the sub-ducts of their psyche and their despair at being incarcerated in such a constricting mental prison. The walls they have erected to protect them from the outside are full of cracks into which those outside things leak anyway - you are never safe from the dangers of retarding truth, nor from the loss of the liberation gained from discovery and from the exploration of ideas. People who like the sound of intellectual safe spaces should be very careful what they wish for - it's going to feel like hell in the end.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

This Is One Of The Cleverest Memes Of The Year (If Not Ever) - The Reaction It Has Engendered Is Absolutely Priceless

“Islam is Right About Women.” This meme stuck on a signpost in America shows better in five words what it takes some commentators thousands of words to capture - it is a brilliant piece of provocation that so acutely digs in to the current zeitgeist that it's possible to offend groups on opposing sides, bewilder groups on opposing sides, and leave people quite unsure how to respond to it. When words have this much power, social media is rather exhilarating.

“Islam is Right About Women.” - It bewilders people from all ideological groups because it is cleverly vague enough to be devoid of any precise meaning, but clear enough to elicit some kind of negative emotion.

Islam is Right About Women.”  - It has the power to offend the snowflakes, because they are always offended at anything like this, without ever knowing why, or whether they should be.

"Islam is Right About Women.”  - It has the power to offend the feminists, because 'Hello, Islam and women' - this sign can't be right!

“Islam is Right About Women.”  - It has the power to offend misogynists (either Muslim or otherwise) because they would see the sign as an ironic attack on the oppression of women.

"Islam is Right About Women.”  - It has the power to offend the radical left, because they'll see it as both Islamophobic and misogynist, while at the same time being puzzled because they think it ticks a diversity box.

It is a truly brilliant meme: it offends all the right people, yet leaves them unsure about quite why they are offended - which almost perfectly encapsulates the modern bipolarities of extreme snowflakery on the one hand, yet radical, uncompromising, intolerant entitlement on the other.


Monday, 16 September 2019

Children's Futures Are Being Damaged, And There Is Going To Be A Real Price To Pay In Their Adulthood

Parents, be warned! Young children are currently being damaged in two big but insidious ways. The first real damage is the creation of offence culture, where young people are growing up in a world in which many of them will be overly-entitled and ill-equipped to think and speak freely, explore subjects with open rigour, be too lily-livered to cope with proper scrutiny of beliefs and ideas, and demand special intellectual privileges that their opinions and beliefs simply do not deserve (I've written about this before)

In order to say things of importance you have to take risks, you have to be courageous, you have to risk offending, and you have to make challenges to ensure that there is no false security or complacency in consensual opinion. In other words, to be profoundly right, you have to be prepared to be profoundly wrong, a fool, an outcast, even a disgrace sometimes. You have to be free enough to be able to say what others might also be thinking but haven't yet said.

A society that puts people in gilded cages and encourages them to lock the door from the inside is not only fostering an environment that suppresses speech, it is also fostering an environment that suppresses thought, because we do lots of our best thinking from talking and sharing ideas and hearing feedback. A society that makes people craven about speech makes people craven about ideas, because it keeps a lot of our best stuff locked away in the safe space of our cranium - unexpressed, and therefore unfulfilled.

Seek the truth and you will never be afraid to hear anything, because you can't lose: if something offensive or heterodoxical comes along, it is going to be evaluated through your robust truthseeking lens - and if it adds any value by way of a corrective you will modify your view to an improved state, and if it merely reinforces your view stronger, you will have an even more robust opinion, and a better defense of it. You have to be free to explore ideas and express them, because it’s only by expressing ideas and talking about them that we have a full capacity for learning. You have to be free to offend, and free to speculate in bold ways, and your children will pay a big price for attempts to stultify that.

The second real damage is the damage that is being done to children with their understanding of identity and biology. In the news this week we see that the BBC has told teachers who work with children aged 9-12 that there are “100, if not more” gender identities. We even see cases where people are threatened with prosecution if they declare a view that there are only two sexes or two genders. Already, we read that children are seeking in record numbers to change their gender, because they feel they were born in the wrong body - and this is only going to get worse.

Society, like riding a bike, is about balance - and on this issue there needs to be a better balance struck between being empathetic and supportive when people don't fit in to a simple binary categorisation, and not becoming hysterically reactionary with every fad and obscure belief system, some of which seem powerful enough to confuse children about their core identity, and even in some cases their core biology.

Many of society’s socio-political hot potatoes are more to do with rooted human behaviour than they are the issues themselves. You’ll find most people like to operate from within a safe, simplistic framework that rewards them with an easy model for analysing the world, and causes discomfiture when things happen that do not fit into that worldview. 

This, I think, is what is happening with the gender fluidity debate - something upon which I have rarely commented, until now. Over-simplicity from within a safe, uncritical framework does not leave you well equipped to deal with the world competently, but neither does uncritically accepting the most foolish things in common parlance just because they happen to be in vogue. I'll bet the average person on the street does not know very much about the differences between sex and gender, yet they comment in highly politically charged circles as if they do. It is important not to use sex and gender interchangeably. Sex is determined on the basis of biological apparatus (principally genitalia) and gender is to do with the associative socio-personal phenomena in partnership with sexuality. To that end, men and women are different in both categories.

To recap on the genetic differences that constitute sex; men and women both have 46 chromosomes, and 2 sex chromosomes. Women have 2 X chromosomes, and men have 1 X chromosome and 1 Y chromosome. The Y chromosome in dominant, and causes the formation of male biological apparatus. XX and XY differences also engender the variances in hormones (principally oestrogen and testosterone), and these bring out the physiological and biological differences between males and females.

The gender differences, on the other hand, are to do with perceived masculinity and femininity. If you look at male and female personalities in totality, their similarities far outweigh their differences, but there are plenty of differences too, and these play out in their respective relationships, attitudes, careers and priorities (to name but four). Personality differences are significant, but they are not the same as sex differences - hence sex and gender should not be used interchangeably - and the fact that they so often are is not helping the debate, especially for our children.

There are, of course, people who identify as transsexual who feel they have been born in the wrong body. We had a guy like that in our snooker team in the 1990s - born a male, but felt he was a female, and had sex reassignment surgery. These intersex conditions are complex, especially when you consider emotions and psychology. But because of the desire to be either one sex or the other, most intersex people choose to be identified as either a male or a female.

That should not, however, be used to pander to the whim of every attention-seeker who wants to be referred to with fictitious, biologically fantastical gender pronouns - and you are certainly not helping children by being complacent about an insidious environment that makes these crazes commonplace, and gets kids questioning their own biological identity to follow a trend.

When you have situations like the '100 genders' debacle in schools, where facts, feelings, offence, entitlements and perceived rights are sowing so much confusion into the minds of children, and provoking hostility into the minds of teenagers and young adults, you are going to end up with a toxic combination where people don't know truth from falsehood, and are furtive about how free they are to express their views about either. Because these problems are setting in to lives at such a young age, there is a real danger that the generation that follows this one will be more bewildered and maladapted than they can realistically cope with - and that is going to be a big problem.



Monday, 2 September 2019

On Meat Consumption & Climate Alarmism

I’ve been reading a few of the silly scare stories, like this one, that insist we should stop eating meat or else the planet is going to hell in a handcart. Articles like that get just about everything wrong, mostly by failing to measure benefits as well as costs (the perennial sin), but also by paying zero regard to future technological developments that will revolutionise solutions to the problems we currently think we are trying to solve.

But quite apart from that, I had another tangential thought. As a meat eater, I wonder if future generations will look back on our meat-eating habits in the same way that we look back on the human history of slavery and racism, and be utterly disgusted by it. I wonder if, before our very eyes, we are slowly seeing the death of a meat-eating industry that kills billions of chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle each year, towards a point in the next few generations where nobody eats meat.

Think about how things have changed even in the past four or five decades: there are increasing numbers of vegetarians and vegans, and more campaigners against animal cruelty and for animal rights – perhaps that trend will continue with every new generation until no one eats meat anymore. With more vegetarians, there will be a greater demand for vegetarian dishes, and more competition to provide them, which should improve the quality and diversity of vegetarian cuisines (as has happened already in the past couple of decades – I mean, think how many frustrated carnivores have been rescued from the circumscribed veggie-wife/husband’s preferred dining outlet with the wonderful but solely viable option that is halloumi).

What I suspect will also happen is that meat will start to come from the lab rather than the animal, where synthetic meat is grown from stem cells, and will reach a point where the process is cheap enough for us to buy it in supermarkets as part of our weekly shop. In other words, technological innovation will sort out the meat problem, bring cessation to the killing of animals, and have future generations looking back on our meat-eating practices as barbaric.

It's strange how morality evolves in different directions, where some things in the UK that were once seen as acceptable become abhorrent (like slavery), and some things that were once seen as abhorrent become acceptable (like homosexuality). Meat-eating will probably be an example of the former - but when we can grow synthetic meat in the lab and mass-produce it for widespread consumption without killing any animals, our descendants will probably look back on us rather like how we look back on the child labour practiced by our progenitors – that it’s unfortunate, but that back then we didn’t know how much better we could do.