Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hitler's melting pot

During his early years in public life, Hitler made no secret of his ultimate intentions should the Nazi party come to power: in Mein Kampf, originally published in 1925, he explained that the Germans must colonize the east in order to gain Lebensraum, or living-space for the country’s burgeoning population.

Somehow, though, most everyone refused to take Hitler seriously, even after he began carrying out the plans he had set in print years before: not only the conquest of eastern Europe, but also the “elimination” of the Jews from his Nazi empire. In the War of the World, Niall Ferguson remarks as to how the ultra-paranoid Stalin trusted no man but one — Hitler, who was in turn the only man who ever had the power to betray “the man of steel.” But the invasion of the USSR in June, 1941 was a surprise to very few but Stalin himself. Mere weeks before the invasion commenced, one of his spies in Germany wrote an urgent message to Soviet intelligence, warning Stalin of what was imminent. Stalin’s response was to condemn the spy as one “who should be sent to his fucking mother.”

The Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 (which touched off World War II) and of the Soviet Union two years later, did not come without ironies, though. One of these was that, after the Nazis had indeed conquered a great deal of living-space into which the German population could expand, very few Germans were actually interested in moving east. Those few who did were not the simple, sturdy peasant-farmers of Nazi ideals, but opportunists seeking to make easy money off the slave-labour of conquered Jews, Poles and Russians (men such as Oskar Schindler, the famed eventual saviour of several thousand Jews). The Nazi overlords of Poland eventually had to resettle ethnic Germans that had been living for centuries in Russian territory, in occupied Poland; instead of Germans moving east, it was Germans moving west, in closer proximity to the original Fatherland (thus giving the lie to the Nazis’ obsession with Lebensraum).

But, as Ferguson points out, the eastern Germans were often unsuitably Slavonic in culture, language, even in their appearance; but many of the “inferior” Poles were had blonde haired and blue eye. The conclusion drawn from this, was that “Aryans” outside the Reich, had been breeding with the inferior races, and it was up to the Nazis to “rescue” these bloodlines from total corruption. Accordingly, functionaries were organized and sent to the Polish “protectorate” in order to determine the racial fitness of the Slavic population according to a fourfold system of classification: those placed in the “A” category were deemed acceptably Aryan genetic endowment, and thus made eligible for “re-education” as Germans, or if children, deportation back to Germany, where they would be raised among Aryan families; the unfortunate people designated as “D”, were to be immediately shipped off for slave labour or extermination at one of the many camps established by the Nazis throughout their empire.

According to conventional understanding, “fascist” is a synonym for “ultra-nationalist”. This is true, to a great extent, for the original Italian Fascists. But, in spite of their name, the National Socialists were no more nationalists than they were socialists. They were collectivists, but their collective focus was on race, not nation. For this reason, the Nazis found it easy to collaborate with, and find collaborators among, the populations of the countries they conquered, or otherwise became “allied” with. Ferguson writes, “...the more the Germans relied on foreign allies and collaborators the more multiethnic their empire necessarily became. The first symptom of this unintended transformation was the changing complexion of Hitler's armed forces. The army that invaded the Soviet Union included 600,000 Croats, Finns, Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, Slovaks and Spaniards. In addition to fighting alongside troops from allied countries, German soldiers also increasingly saw foreigners wearing German uniforms. Franco had declined to join Hitler's war in the West, but he permitted the formation of a Spanish 'Blue Division' (named after the blue shirts of its Falangist volunteers) to fight against the Soviet Union; it served with distinction ... French volunteers also fought, in the Legion des Volontaires Francais contre le Bolchevisme, as part of a Wehrmacht infantry division. Other foreigners generally wore the uniform of the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the SS, a reflection of Himmler's enthusiasm for broadening the available pool of 'Nordic' blood, as well as the Wehrmacht's reluctance to surrender large numbers of Germans of military age to the SS.” (Ferguson, The War of the World, London: Allen Unwin, page 457-458).

Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader and chief racial theorist of the Nazi regime, explained why, near to the end of the Second World War, his organization included more non-Germans than Germans in its ranks: “Every SS officer, regardless of nationality. . . must look to the whole living space of the family of German nations [Himmler specified the German, Dutch, Flemish, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Baltic nations]. To combine all these nations into one big family is the most important task at present. It is natural in this process that the German nation, as the largest and strongest, must assume the leading role. [But] this unification has to take place on the principle of equality... [Later] this family... has to take on the mission to include all Roman nations, and then the Slavic nations, because they, too, are of the white race. It is only through unification of the white race that Western culture can be saved from the danger of the yellow race. At the present time, the Waffen-SS is leading in this respect because its organization is based on equality. The Waffen-SS comprises not only German, Roman and Slavic but even Islamic units ... fighting in close togetherness.” (Quoted in Ferguson, page 459).

Years ago, I proposed that the National Socialist party had to focus on race, as instrument of cohesion, just because “Germans” had a very weak sense of national belonging. In fact, as Ferguson points out, many key Nazis were not of German birth at all: the Austrian Hitler, of course, but also Alfred Rosenberg, the party “philosopher”, and several others.

And, in an entry earlier this year, I wrote as to how modern European empires, uniquely in world history, sought to make separation of races a key part of the ruling strategy. The Nazis were the most thorough about this, but were hardly unique: it was a policy pursued previously by the British, Dutch, Belgian and French empires, as well. What I didn’t mention was that the European empires pursued this policy, just because they understood that race mixing was an inevitable part of imperial conquest.

But, in fact, even the Nazis were unsuccessful in their policies of total racial separatism. Ferguson writes that, “even as Nazi racial experts engaged in the laborious racial classification of Poles and Czechs, the very tendency they wished to eradicate — miscegenation — was continuing. Indeed, the chaos caused by war and forced resettlement positively increased the sexual contact between Germans and non-Germans. On March 8, 1940, new police regulations had to be issued for Polish workers in Germany, the seventh of which specified bluntly that `anyone who has sexual intercourse with a German man or woman, or approaches them in any other improper manner’ would be liable to the death penalty (later specified as death by hanging).” (Ferguson, page 461)

Ferguson also sheds light as to why so many ordinary German soldiers chose duty in helping to slaughtering Jews during the Holocaust. Aside from ethnic hatred, and the inability to ignore direct orders, there was the motive of self-preservation. By the time the extermination of the Jews got going in earnest, by 1942, the Russo-German war had commenced. At the Eastern front, for the first time, Wehrmacht troops were encountering high rates of mortality in combat. It was considered a privilege to be assigned to the duties of executioner to men, women and children, all of them civilians who didn’t have the means to fight back; this became all the more true, as the war continued on, and the German army became bogged down in the hellish snow and wind of three Russian winters. Aside from the inconvenience of having to murder, direct participation in the Holocaust was very profitable, with much opportunity to steal the belongings of those who were being killed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Star Wars got Lost

Last evening was the second-last episode of the Lost series, which began in the autumn of 2004.

A few thoughts: the programme is one of the most violent ever presented, or at least, that I have seen recently. Last night’s show, for example, featured a woman dying after having her throat cut, right before a second character is shot to death. Last week’s segment revealed more about the mysterious Jacob, and his unnamed twin brother, who were born from a shipwreck survivor who washed up on the island, was rescued by a woman already living there, who in turn murders the new mother by bashing her head in with a rock. This woman then raises the twins as her own.

I was reminded of the Norse pagan creation story, of the chief goddess giving birth to the Nordic race by having twins, one of whom is fair-haired, the other swarthy. In Lost, Jacob is shown to be fair in appearance, while his twin, if not swarthy, is much darker complected. It seems that the unnamed twin was rendered into the “smoke monster” that has harassed and murdered the plane-wrecked survivors, and many others, throughout the course of the series, when Jacob pushed him into the cave from which emanated a bright light of unknown origin. After which, the light was extinguished and the smoke monster came flying out of the cave.

The significance of this, I’m not certain. However, the producers and cast of Lost recently held a party to mark the end of the series. They were sent a revealing note by George Lucas, creator and director of the Star Wars “saga”.

It read as follows: “Congratulations on pulling off an amazing show. Don't tell anyone ... but when Star Wars first came out, I didn't know where it was going either. The trick is to pretend you've planned the whole thing out in advance. Throw in some father issues and references to other stories — let's call them homages — and you've got a series.” This is what many people, including me, suspected all along about Star Wars.

The Star Wars “saga” ultimately failed, becasue there was, in fact, no story to tell. The Star Wars universe was not a place, but a device, which allowed George Lucas to meld together several genres — the western, the war movie, the medieval romance, the pirate flick, and the samurai film — to create an exciting adventure with the first installment in 1977. Though set in the distant past, the far-away galaxy possessed super-futuristic hardware, inspired in turn by Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon serials of the 1940s. This allowed the characters to seamlessly hop between genres. Thus, Luke Skywalker and company could engage in a gun (“laser”) battle in keeping with the old western; later, Skywalker could take on Darth Vader with a sword made out of light, as befits a medieval epic; afterward, our heroes could engage the forces of the evil galactic empire in World War II-style space dogfights. Courtesy faster-than-light travel, the characters could speed to any planet as befitting the genre: either a “desert” planet, or a “forest” planet, or an artificial planetoid to stand in for the villain’s castle. It was this melding of genres which made the original Star Wars so exciting, even if, as one critic put it at the time, it was really “bubble-gum for the mind.”

Be that as it may, it was certainly good-tasting bubble-gum — and relatively long-lasting, too. The premise had enough promise for two separate movies, but that’s it. The first sequel, the Empire Strikes Back, Lucas wisely handed over filmmaking duties to hired guns. Even here, however, the saga necessarily fell back onto melodrama — “I’m your father, Luke.” The third film in the original series had all the action, without the spirit. The three prequels, released around the turn of the century, and detailing the transformation of Luke Skywalker’s father into Darth Vader, the chief villain of the series, were at times just mediocre, and often, abysmal. Even a children’s programme joked about how the Phantom Menace was “half-baked.” One reviewer called it “the Phantom movie,” which is precisely what it was. Perhaps a more skilled screenwriter could have penned something more exciting and interesting. It is more so that Lucas attempted to stretch a device — sci-fi hardware subsuming multiple themes and genres — into a saga, and it didn’t, perhaps couldn’t, work.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hatfields vs McCoys / Private vs Public

In barbarian society, the public is not a space for largely anonymous contact and communication between myriad private actors. Barbarians usually exist in settled communities, but have not developed civilization, society based in towns and cities. Public space there is enfeebled not only by the basic lack of infrastructure. The endurance of clannish social patterns, serves to reinforce the basic of lack of public space, which in turn serves as an arena where social conflicts are played out. Author Malcolm Gladwell quotes an ethnographer who declares that, “Quarrels are necessarily public. They may occur in the coffee shop, village square, or most frequently on a grazing boundary...” (J.K. Campbell, “Honour and the Devil,” in Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society, J.G. Peristiany, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966, no page number cited in Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success , New York, Boston and London: Little, Brown and Company, 2008, p. 167.)

The lack of public or political authority in barbarian society, means that individuals must depend for their security upon their own kin and clan. Each moiety, in turn, must be wiling to take to violence if, even symbolically, another group transgresses upon itself. This is, of course, wrapped up in the concept of “honour”, through which social behaviour is regulated by adherence to group norms, and where disputes are settled by violence, when these norms are offended.

It is a mistake to consider barbarism as a “phase” between savagery (nomadic hunting and gathering) and civilization (urban-based society). Barbarian society reaches stasis, precisely because the level of public violence precludes the development of infrastructure and authority which makes civilization possible.

Barbarism is usually overcome by two paradoxical routes: the conquest and literal housebreaking of barbarians by a neighbouring civilized society, or the barbarian conquest of an urban culture. This is what brought classical civilization to a protracted end, at least in western Europe, as the hordes of Germans, Goths and other barbarians overran the decayed Roman empire. However, within a few centuries, the descendants of these barbarians gathered around the remnants of the empire (notably, the Catholic church, the organization of which was patterned directly upon the administrative reforms of the anti-Christian imperator Diocletian), forming the civilization known as the Middle Ages. It was a process interrupted by the appearance in the eighth century of the Norse, or Vikings, the barbarians who laid waste to much of northern Europe and the British isles during the next several hundred years — but who also traded and explored far wide, from the eastern Mediterranean to Greenland, Newfoundland and perhaps the mainland of North America itself.

It wasn’t long, either, before the Norse were civilized as well, establishing the Danelaw and Danegeld in Britain, as well as various suzerainties in continental Europe. By the time William the Conqueror successfully invaded Britain in 1066, the duke of Normandy, a descendent of Vikings, had been part of long line of French-speaking cavaliers. Prior to their invasions, the Norse were a relatively unknown, and apparently not especially aggressive, farming and pastoral society, without much in the way of established authority or civic life, still living in tribal bands. Historian Gwyn Jones writes, “In early times Denmark was at best a loose and straining confederation; considerable tracts of inland Norway by reason of their inaccessibility were ore or less permanently divorced from the polices of the Trongelag, Rogaland, and the Vik; and large regions of Sweden, notably Vastergotland, Ostertogland, and Uppland, were held apart by dense forests. The trend to separatism was marked to the end of the Viking Age. Farmer communities, remote and inward-looking, and resistant to change, persisted throughout Harald Hardradi’s time in Norway and Onund Jacob’s in Sweden; and the old viking aristocracy, blest with estates, privileges, and ships, was slow to break up. No king in the north could survive except by force. In sounds less flattering to described Godfred the Dane, Olaf Tryggvason, Svein Forkbeard, and Eirik the Victorious as mere top-dogs in their separate domains, but it falls short of libel. Their almost-peers were a hard-jawed packed. Such was the nature of the northern realms.” (Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings. 2nd. ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984; paperback ed., 2001, pp. 66-67).

It appears that overpopulation of the European northlands forced the “surplus” — consisting mainly of young adult males — to sally forth and steal what they could not earn. It is significant that the Viking Age came to an end, in the eleventh century, coincident with the formation of three recognizable Scandinavian kingdoms — Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The other kind of civilizing process, where a relatively developed, urban society, with established government, comes to dominate a barbarian population, occurred with the extension of royal authority in London, to the entire of the British isles during the early-modern period. At that time, Scotland especially was home to a very backward and factious population of clans of Irish derivation, the people known today as the Scots-Irish. The civilizing of the highland Scots clans occurred with the Clearances, the dispossession of thousands of peasants so to enclose land for cash farming. A significant number of the estranged emigrated, during the eighteenth century, to North America. The remainder were forced to migrate to the cities of Caledonia, where Scots Gaelic disappeared for good, along with most of the customs of the highland Irish, as these Irish were assimilated into the Scots English mainstream, which had long been situated in the country’s burghs. In Scotland, the civilizing process was quite successful, with the Scots becoming leading pioneers of the Enlightenment.

But the clannish and honour-based society of the Scots-Irish persisted amongst those who had emigrated to America, finding a home in the backhills of the southeast, the Appalachian and the Blue Ridge mountains in particular. These places were the home, of course, to the many blood feuds that erupted throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, notably that among the Hatfields and McCoys. Famously, the disputes arose over no substantive injury. Instead, symbolic acts (such as the accusation of cheating at cards, in one lesser known feud) were nearly always behind the vigilante skirmishes that affected so many of the counties of Appalachia. The American southeast generally — the area known as Dixieland — was characterized until recently by the impoverishment of the public, and by the clannish “good ol’ boy” rule. It was a culture that came to encompass the African slaves and their descendants, identified in the twentieth century with the “ghetto” ethos of the American inner cities. In these places, the public has been turned into the “turfs” of various street gangs, the intramural warfare of which makes these areas as bloody as the highlands of early-modern Scotland.

How are factious barbarians, so committed to blood feud, able to achieve the unity necessary to invade and conquer civilized societies? It is frequently the advent of what Max Weber called charismatic leadership. Charisma, alike with tribal-kinship organization, is highly personal and informal. But as with “legitimate” government (based, that is, on formal laws and institutions), charisma inspires loyalty and action beyond immediate kin and patriarchal relations. Instead, the charismatic leader, who comes as often as not from the lower ranks, inspires others entirely on the basis of personal magnetism, sagacity and prowess. He may become the “father-figure” of his barbarian nation (with the rare female charismatic leaders, such as Jeanne D’Arc, becoming “mothers” of their people), but even so, his leadership serves to undermine the traditional loyalties of kin and village in favour of “something bigger.” It is this grandiosity, again based in a person, not institutions, which often paves the way for institutional or (in Weberian terms, “legitimate”) government.

But here is the truth in the saying, “men make history.” It is by no means inevitable that a charismatic leader should arise amongst the ranks of barbarians, to unite the latter in common purpose. And, even if this should occur, there is no certainty that the charismatic will take the necessary steps to institutionalize impersonal rule as a legacy. And yet, it does take the will of the charismatic to bring about civilized existence into being: civilization doesn’t just evolve “on its own.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nazi Supermen Are Our Superiors

One of the peculiarities of the modern European pursuit of empire, was the attention given to racial differences between the conqueror and the conquered. The Latin-speakers of ancient Italy were entirely indifferent to the racial background of the many peoples they subjugated. Very quickly, the Romans would incorporate the elites of the conquered into their own upper class as part of the "divide-and-rule" strategy. Many Roman emperors were descendants of those whom the Romans had conquered, decades or centuries earlier. The Greeks had little respect for anyone not Hellenic, dismissing them all as "barbarians." But this wasn't based upon racial hatred. They believed those not using the Greek tongue were culturally, not biologically, deficient. Alexander the Great quickly adopted the customs of the many cultures he conquered. Similarly, many Latin-speakers of the Roman empire incorporated many traditions of the eastern dominions (including the Christian God). Similarly, the Latins of Roman Britain were strongly influenced by the Celtic society that had existed there previously.

This pattern held for eastern civilizations as well. The Mughal empire, established upon the Indian subcontinent by Persianized Mongol-Turks in the sixteenth century, had imposed Islam upon there (with Hindus and other religious groups reduced to second-class status). However, by the time of the accession of the British raj in the 1850s, the Mughals themselves, and the Indian Muslim population generally, were indistinguishable racially from Hindu India. Chinese civilization, meanwhile, has been repeatedly overcome by barbarian invasions, since long before the birth of Christ (including a Mongol invasion). Again and again, however, the invaders adopted the Han culture that existed previously, and became "racially" Chinese as well.

This pattern held during the European Middle Ages, and afterward as well. The Franks were a Germanic tribe that conquered post-Roman Gaul in the seventh century, and which placed the ancestors of Charlemagne upon the throne of the land that came to be known as France. As with previous conquerors, though, it wasn't long before the Germanic Franks became Latinized, giving their name to the novel language that developed from the merger of their dialect with that of Latin-speakers of Gaul. A couple of centuries earlier, different Germanic tribes, led by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, had invaded post-Roman Britain. Unlike the Franks, the Anglo-Saxon-Jutes completely displaced the Romano-Celtic culture that had existed beforehand. But DNA analysis of the present-day British population has revealed that its genetic profile is more consistent not with Germans, French or Norse, but residents of the present-day Basque lands in Spain. Evidently, the Anglo-Saxons at least, displaced the culture of the Romano-Celts, but merged genetically with the native population.

The Nazis took much of their inspiration for the Aryan myth, from Norse legends, as they were retold in the operas of Richard Wagner. But the idea of the "purebred" Norseman is itself contradicted by the pagan religion known to the Scandinavians, before they converted to Christianity. According to Gwyn Jones, in his history of the Vikings, Norse creation tells of the mother-goddess giving birth to twins, whence all Norsewomen and men were descended. One twin had blonde hair and blue eyes; the other was swarthy, with dark hair and brown eyes. This indicates better than anything that the Norse, far from being pure anything, had their origins in at least two separate races.

The practice of conquerors merging racially with the conquered, continued well into modernity. The trans-Atlantic African slave-trade originated among the Portugese in the fifteenth century. The word "nigger" comes from the Portugese word for "black", but it doesn't appear as though African slavery at this time was justified on the grounds that black Africans were of a separate race or a kind of sub-human. Instead, it was acceptable to enslave Africans because they were heathens and not Christians. European involvement in the slave trade, beginning in the Middle Ages, was not originally race-specific at all. The term "slave" is, in fact, an eponym, named after the Slavs who, at first, consisted of the vast majority of the Mediterranean slave trade. It was considered acceptable, after the turn of the second millennium, to enslave Orthodox Christians (as most Slavic people were) because the Catholic Church had excommunicated all Orthodox believers. Only when Catholicism and Orthodoxy patched up their relations, following the Crusades, did European slave-traders turn elsewhere — to Africa — for slaves.

The Portugese and Spanish empires were accomplished, in Asia, Africa and in especially in South America, with great violence and cruelty directed at the native populations. Such was always the case, though. What was absent in the formation of these empires, was a sense that the native populations were in some way biologically inferior to the Hispanic Europeans. They were, to the conquerors, heathens who (like the Africans) deserved to be enslaved in order that they brought the light of Christianity to them. Yet, once subjugation had been completed, the Latin European overlords entered into the time-tested pattern of mixing with the conquered. Today, virtually all Latin American countries have a majority people from mixed-race — or mestizo — background (or at least, a significant minority thereof). One country
even named itself in honour of this race-mixing: Mexico [correction: see comment below]. The French empire in North America was, too, characterized by a high amount of race-mixing, creating the metis (French and Indians) and the creole (Africans and French).

As for the African slave-trade itself, there is a paradox in relation to this. The height of the trans-Atlantic trade, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, occurred before Africa was actually conquered by the European powers. During this period, slaves were acquired not through the conquest of native societies by Europeans. Instead, the losers of conflicts between rival African kingdoms, and between black Africans and (largely) Arab Muslims, would be sold to Europeans at trading outposts on the west coast of the continent. The beginning of the end of African slavery, came when Europe began to take formal control of the "dark continent." Thus, in 1804, the British empire banned the slave trade: it used the Royal Navy to enforce the ban, which was strenuously opposed by the African and Islamic potentates that profited so handsomely from it.

By 1834, as British colonization of Africa progressed even further, the British outlawed slavery entirely, in all of its territories. Later, when the Europeans had taken complete control of Africa, slavery had been eliminated there for the first time in centuries, if ever.

What's more, African slavery in the United States was accompanied by at least some degree of miscegenation. Genetic analysis of the descendants of Sally Hemmings, a slave to Thomas Jefferson, showed that they shared a family link with those of the legitimate Jefferson lineage. The conclusion drawn from this was that Hemmings and Jefferson had children together (although this is disputed; some believe instead that Hemmings was descended from an illicit union between her ancestor and a relative of Jefferson's — it is in fact irrelevant for our purposes what was actually the case). Julian Bond, the civil rights leader who, in spite of his dark complexion has very European facial features, recounted a story he'd been told about his grandfather, who was named James Bond. Years after the abolition of slavery in 1863, James Bond had travelled to visit the white plantation family that had owned him and his parents. There, he was greeted as an honoured guest, according to Julian Bond. After being given dinner and evening's company, James Bond was conducted by the former slaveholder to the train station for the journey home. As the older white man parted from his former slave at the station, James Bond turned to him and said, "Thank you, father."

The miscegenation between conquered and conqueror, continued with the early years of British rule in India. Until the Sepoy rebellion in 1857, the subcontinent was ruled by the East India company, under charter from the British Crown. Commencing in earnest during the eighteenth century, East India company officials, largely men, became increasingly comfortable with adopting the customs, traditions, even the dress, of the Indian native population — this included marrying women from the subcontinent. One such official, Sir William Jones, a philologist who was appointed a magistrate to oversee company business in Indian in the 1780s, studied the ancient linguistic ancestor of Hindi, called Sanskrit. Jones proposed that Sanskrit and all its derivates, were part of the same linguistic group that included all the European languages. Encompassing about one-third of humanity, this family of languages was later to be known as the Indo-European linguistic group.

After the British government took direct control of India, this race mixing came to an abrupt end. No longer were British officials to mate with Indians. Instead, the new raj governed as a class of race overlords, living and working completely separately from the Indian population, excepting those fortunate enough to be servants and minor administrators in the homes and businesses of the white rulers. Not coincidentally, this change occurred as racial ideas began to take serious hold on the European educated imagination. Thereafter, European empires dismissed the time-honoured practice of mixing racially with their conquered peoples in order to create a novel sort of civilization (as occurred in, for example, Latin American). Instead, the European imperial rulers were, by law and by custom, to keep aloof of the native population, who were officially considered of a race inferior to the whites.

The scholarly work of William Jones, uncovering the common roots of English and Hindi as Indo-European languages, also provided the foundation for a less helpful set of ideas that were, by the twentieth century, to prove disastrous to Europe and to much of the rest of humanity, too. Translations of Sanskrit writings revealed that, some time around 1700 before the Christian calendar, an Indo-European nomadic people known as the Aryans, had invaded the Indian subcontinent, subduing the Indus valley civilization that existed there. The term "Aryan" demonstrates, incidentally, how Sanskrit is part of the same language family as the European languages. The term means, "greater" or "noble", and is a cognate of "aristocracy."

There is no information as to how the Aryans appeared, whether they were light-skinned in contrast to the dark-skinned Indus valley peoples. Regardless, we know they conformed to the historical pattern of conquered mixing racially with the conquered. But a German pioneer in the field of archaeology, Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931), argued that the Aryans were the predecessors of the Nordic race of Europe, which included the Germans, Scandinavians, Dutch, English and so on. The Aryan theory, so essential to Nazi ideology, was in fact widely believed among Germans from the late nineteenth century to the end of the Nazi regime in 1945 (and probably by many thereafter, too). Indeed, it seems that scientific-racist theories were the more popular in Germany than France or Britain, and in this, there is yet another paradox.

In contrast to both Britain and France, Germany never had much of a colonial overseas empire (they didn't have one at all until the late nineteenth century). There were no (to use an anachronistic term) "visible" minorities in Germany; Germans were not involved very much in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As for Germany's overseas colonies, they were restricted to windswept South West Africa (present-day Namibia) and a couple of other barren places here and there (the lack of an overseas empire was one of the beefs that the German empire had with France and Britain, and fuelled calls for an European-based lebensraum, or "living space", by Hitler and many other German politicians of the Weimar republic). The focus of pre-Nazi German racial obsession and hostility was not on skin colour, but ethnicity: that is, upon Jewish Europeans primarily, and secondarily upon Slavic peoples. Both of these were considered races different from the Aryan, although of course European Jews and Slavic nations were "Caucasian" in background (ie., they had white skin too).

German hostility toward Jews goes back a long way, centuries before Hitler, to one of the first truly pan-German figures, Martin Luther, who denounced Jews and directed his followers to aggress against them. But the term "anti-Semitism" is a misnomer when applied to Luther and other Jew-haters prior to the nineteenth century. For the Jew-hatred that was manifested by Luther and many other Germans of the time, as well other Christian Europeans during late-medieval and early-modern times, had its roots in the schism between Christianity and Judaism over the divinity of Jesus. Christians then weren't focussed on a biological disparity between themselves and Jews: if members of the latter group chose to convert to Christianity, then they would thereby be safe from the threat of pogrom. This was what was different from Jew-hatred of the old type, and that which emerged among Germans (and other Europeans) the nineteenth century: to that latter, there was nothing redeemable about the Jews.

Their badness wasn't due to disbelief in the divine status of Jesus; even if the Jew converted to Christianity, he was, to the modern anti-Semite, bad because he was racially inferior. It didn't matter, either, if the Jew gave up his religion and behaved like a "real" German: he was essentially, biologically a menace and thus shouldn't mix with Germans of the Aryan race at all.

When, during the Nazi era, the Germans invaded most of Europe, they behaved according to their racist beliefs. The Slavic countries to the east of Third Reich, were far more brutally subjugated than were the western European countries such as Holland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and so on, the people of which the Nazis believed were part of the same race as themselves. Poland, for example, suffered more than two million civilian deaths during the Nazi occupation. Denmark lost 1,000 civilians because of the Nazi invasion. In Scandinavia and the other Western European countries, the Nazis sought collaborators among the vanquished elite — and found very many who were willing to collaborate with them. There were collaborators in the Slavic countries as well. But the Nazis had no intention of sharing power with — or even allowing to survive — a vast mongrel population. On the other hand, if Nazi Germany had won the war, there is no reason to believe that the ruling elites of Western Europe would not have been wholly or partially Nazified or even Germanized.

The genocidal actions of the Nazis were the logical conclusion of the race-based policies pursued, with more moderate tools, in the empires of all the other European countries. Far from being a throwback to ancient or tribal passions, racism is an ultra-modern theory. Its defiance of time-honoured methods of subjugation (wherein the conquered and conqueror ultimately merge culturally and socially) occurred because of the progress of science, in particular because of the new understanding of mechanics of life itself. By the mid-nineteenth century, virtually all educated Europeans accepted that life came about because of natural, and not miraculous, processes. Life was, moreover, understood to have evolved, or changed from one state to another. This simply had to be the case, given the newly-emergent fossil record showed evidence of life that existed once, long ago, and no longer did (or no longer did so in a present form). Scientists remained uncertain as to how exactly this occurred (until the publication in 1859 of Darwin's theory of natural selection upon variation).

Long before the Origin of Species, however, systematic principles for animal and plant domestication and breeding had been established. And, decades prior to eugenics being formalized into a scientific discipline (by Charles Darwin's cousin, Sir Francis Galton) near the close of the nineteenth century, theories of plant and animal breeding were being applied to the social sciences. Two of the most popular nineteenth-century race theorists in Germany (ironically enough) were a Frenchman, Count de Gobineau, and an Englishman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain (the latter was ultimately Germanized, marrying the daughter of the late composer Richard Wagner). Both authors exalted the Aryans or German as the superior race to all others, and asserted that nothing great occurred without Aryan input.

As for eugenics, the Nazis also took its principles to their logical conclusion — the active culling of inferior humans to ensure the purebred vitality of the herd. The necessity of such culling was the consensus view of most educated adults decades before the Nazis came to power, though. Eugenics advocates such as Winston Churchill and Maynard Keynes had no intention to be so extreme; they would only countenance forced sterilization, if and when voluntary sterilization of defectives could not be achieved. In any case, eugenics in particular, and racism generally, were by-products of scientific knowledge. The fact that they are now widely discredited, makes them no less examples of scientific research, than other theories once widely accepted, but thereafter abandoned as empirically without foundation.

It was the Nazi commitment to racism which, above all, rendered German fascism so different in kind from the true reactionary views and politics of the Prussian elite. The Polish scholar on the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman, observed (in Modernity and the Holocaust, Cornell University Press, 1989, p. 44), "Modern culture is a garden culture. It defines itself as the design for an ideal life and a perfect arrangement of human conditions. It constructs its own identity out of distrust of nature. In fact, it defines itself and nature, and the distinction between them, through its endemic distrust of spontaneity and its longing for a better, and necessarily artificial, order. Apart from the overall plan, the artificial order of the garden needs tools and raw materials. It also needs defence - against the unrelenting danger of what is obviously, a disorder

Monday, April 19, 2010

Who cares about Tea Parties?

I haven’t commented on the “tea party” protests that cropped up during the first year of Barack Obama’s reign as U.S. president in 2009. The tea-party people are united in their opposition to the president’s social democratic agenda, mostly. But I don’t believe in protests, not in a democracy at least.

Certainly, in states where censorship, police repression and other forms of authoritarianism are the rule, mass protests are a legitimate tool of dissent. In democratic polities, however, protest demonstrations are contrary to the democratic spirit. For example, those tea-party people who are presently demonstrating against the statist agenda of their government (a cross-country protest was held April 15, the deadline for filing annual tax returns in the U.S.), have the ability to persuade their fellow citizens of the probity of their views, by means other than protest demonstrations. They do not suffer from censorship, repression or any other arbitrary impediments to political action.

The fact is, the small-government agenda pursued by the tea party folks was repudiated at the ballot-box in the general election of 2008, which saw not only the leftist Obama voted in as president, but Democratic-party majorities in the Congress strengthened, too. Perhaps the Democrats will lose both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections of 2010. But that’s the way democracy works, isn’t it? Elections invest power in a certain candidate or party for a certain period, during which they will attempt to enact an agenda or programme. Those who are opposed to that programme have the opportunity to run them out of office when an election is held next time, and thereafter pursue their own agenda.

How do protest demonstrations fit into this? They don’t. At best, protests are simply irrelevant; they are orgies of mass self-congratulation, which the participants carry signs that say (as in the Buffalo Springfield hit, For What It’s Worth) “hooray for our side!” If legislators and governors believed that the protests represented majority sentiment, they would adjust their policies at least somewhat to jibe with this.

But a protest demonstration consisting of tens, or even hundred of thousands of people (the latter being exceedingly rare in any case), is still only the fraction of the total number of voters in even the smallest democratic polity of the present day. Why should any politician even bother with them, when they know by public opinion polling whether or not the protestors have majority opinion with them? The fact that a protest movement focuses on demonstrations as it main activity, is substantial proof that it certainly doesn’t have majoritarian backing at all. They protest because they cannot convince others of the legitimacy of their views.

But it isn’t any better when protests are not irrelevant — that is, when they actually do have a real effect on a democratic state. It is by now a platitude that “people have the right to protest”, but I find this sentiment a bit sophistic. After all, who seriously argues that no one has the right to participate in mass protests? The maxim, in a free society, is that an individual may do what she wants, so long as she doesn’t violate the rights and freedoms of others. Yet, the attitude of those involved in protest movements is that their right to demonstrate is triumphal over the right to freedom of movement enjoyed by the vast majority who are not protestors. This is true even where a particular protest is genuinely non-violent and non-coercive. Assuming the latter to be true, non-protestors have to deal with the disruptions in traffic and convenience that inevitably go along with street protests.

And yet, many mass demonstrations are not simply marches or rallies at all. The specific intent of their organizers is to get the government to change a policy on a particular issue — based on nothing other than the size of the demonstration itself. But to emphasize, even the largest mass demonstrations consist of no more than a small percentage of even the total electorate (to say nothing of the total population). Just who are the leaders of a protest movements to demand a change in any policy? Again, it demonstrates the democratic impotence of protest demonstrators, that they feel the need to demonstrate, instead of organizing to persuade voters to support their agenda. This is where, of course, protest leaders are not contemptuous of democratic government entirely.

I’m addressing the anti-government tea-party protestors, just because they are most conspicuous type of demonstrator at the present time. But this is even more pertinent to protest-demonstrators with a decidedly anti-tea party agenda that were commonplace in the decade prior to the election of Obama in 2008. These latter protests began as an “anti-globalization” movement (although this was a severe misnomer), which then morphed into an “anti-war” movement following the attacks of September 11, 2001. And, in contrast to the tea party movement, this group of protestors were explicitly coercive in their aims. This was evidenced at one of the early such mass demonstrations of the “anti-globalization” movement, which occurred at meeting of the World Trade Organization at Seattle, Washington, in December 1999.

The first day of the meetings between leaders of most of the world’s governments had to be cancelled when the protests blocked access to the facility at which the conference was to be held. When, the next day, police prevented the protestors from blockading the conference again, there came the inevitable cries of “police brutality!” The “anti-globalization” movement’s rationale for taking to the streets, in Seattle and in many places thereafter (including Ottawa and Quebec city) must be more flimsy than those of the tea-party protests. The “anti-globalizers” were not censored or repressed in expressing or articulating their views: on the contrary, many parts of the establishment — including most academics, many in the news media, as well as in the government itself — are sympathetic to these views, and much of the “anti-globalization” / “anti-war” protests’ coverage was extremely sympathetic to the cause.

This is not the case, however, for the tea party protests. Initially, in 2009, most major news media simply ignored the demonstrations. This is odd in itself, given how news services generally find protest-demonstrations irresistible to cover. However, when the tea-party movement became too big to be ignored, most news media chose to cover the events in, at best, a condescending way; and at the worst, reporters and commentators were outright hostile toward it.

At least some referred to them as “tea bag” protests (a term, which means, according to the online Urban Dictionary, to place one’s testicles into the mouth of a sexual partner, whilst the latter is lying down). There isn’t even any wit or cleverness about that; it is just to substitute a vulgar term for the real one, because the latter sounds like the former. The other tack taken by the news media is to portray the tea-party demonstrations as something akin to Hitler or KKK rallies. This bore fruit when, last month, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to extend health-care coverage to all American citizens, by forcing them essentially to buy medical insurance.

Tea-party demonstrators were present near Capitol hill when the vote was taking place. At one point, several black legislators were passing near the demonstrations, and at least a couple of them alleged that they heard at least some of the tea-party protestors shout “nigger” in their direction. There were also allegations that one or more of these legislators were spit upon. Accounts of this event vary. Initial reports quoted one of the legislators as saying much or even the whole crowd were chanting this insult. Later, this was “clarified” to state that only one or two of the demonstrators had made this remark.

These allegations quickly were reported around the world. My wife told me as to how she was “disgusted” with the racist comments made by the anti-heath care bill demonstrators, a report that she heard on the car radio on one of the local station’s hourly news updates. This is what is meant when it is said that an untruth goes halfway around the world before the truth has time to put on its hat. Since this alleged incident took place, no independent corroboration of tea-party demonstrators using racist language against the Congress members, or anyone else, has been revealed. This is in spite of the fact that the demonstrations — and the legislators’ walk through the crowd — was attended by many television reporters and freelance videographers. There is, even so, no audio or visual record of this event. The only people who claim to have heard it, are those making the allegations.

Somehow, though, the onus has been placed upon the tea party movement and their supporters, to prove that the incident didn’t happen. One conservative activist, who’s offered $100,000 to anyone who can produce audio-visual proof of the incident, was recently taken to task in an Associated Press report for publishing footage showing the Congress members passing through the tea-party demonstrations, apparently without being harassed or abused, racially or otherwise. Except that, AP claimed, this particular tour through the crowds took place some time after the alleged racist language was used. This, in itself seems odd. If the tea-party crowds were so threatening the first time through — one legislator initially claimed that the crowds reminded her of Klan rallies — why would they return to be abused again?

In the AP article just noted, independent corroboration did seem to come from a “blue-dog” (that is, more conservative) Democratic-party member of the Congress, who said he also heard the racist taunts. The Associated reporter took care to mention that this particular legislature was white, as though that fact alone would verify the accusation. However, speaking to a different reporter later, this same Congress member said he was misquoted, and did not hear the abuse at all. Nevertheless, Joan Walsh, editor of the online journal Salon, after touting the blue-dog’s testimony, just went ahead and took the word of the offended black Congress members that the incident took place. No proof needed, so long as the accuser is on “our” side.

There is a larger point being lost here: what if one or two of the demonstrators actually had said these words? Should this reflect upon the entire group of demonstrators? I think anyone — even Joan Walsh of Salon — would be hard-pressed to argue this point, by logic or by example. Just as any protest-demonstration in itself, no matter how large, necessarily represents majoritarian sentiments, no single member of any crowd can be said to speak for all of those present. This is especially so, given the fact that anyone at all can join a crowd of demonstrators. I don’t recall Salon or any other news service making a big deal out of “anti-globalization” or “anti-war” protestors of past years, carrying banners that depicted the former U.S. secretary of state and national security chief (both black Americans) as gorillas, or in other instances, signs that read “Death to Jews” or “Kill the Jews.” Unlike the tea-party people, the anti-war and anti-Israel crowd can rely on the news media keeping their backs.

Update 20 Apr 10: Roland Martin, a commentator at the CNN web site, has this to say to those who would criticize the tea party demonstrators:

First, let's deal with the Tea Party haters. Please, shut up. How can any liberal, progressive, moderate or conservative be mad about a group of Americans taking to the streets to protest the actions of the country? What they are engaged in is constitutional. The freedom to assemble, march, walk, scream and yell is right there in the document we all abide by.

How true.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Engineering and Athletics

In spite of my utter scepticism about the Olympics, and about nationalism, I had to admit that I was very proud that Canadian athletes had done so well at the recent winter Games in "Vancouver" (although most events were held in Whistler) — really for the first time ever at an Olympic games.

An article I read the other day about the Cuban Olympic boxing team, and its success at summer-Olympic games, reminded me as to how during the Cold War, the former Communist regimes of eastern Europe, were so successful at both the winter and summer games.

The figures (these from Wikipedia) are undeniable. At the 1924 summer Olympics, hosted by Paris, the top five countries by medal rank were (in order): the United States (which won ninety-nine bronze, silver and gold medals), followed by France at 38, Finland with one less than France, and then Great Britain (34) and Italy (sixteen in total). At the 1928 summer games in Amsterdam, the top five were: the U.S., Germany, Finland, Sweden and Italy. In 1932 in L.A., it was the U.S., Italy, France, Sweden and Japan.

The last summer Olympic games held before World War II (when the Olympic games were suspended) was in Berlin. Not surprisingly, Germany won the most medals (at 89), followed by the United States, Hungary, Italy and Finland. After the war, the composition of the top-ranked Olympic nations began to shift rapidly. At the 1948 summer games, held in London, the top five ranking countries were the U.S., Sweden, France, Hungary and Italy. Much the same as in previous games, but notable was the eighth-ranked country: Czechoslovakia, which just that year had seen the Communist party take power in a putsch.

By 1952, when the summer Olympics were held in Helsinki, Czechoslovakia had jumped to sixth-place. For the first time in ‘52, as well, the Soviet Union sent an Olympic team. The U.S.S.R.’s medal rank came second that year behind the U.S., with 71 versus 76. But for the 1956 Melbourne, Australia games, the Soviet Union won 99 medals (thirty-seven gold) as against only 74 for the U.S. Four years later in Rome, they did even better, getting 103 versus 71 for the Americans. Eastern bloc countries Czechoslovakia and Poland came tenth and ninth, respectively.

Again in Tokyo in 1964, the U.S. was beaten by the U.S.S.R. in total medals (though it won more gold than the Soviet Union), while Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia were also in the top ten. In 1968, when the summer Olympics were held in Mexico city, the U.S. beat out the Soviet Union for most medals; Hungary and Czechoslovakia were also in the top ten, but a new Olympic team, representing East Germany (or the German Democratic Republic) came in with 25 medals, almost tying West Germany with 26 (although the East did win more gold medals than the West; prior to ‘68, the two nations had competed on a single “united Germany” team). By 1972, when the summer games were held in Munich, the Soviets were back on top, with the U.S. in second, the GDR in third, handily beating out fourth-place West Germany. Meanwhile, the last three places in the top ten were held by Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. During the Montreal Olympics in 1976, the Eastern bloc was clearly winning the field: seven out of the top ten were Communist states, with the U.S.S.R. and East Germany coming first and second, winning 215 medals between them, including 89 gold trophies.

During the Cold War, Communist authorities were clearly interested in using the Olympic games as propaganda vehicles, to show off the superiority of Leninist socialism. What is interesting is that the success of Communist-state Olympic athletes was ramped up, even as these same countries encountered both relative and absolute economic decline. I think this parallels how command economies — and the state-controlled sectors of competitive economies — are able to more successfully develop engineered technology than are firms that operate under competitive conditions.

For a decade or more, I’ve pondered as to why this is the case, even though the cash sector is able to more effectively organize a technology-based economy better than where no competition exists. My tentative conclusion on this point has been that, in regard to research and development of applied forms of engineering, financing by governmental means is not a detriment that it obviously with other forms of investment; private financing of R&D is not as successful as it is in virtually all others forms of endeavour. But why?

There are several reasons. Motivation, for instance. Perhaps more than anyone, experts looking to bring scientific theory into engineering practice, have intrinsic incentives, regardless of the profitable end that may come from their work. This is as true of researchers working under a competitive, cash economy, as under command socialism. But, quite unlike with for-profit firms, participants in research projects financed by the state, are not usually delimited in their activities, by the necessity of creating a product or service that can sell in the marketplace. The need to make a profit is what brings discipline to the activities of companies working under competitive conditions. But it appears detrimental to research and development in the field of engineering. The need for an immediate, or at least certain, return on investment, which inspires efficiency under a cash-economy as a generality, is not at all efficacious when dealing with the technological basis of a modern economy.

Research and development under command-economy conditions (or even when investments are provided by the state which presides over a “free market” economy) does frequently lead to practical results because it such work lends itself to relatively limited ends, and measurable benchmarks. This is, of course, different from the more mundane types of production, such as clothing, housing and feeding people. As is well-known, the command economies of the former Soviet bloc were notoriously inept at these basic tasks, even as they developed satellites or jet-fighter craft that were far superior technologically to their counterparts being created in Western countries.

What does this have to do with the undeniable success that Soviet bloc athletes encountered during the Cold War? The same set of conditions are in place for athletic as for technological supremacy. Like research scientists, athletes are intrinsically motivated: their desire to win has to do with the activity itself, rather than any outside incentive, such as money. And, this intrinsic motivation is evident not only for the athletes themselves, but for those who assist them — coaches, trainers, even those who cheer them on. Certainly, athletes can make a great deal of money, both from professional salaries and from endorsements of commercial products. But this doesn’t really apply to Olympic athletes, at least not so much. Being “amateur”, athletes are not paid directly for their services. Multiple gold-medalists can make a great deal of cash from commercial endorsements, but usually this doesn’t last very long. The vast bulk of Olympic athletes have no endorsement prospects at all.

In Western countries, this has meant that athletes had to be independently wealthy (as was often the case during the first few meetings of the modern Olympics), work for a living while training part-time, or else live very modestly on stipends provided by foundations, universities or government in order to have enough training-time to compete at an international level. In the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, however, authorities were so interested in beating the West — and especially the United States — on the Olympic field, that any student showing promise in athletics was whisked into special programmes to build up her competitive potential. As such, Olympic hopefuls from the Soviet bloc were granted privileges not available to the average “citizen” in Communist countries: access to Western consumer goods, relative freedom from censorship, and most of all, travel outside the country in order to compete at the Olympics and other international athletic events. Most of all, though, they were given the free time to train without worry of having to make a living at a non-athletic job. Given this, it would be surprising if Communist-bloc athletes during the Cold War were not able to beat out Western competitors with every Olympiad.

In essence, then, what Communist Olympic programmes set out to do was to engineer the superior athlete. And, like with the successful attempts by government agencies at engineered technology, state-directed athletics (and this is as true of Western countries as of former and present Communist states), shows superior results compared to “laissez-faire”, because athletics and engineered both lend themselves to accurate metrics, and thereby to higher command-and-control.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Flowers of Evil

Over the weekend while returning clothes to Value Village, I picked up Judgement Ridge, a true-crime hardback describing the murders in early 2001 of Half and Susanne Zantop, German-born married professors at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, at the hands of two teenagers from a nearby town. By reporters Richard Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff and published in 2003, it is in fact a very good read (I finished in two days), written with obvious sensitivity toward the victims and the townsfolk who were to learn, weeks after the murders, that two of their nicest — and brightest — young boys were responsible for the butchery (both the victims had multiple stab wounds, with one stabbed several times straight through the skull with the kind of knife used by U.S. Navy “SEAL” commandos).

The brutality led investigators to believe it was a crime of passion — perhaps one or the other of the couple was having an affair. Disgruntled students and colleagues were also questioned. The status of the victims — Half Zantop was a noted geologist, his wife a German language professor whose works had been published in book form — also attracted wide news-media attention. Soon town gossip, innuendo and irresponsible leaks by authorities found their way even into respected broadsheets. Murder victims haven’t a shed of privacy, and no voice with which to defend themselves.

The crime may never have solved at all, had the murderers not left behind the sheaths to the knives they had purchased over the Internet a few months before the deaths. From them, investigators were able to track down the make of the weapons. Tedious searches through local and regional retailers of such knives, yielded up a name of buyer of two knives from the town just a few miles from the small hamlet where the Zantops made their home, and met their end. It was ordered by one of the teenagers — they were sixteen and seventeen at the time — who had carried out the crime. When police questioned Jim Parker, they did not believe his story that he and his friend (the other perpetrator, Robert Tulloch) had sold the knives to a mysterious stranger soon after purchasing them.

But they also did not believe that Parker and Tulloch were directly involved in the murders. Only when Tulloch and Parker fled New Hampshire, did the police obtain warrants to search their family homes, uncovering the actual knives that Tulloch had inexplicably forgot to get rid of not only after they had murdered the Zantops, but also after the pair had come to the attention of police, and decided to flee.

After the pair were arrested at an Indiana truck stop, the question turned to why Parker and Tulloch chose to murder Susanne and Half (whose name meant, literally, “help” in German) Zantop. The killers did not know the couple. Though no one from their town were as well-off as the Zantops or any other faculty member of the “ivy league” Dartmouth, they weren’t from poor homes either. They were not driven by hatred of the rich, of foreigners, or of academics. The Zantops had come from Germany, but both Parker’s and Tulloch’s families were also from outside of New Hampshire (the latter had moved there just a few years before the murders).

Neither were high-school dropouts: on the contrary, both had finished high school ahead of time, bright students who had, on the other hand, little inclination toward going beyond what was necessary.  They did not (nor did their) friends drank booze or used illicit drugs. Both boys had girlfriends at the time of the murders, or had one shortly before. The only thing taken from the Zantop’s lavish home was several hundred dollars out of Half’s wallet.

It seems that, in what was to be their last year of high school in the autumn of 2000, Parker and Tulloch entered an intense companionship that came to exclude not only the rest of the gang they had been running around with, but wholly or partially, their girlfriends as well. Lehr and Zuckoff provide no evidence that Parker and Tulloch were homosexual. Instead, they believe something more sinister was at play. Quoting the B.C. psychologist Robert Hare, the authors conclude that Tulloch was a psychopath. The teenager not only had no apparent feeling for others, he also had a grossly inflated estimation of his own self and his abilities.

Just months prior to the murders, Tulloch had encountered unaccustomed setbacks and humiliations, including an effort to remove him as student-council president for failure to carry out his duties, and the loss of a state-wide debate-club title after referring to his opponent (an exchange student) as “just a German.” Zuckoff and Lehr propose that around this time, a bloodlust had erupted in Tulloch, an aggressive response to these setbacks. It was around this time, too, that Tulloch began to alienate Parker from their other friends, and from his girlfriend as well. Tulloch, a year older and always the dominant personality, began to persuade Parker of the need of the two of them, superior brains both, to leave the small town in which they had come of age, and which offered no future. He suggested that they’d need ten thousand dollars to get to the various places they had chosen to run away to (Europe, New Zealand, and the finally, Australia). The only way they could get this kind of money quickly, was to take someone hostage in their home, force them to reveal their bank account and credit card numbers, and take what belongings were there. From there the plan escalated to murdering the hostages, too, lest they reveal the assailants’ identities. As the authors see it, the initiative for these actions came from Tulloch, with Parker going along in order to please his idol.

But to them, it was all a ruse. Tulloch’s actions at the Zantops’ disprove the robbery motive. After gaining entry to the house under the pretense of being students conducting an environmental survey, the murderers did not overpower and tie up the couple (who, in their fifties and sixties, could not be expected to put up too much resistance even to sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys). Tulloch went for his knife the first moment Half Zantop turned his back, plunging the weapon into the man’s chest as soon as he turned around again. He continued his assault until he turned his attention to Susanne, already dead after Parker had slit her throat. Tulloch proceeded to stab her several more times.

After they were apprehended, both Parker and Tulloch pled guilty to the crimes. Parker turned on Tulloch, and received a lighter sentence than the latter, who will not see the outside of a prison. There is something else that Lehr and Zuckoff dwell on. The knife-sheaths were the key to solving the crime, but the boys’ rush from the scene could explain why they would have been left behind. But what about their decision to keep the knives, even after the police were on to them? This flatly contradicts Parker’s and Tulloch’s own assertions that they were beings with superior intelligence. There is, however, a pattern of heinous murderers committing stupid mistakes such as this, which result in their capture. It has been remarked that Ted Bundy, the infamous serial-murderer of young brunettes during the 1970s, was apprehended twice (for the first time, and then again after he twice escaped custody) by his disobedience as a motorist of basic traffic regulations. Denis Rader, who terrorized Wichita, Kansas, for twenty years as the “bind, torture, kill” predator of mostly elderly women (though his toll also included an entire family), was apprehended after he was assured by investigators that his identity could not be traced if he continued his long-running correspondence with authorities on computer disk rather than on typed pages. Forensics quickly discovered the meta-file data necessary to track Rader down. He had been using the computer at his church, where he served in a lay capacity, to write his murder notes.

I dwell on this macabre subject perhaps because not dissimilar crimes have resulted in an arrest closer to home. In early February, I learned of the disappearance of a 27-year-old Belleville, Ontario woman, late last month, upon reports that news was imminent in the matter. At a press conference a little later, the police announced the identity of the suspect not only in this case, but also in the rape and murder of a 38-year-old corporal serving at a Canadian Forces airbase in Trenton, not far from Belleville: the base’s commander, colonel Russell Williams. Williams is accused not only of these crimes (the Belleville woman’s body was discovered in a field not far from town), but also in two other home-invasion rapes in the vicinity. This was startling news to everyone. Williams is a big-shot. He was commander of the only real functional airbase in Canada. Recently, he piloted the minister of National Defence to Afghanistan, and last year he ferried the Prime Minister and several cabinet members on an official visit to India. He’s appeared in the news media, and was well-known in the town of Trenton. Williams lived with his wife in Ottawa, on a street a block over from where my wife once worked.

One has to assume that, on his climb through the ranks, Williams was subjected to several levels of psychological testing. My private conclusion is that he is guilty, since he reportedly led authorities to the body of the Belleville victim. If this be so, then Williams’ twisted mind was not revealed to the examiners. How else could he have reached so high a rank, at such a relatively young age of 45? Those who knew Williams and his wife, and are ready to express an opinion, all say that they are complete shock as to the accusations against him. If anything at all is said about Williams, it is that he was “hard to get to know.”

Through my own casual studies of murderers of this type — those who kill for gratification, whether sexual or not — I believe that no environmental situation can account for such behaviour. A small number of people are born evil. The predatory instinct exists in all humans (except again, for a very small number), but so does the sympathetic drive. Robert Tulloch, and I presume, Russell Williams, don’t have this sympathetic instinct, or not enough of one to make a difference. These are indeed the evil ones.

There are certain common features of the background of many famed serial killers, namely disorder and dysfunction within their immediate families. Russell Williams, for example, is apparently estranged from his brother and mother, after the latter went through a bitter divorce with Williams’ step-father a decade ago. The English-born Williams scarcely knew his biological father, after he and his mother divorced at when he was very young, and she emigrated to Canada with her new husband. The aforementioned Bundy was raised by his grandparents, thinking they were his actual parents, and his mother, his sister. He did not know his real father, either. Paul Bernardo, the “schoolgirl” murderer and rapist in southern Ontario during the 1980s and early 90s (assisted by his wife at the time, the ugly Karla Homolka), also did not know his real father. His mother was reportedly something else entirely, a strict disciplinarian who kept the family’s food locked way in a cupboard under her bed. Robert Tulloch’s father was an alcoholic, depressive and once attempted suicide. His mother was indifferent to him, or preoccupied with caring for his sister, who had “special needs” and was a compulsive shoplifter.

But these factors cannot themselves explain cold-blooded murderers like these. Or rather, it is this environment of family disorder and uncertainty, together with the predisposition to pitilessness, which is key. Paul Bernardo and Robert Tulloch’s siblings (each had at least one sister and one brother) did not become sadistic rapists and murderers. There is some abnormality at birth with the psychopathic serial killer involving, as I said, the absence of a sympathetic drive. But, in addition to this, there is abuse and neglect at home, thus ensuring that even a stunted instinct for empathy, will not be developed at all during the early-years’ “critical period.” The scary thing is that there is really no way to tell when a child who has faced such domestic trauma, will grow up to be a psychopath.

In Judgement Ridge, the authors make reference to another murderous incident carried out by a pair of teenagers, the Columbine high school massacre in Colorado in 1999. In that case, as with Tulloch in regard to Parker, one of the pair of young killers was determined to be a psychopath, who over time prevailed upon his more sensitive and humane cohort, to murder twelve fellow students and a teacher (the Columbine duo had also planted explosives at the school, intending to kill hundreds more; fortunately, the bombs failed to detonate). In that case, as with the Zantop murders, Lehr and Zuckoff describe the “missed signs” and “telltale acts” that might have identified the murderers, before they actually struck.

This line of inquiry (also the centrepiece of an official report issued by the Colorado governor some time after the Zantop killings) has always seemed off-base to me. Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris (the Columbine killers), along with Robert Tulloch and Jimmy Parker, were involved in relatively minor crimes prior to carrying the acts for which they are now infamous. But there was nothing in these which suggested either pair of killers was capable of slaughtering fellow human beings. It is true that Eric Harris at least, had made open threats against classmates and his school, verbally, in private journals, and in Internet postings. But many people, especially teenagers, make such threats. Very few go on to carry out their threats. Indeed, very few of those who murder openly threaten their victims beforehand, for to do so automatically renders the perpetrator as suspect.

But what could authorities do, in any case, if they became certain that a certain youngster or adult, had a personality consistent with psychopathy (according to Robert Hare’s detailed personality checklist), and thus, was a danger to the public? The police couldn’t touch them, unless and until they did, or were in the active process of carrying out, a serious crime. There is no way, in any case, to judge psychopathy, that would stand without controversy and contention. But even if there were, there is no legal basis for imprisoning an individual on the basis of what he might do, given his psychological resemblance to others who have done very bad things in the past. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition especially, punishment is based on deed, not thought. The psychopath is, by definition, one without a conscience. Imprisonment would have thus cause little penitence, because the capacity for the latter is missing in the “psycho”. It would, on the other hand, excite the non-offending psychopath to even more grandiose efforts at bloody revenge for his persecution. A psychopath, once apprehended, couldn’t be freed. This would put authorities, and the public, in the uncomfortable position of imprisoning people for life for something they might do. Again, it is hard to see how this would not be extremely controversial, especially given the number of people who wish to make folk-heroes out of those who have committed horrendous crimes.

A couple of observations, in closing, about the Zantop murders. I found it remarkable that even in rural New Hampshire, as long ago as the turn of the century, not a single person is described owning an American-made car. Everyone — the victims, the investigators, the murderers, the friends and families of the murderers and victims — is driving a Saab, Subaru, Mazda, Volvo, Toyota, or BMW. Not a Chevy or Ford in sight, at least according to Zuckoff and Lehr’s account.

When Parker and Tullouch fled New Hampshire following the initial police inquiries (leaving behind the murder weapons), they eventually abandoned their car for fear of falling into the dragnet police had set up for them. They ended up at a truck-stop somewhere in New England, soliciting drives from cross-country truckers. They were repeated stiff-armed but by two separate haulers. Both of the latter were southeasterners. They were both ultimately fired for disobeying their employers’ strict no-hitchers policy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Liberal- and Statist-Democracy

I was pondering Max Weber's assertion that bureaucracy is the height of human rationality. It occurred to me that bureaucracies place social relations on a machine-like, or mechanistic basis. As with the parts of a machine, the functions of a bureaucracy are divided and subdivided between different offices and departments. Each functionary carries out his or her work, indifferent to the work of other functionaries in other departments. The bureaucracy cannot, or should not, show feeling or favouritism toward anyone; it is simply a method of getting things done. It may be objected that bureaucracies, in the real world, far less efficient and far more dysfunctional, than are machines that run on inanimate power sources. But in the real world, too, few machines function at anywhere near maximal efficiency. Very frequently, they don't function at all, or do their job very inefficiently. Again, though, they get their job done, just as most bureaucracies do, eventually.

I have often thought, over the years, as to why I identify myself as `conservative', when I don't particularly identify with many conservative beliefs. For example, I believe that "all things being equal" a child should be brought up in a two-parent family. Yet, all things are never really equal and sometimes it is better that quarrelling parents should divorce (I'm acquainted with a couple whose constant fighting is having a manifestly deleterious effect on at least one of their children). I'm dubious as to the assertions that welfare-programmes lead to family breakdown, broken communities and drug abuse. I think the `war on drugs' is about the stupidest thing that was ever conceived (at least some died-in-the-wool conservatives are with me here). I'm against the death penalty, partly for pragmatic reasons (namely, the impossibility of pardoning a wrongly convicted individual who has been put to death) but also for moral reasons (capital punishment is morally demeaning to a society - not the equivalent of cold-blooded murder, mind - but demeaning nonetheless). I'm also dubious as to the benefits of laissez-faire economics: yes, most of the economy should be in private hands; however, it is equally obvious to me that certain taken-for-granted industries and services (ie. modern medicine, and mass-schooling, not to mention industrial-engineering) would not exist without the subsidies provided by the state over the last century and more.

Yet, for all this, I can only turn my head away in disgust and disbelief at what the modern liberal-left has become. Pick any issue, and in my assessment, left parties and intellectuals are on the wrong side of justice, decency, logic, and just plain common sense.

Take the issue of terrorism. I supported the policies that George Bush the younger adopted after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and believed, as he and his officials did, that `terrorism' (it is Islamic-fascist terrorism) must be met with a military response. This is a policy decision. To me, it is self-evident that a criminal-justice approach to terror will not be effective. Others, however, disagree. That is their right. Others still (and not only on left) will state that the threat of terror is `exaggerated', proffering statements that `You are x times more likely to die from an automobile accident, than be killed by a terrorist.' I think such commentators miss the point, but again, it is an entirely legitimate point of view.

What I find incomprehensible, however, is that much of the left has actively chummed-up with Muslims who, while not actively part of Osama Bin Laden's crusade, are advocates of terrorism against Jews and other Westerners nonetheless. Recently, the Canadian journalist (and former union activist) Terry Glavan reported on a `fact-finding' mission to Afghanistan by the American left-wing group Code Pink.

The latter have been prominent since at least 9/11, demanding that the U.S. military withdraw from Afghanistan (they were of course opposed to any plan to invade the country initially), and indeed, believe that the U.S. military should not be stationed anywhere in the world. According to Glavan, however, the Code Pink activists were surprised when most of the Afghani women they encountered were not in favour of an American withdrawal C for the good reason that if the Taliban fascists again take power, women and girls will again become the prisoners in their homes, as they were during the Taliban's rule up to October, 2001.

Earlier, Glavan wrote, the Code Pink activists had gone on another fact-finding mission to the `occupied' territories of Palestine. They were there, of course, as guests of Hamas, the terrorist government of the Gaza strip whose charter promises not only to destroy Israel, but also, to kill Jews anywhere they can be found.

In regard to social questions, Hamas may be slightly more moderate than the Taliban: perhaps homosexuals in a terrorist-led Palestinian state would not be killed, but merely locked up for long periods; women who were `promiscuous' may also escape execution in favour of long prison sentences. This is the movement that the `feminists' of Code Pink have chosen to give aid and succour to.

Even where the left has not actively courted alliance with known terrorists, they have sought common-cause with Muslim lobby groups that advocate social philosophies that these same leftists condemn when they are proposed by Christian lobbyists.

The example of the Canadian New Democratic party, the socialist group in the federal Parliament, is illustrative. A few years ago, Parliament voted on the issue of same-sex marriage. Although the vote was designated as `free', that is, members could vote their conscience, the NDP leader, Jack Layton, whipped his caucus, such that his members were expected to vote in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage (for the record, I am against granting gays the same right to marry as straights, although I am otherwise stoutly opposed to discrimination against homosexuals - as with the stupid `don't ask, don't tell' policy of the U.S. military).

One NDP MP chose to vote with her constituents, and her own conscience, and said `nay' on the issue. The response was quick and brutal: she was kicked out of the NDP caucus, her party membership was revoked, and in the nomination contest in the run up to the next federal election, party officials engineered her defeat at the riding level, such that she was not able to run in the poll.

But, in this very same general election, NDP leader Layton sought out a prominent Muslim activist to run in an Ottawa riding. This woman, who never appeared anywhere without a prominent head-veil, was revealed to be stoutly opposed to same-sex marriage.

Rather than jettison her candidacy, however, Layton simply let it be known that the Muslim candidate, if required to vote on the issue of same-sex marriage, would be allowed to `vote her conscience.' The hypocrisy on display here is astounding. Layton declared war on one of his own MP's for breaking ranks with the party on the very same issue that another potential MP, would be allowed to break ranks on if she were elected office (the Muslim candidate went down to defeat; but alone among the many other NDP candidates who faced that situation, she was given a high-paying job the party headquarters in Ottawa).

Then there is the issue of terrorism generally. Soon after the attacks on New York city and Washington, D.C. that day over eight years ago, the left's explanation of the `root causes' of terrorism settled on the dogma that the attacks were motivated by `the divide between global rich and poor', the `35-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip', and the `oppression of the Muslim world' by the United States (and what do you know? These are exactly the causes championed by the modern left!). These soon became conventional wisdom among the elites in politics, academia and the news media.

All of this in spite of the lack of any evidence for any of them. Is terrorism is the last refuge of the impoverished against the affluent, as asserted so many times by those on the left? Osama Bin Laden was not poor at all; he came from a very wealthy family, and even if the nineteen attackers were not as rich as he, they all came from the upper-middle class. They were, as a group, far richer than most of the 3,000 the terrorists wantonly murdered that day. This holds, too, for terrorists who carried out attacks subsequent to 9/11 (like the Jordanian doctor who, posing as an informant, killed several CIA agents, soldiers, and some reporters in Afghanistan recently, or the Nigerian `underwear' bomber, whose family is the richest in Africa). 

Were they motivated by the so-called occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel (the Israelis pulled out of the Gaza strip years ago, but apparently, are still `occupying' the territory somehow, at least according to the left)? There were no Palestinians involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, and no mention was made of this `occupation' in the initial communiques released to Al-Jazeera TV by Bin Laden (only subsequently, after Western leftists brought up the issue, did he include it in his list of `grievances' to justify the attacks). 

Were the Sept. 11 terrorists motivated by the mistreatment by the United States of the Muslim world? The overthrow by the Iranian military, backed by Britain and the U.S., of a duly-elected prime minister of that country in 1953, resulting in the rule of the Shah, was often cited as an example of this U.S. `oppression', in the weeks and months after 9/11. Another was the support given by the U.S. to `corrupt oil monarchies' in the Middle East. This is, in itself, pretty thin gruel. There were no Iranians involved in the Sept. 11 attacks; again, Bin Laden never mentioned the overthrow in his `grievance' list; there is no expectation whatsoever that Islamic fascists such as Bin Laden and his operatives, would be compelled to kill thousands on behalf of a secular Iranian prime minister who was thrown out of office nearly half a century earlier. 

As for the U.S. support of `corrupt oil monarchies' in the Middle East, this is a peculiar argument as well. All of these monarchies do, to a lesser or greater degree, uphold a very `fundamentalist' interpretation of Islam, that Wahhabists like Bin Laden find quite felicitous indeed. When in 1991, the U.S. repelled the Iraqi army from Kuwait, the Americans were obviously doing so to secure an vitally important commodity - crude oil. 

Incidentally, however, they were (aside from defending international law) ensuring the reinstatement of a regime that upheld a version of Islamic law that, while not as severe as that found in Saudi Arabia, was hardline by any other standard, from an invading state that was (as we were told ad infinitum in the run-up to the Iraqi war in 2003) a secular Arab regime that had itself suppressed political Islam for decades. There is another thing also. 

The United States and other Western countries can be criticized for their support of illiberal, anti-democratic regimes such as Kuwait's and the Saudi Arabia's, sure. But the enemies of the U.S. and the West in the Middle East and nearby regions, are all far more illiberal and anti-democratic than any `corrupt oil monarchy' that counts itself as an ally of the Americans: thus, Libya, Iran, Hussein's Iraq, Assad's Syria, the Hamas- (and Fatah-) controlled Palestinian territories, Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban (in this, they have much in common with all anti-American regimes, past and present: Castro's Cuba, Chavez's Venezuela, the Soviet Union and its eastern European satraps, Mao's China, and so on). 

Is terrorism the only issue over which the modern left has lost its way? Far from it. Take the matter of freedom of speech. At one time, the left was a diehard opponent of censorship; conservatives, on the other hand, were hardly fast friends of liberal rights of speech. An episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, accurately dramatized the situation as of the late 1970s. 

In the segment, the station's manager, Mr. Carlson, is visited by the leader of a church-based `concerned citizens committee.' The actor who portrayed the latter character bore an uncanny resemble to the late Moral Majority head, the reverend Jerry Falwell, who was just then coming to prominence as a leader of the religious right. 

The `Falwell' character presents Mr. Carlson (played by Gordon Jump) with a list of songs he believes should be banned from the playlist, for containing crude or sexual language. The churchman issues an ultimatum: stop playing the songs, or else the members of his flock will stop patronizing the businesses that advertise on WKRP. Semi-reluctantly, Mr. Carlson agrees. Inevitably, the situation escalates. The `Falwell' preacher returns with yet more songs to be banned, with the boycott-threat intact. Eventually, Mr. Carlson presents the churchman with the lyrics of Imagine, by John Lennon. `Falwell' begins to read the lyrics, `Imagine there's no heaven...', and immediately trails off. Mr. Carlson asks him, `Is it on or off the banned list?' The preachers says, almost more in sorrow than in anger, that because the song preaches atheism, it must go on the list, too. 

`Ok. But now,' Mr. Carlson replies, `you're not just trying to ban songs with bad words. It's ideas you're trying to ban.' Although exaggerated for dramatic effect, this WKRP episode portrayed rightly just which end of the political spectrum had the least respect for traditional speech rights, thirty and more years ago: the right. 

It also showed how censorship inevitably results in escalation: the determination to ban some expression that `everyone' agrees shouldn't be articulated in public (words such as `shit' or `fuck', let's say), leads to the banning of other words, and even ideas, that only those in power believe should be banned. I will return to this theme in moment. 

For now, I will say that the scenario offered by the WKRP episode became stale-dated within a very few years. Starting in the 1980s, the political left, in the United States and Canada, and no doubt, elsewhere, became less and less enamoured with the concept of free speech. If a similar scenario were being presented on a fictional TV programme today, it wouldn't be some Falwell-like preacher demanding censorship; it would instead be a university professor, an `anti-racism' activist or a grubby street protestor. 

Or, what am I saying? In fact, Hollywood-Burbank script-writers would try to make it seem like the greatest threat to freedom of speech was from the religious right, even today. Just as, in any Hollywood movie or TV show produced during the millennium, only Christian `fundamentalist' or neo-Nazis are terrorists, and Muslims are always perpetually the victims of hatred and violence on the part of Christians. 

And what is true in fiction, is true of the news as well... I first noticed this trend myself, when I began university during the late 1980s. In my first year as an undergraduate, the British historian David Irving was scheduled to give a talk at a convention centre nearby my alma mater, the University of Ottawa. Leftists on campus were up in arms about this. Signs went up around the university: `No free speech for Nazis.' 

I accept the judgement of a British court, handed down some years ago, that Irving is a Holocaust-denier. There is, however, no evidence whatsoever that Irving was or is a Nazi. In any case, I don't believe that Irving or any other Holocaust denier should face speech bans, or even worse, face charges for using their liberty of speech to convey reprehensible ideas. 

The activists were, however, undaunted. I recall the words of one young anti-Irving protestor, replying to claims from an interviewer, that she and her comrades were advocating censorship: `We're not advocating censorship,' she claimed. `We just want Irving to crawl back under the rock from which he came...' Nice. 

These protestors were engaging the same sort of dehumanization of their opponents, as was carried out by gangs of Nazis on the streets of Weimar Germany. Since the late 1980s, `anti-racist' and other left-wing protestors have proven worthy successors of the Brownshirts. 

For more than twenty years, what had been isolated incidents wherein `anti-racists' and other left-wing protestors denied speech to truly reprehensible people, the situation escalated to the point, where by the early twentieth-first century, a presentation by the former prime minister of Israel was shut down by a mob of neo-Brownshirt thugs, hoisting the flag of Palestinian oppression. 

The American radical-turned-conservative David Horowitz must, when given talks on university campuses in his own country, attend with as much as a dozen private security folks, in order to prevent attacks on himself or the use of the `heckler's veto' on the part of protesting Muslim and radical students. 

During a recent visit to a college campus where, in contravention of university rules, a Muslim student group had posted on a school web domain quotes from the Koran, in which the Prophet counselled his followers to `kill all the Jews.' After complaints, the page was taken down, but according to Horowitz, it reappeared soon after, at a different domain owned by the university, and remained there at least until Horowitz visited the university recently. 

His visit was, inevitably, occasion for protests against his very presence on campus, and again according to Horowitz, the student group that invited him was called into a private meeting by a top university official, who tried to `persuade' them to dis-invite Horowitz, claiming that his presence there was `divisive'. 

Apparently, to the university administration (supported by much of the faculty), a web page exhorting people to kill Jews, on a domain owned by the institution, is A-OK, but the appearance by an activist denouncing this kind of thing is 'divisive.' 

On Canadian campuses, meanwhile, the latest group to be subject to repression on the part of activist student governors, are anti-abortion activists. At Carleton university in Ottawa, anti-abortion groups were recently de-funded by student administrators: it means that they will receive no funding from the compulsory fees levelled upon undergraduates at the behest of the student administrators, will have no space on campus to carry out their activities, be given no way to promote these activities through campus media. In effect, it is a ban on anti-abortion activism on the Carleton campuses. 

This is, of course, outrageous enough. Yet the reasoning employed to justify on the part of the student government, was quite marvellous. According to them, abortion-on-demand is a woman's `right' (there is no such `right' under Canadian law, but no matter). For anyone to suggest that abortion should be banned or restricted in any way, was thereby in violation of `women's rights.' 

The president of the student administration came up with an even bigger whopper. He claimed that, if he was not able to ban anti-abortion activists from campus, his own rights of free speech would be violated. It is hard to fathom that anyone would justify censorship on these grounds, in public and with a straight face. 

Yet, they passed by mostly without comment from those who are always sniffing around for signs of repression coming from the conservative camp. It illustrates how the bounds of censorship are continually increased, once the principle of freedom of speech is thrown in the trash. 

These examples, sadly, are just a gob in the spittoon of repression that has enveloped university campuses over the last two decades, a regime enforced by left-wing student activists and protestors, assented to by similarly leftist administrators and faculty, and largely ignored by the news media. 

I call it neo-McCarthyism, the effort by leftists on campus to label anyone they don't like as `racist', `sexist', `homophobic', or whatever. Except Senator McCarthy, Roy Cohn and their anti-Communist (really, anti-liberal) minions had just a few years to wreak havoc upon campuses, and then mostly from without, and in the face of the hostility of faculty and administrators. 

The neo-McCarthyites have had a run of more than two decades, been welcomed on campus, and been subject to no `have-you-no-shame' denunciations by any official that I'm aware of. 

The truth of the matter is that, they have no shame (it's a bourgeois hang-up, I guess). I've barely scratched the surface of either of these issues. In regard to censorship, I haven't even touched how government bodies charged with protecting human rights, have gone berserk in their efforts to suppress the human right of free speech, in favour of the `right' of certain people, and certain groups of people, not to be offended. 

And these are just two of the issues where the left has gone very wrong. But it is not only in the realm of social and cultural issues. What about their views about our governing institutions and so on? The democratic left is always complaining about how insufficient are Western democratic institutions. 

For this reason, the NDP, the Canadian social democratic party, is avidly in favour of adopting some kind of `proportional representation' system instead of single-riding plurality that exists in the present day, wherein a candidate that receives more votes than anyone else, wins representation in the legislature. 

This would mean that a party would receive the number of seats in Parliament in exact proportion to their total vote. I've written extensively on the many difficulties of proportional representation (a system which is, in fact, supported by some on the political right, as well). 

For one thing, if legislative seats are to be awarded based on the total proportion of the vote, rather than the actual number of votes counting in any electoral district, how is representation to be decided? Under `first-past-the-post', the member of Parliament (or any legislature) is she who has received the most votes in the riding. 

This is exactly what proportional representation seeks to abolish. 'P-R' would thus shift representation from the local level to insiders and place-sitters belonging to each of the contesting parties. Hardly an improvement in democracy. Another problem with proportional representation (this list is hardly exhaustive) is that it enshrines political parties as semi-official entities. 

Parties are private entities: they may be regulated under laws other than what are employed for other types of association (ie., business firms, labour unions, charitable or other associations), but they are still associations of private individuals who come together under a common ideological interest, in order to compete with other, similarly motivated private entities, to form the government. 

But proportional-rep makes the party primary over its individual members, thereby rendering them as, essentially, para-governmental organizations. Again, I don't see this as being beneficial to democratic rule. Nor is another issue that is unique to P-R: that is, its empowerment of fringe parties. 

Under an electoral system wherein each party is awarded representation precisely in proportion to their total vote, parties with twelve or nine or five percent of the vote that are denied seats under first-past-the-post, get represented under P-R. Larger parties with the support of, say, four of ten voters, are never able to get a majority of seats. 

Thus, under proportional-rep, the two largest parties must, following a vote, bargain for the support of all the fringe parties, just to form a government. The bargaining power resides almost exclusively with the marginal parties. They will not, after all, be able to form a government themselves. Their clout rests in being the spoiler for the parties that are able to do so. 

For a party with a tenth or a twentieth of the vote to, essentially, control the agenda of competing party with almost half the votes counted, hardly seems very democratic. This is germane to Canada's NDP: its support for proportional-representation is clearly motivated by self-interest. 

It has never received more than twenty percent of the total vote in any federal election (and more frequently, in elections since the turn of the 1990s, it got under ten percent). Under P-R, it would gain far more seats that they have ever received in any first-past-the-post election: they would become the permanent balance of power. Again, since the NDP has never had nearly enough votes to form a government, the two other main parties (the Liberals and the Conservatives) would be forced to bargain for the support of the third party, following each election. 

This would lead, in effect, to a permanent leftist government. The Liberals, a centrist-left party, would find it easier to bargain with the left-wing NDP than would the centre-right Conservative Party. In Canada, proportional representation would permanently disenfranchise the Conservative-party plurality. The votes of one fifth (or even a sixth) of the electorate would always count for more than the near-half who support the right-centre party. 

It is hard not to conclude that it is this, not `electoral fairness', which has made demands for proportional-representation virtual dogma among social democratic parties like the NDP. This is especially evident when one moves beyond abstract debates, to how the left has responded to actual proposals for democratic reform. 

The Conservative party of Canada, currently in government under prime minister Stephen Harper, is actually less than seven years old. It was formed from the union of two conservative parties, the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative party of Canada. In the year 2000, a general election was called by the Liberal-party Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. 

At the time, Chretien was battling charges of corruption involving the sale of a Qu├ębec hotel and golf course in which he had part-ownership. In fact, the election-call seemed timed to shut down a Parliamentary committee that was looking into the corruption charges. When a reporter had the temerity to question Chretien about this, the Prime Minister of Canada manhandled the journalist, screaming `Get out of my way!' (Chretien had, a few years earlier, grabbed and choked a protestor who was similarly too pushy). 

One might think that the scandal, and the behaviour of the prime minister in response it, would have dogged Jean Chretien throughout the campaign trail. News media love a scandal, don't they? Apparently, they do not; at least not in Canada, not when it involves one of `our guys' (ie. a Liberal prime minister). 

Instead, led by the state-owned CBC news, the fourth- and fifth-estates went after Stockwell Day, the former Alberta politician who had taken the leadership of the Canadian Alliance (and thereby, that of the official opposition) a few months earlier. 

Their pretext for doing so was a plank in the Alliance campaign platform which called for citizen-initiated referenda, such as exist in several U.S. states (and in Switzerland). Apparently, allowing citizens the right to vote on any issue enough of them believed was important enough, was a threat to civilization itself. 

Reporters from the CBC and elsewhere dreamed up a scenario wherein a petition of 250,000 could result in a vote that would put restrictions in the current regime of abortion-on-demand (as has existed in Canada since a Supreme Court ruling in 1988). The news-media narrative then became, `Canadian Alliance threatens a women's absolute right to abortion at any time in her pregnancy' (and yes, I am exaggerating for effect). 

Day was repeatedly questioned about this totally phantom issue. A CBC comedy programme then piled on, setting up an online petition wherein it was demanded that a referendum to compel Stockwell Day to change his given name to `Doris.' 

The elites in this country treated the latter stunt as a great example of wit. Meanwhile, the comedian most responsible for this `cleverness' went on CBC radio and declared citizen-initiated referenda a `stupid idea.' 

Left unstated were the really pertinent points about citizen-initiated referenda. First, any law, whether enacted by Parliament or by popular referendum, is subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. No matter if, hypothetically, a plebiscite declared all abortion illegal, the courts could (as they did in 1988) declare such a law as against the Charter, and thereby, invalid. 

Second, there is nothing to stop a group of pro-abortion activists from getting one quarter million signatures for a referendum to declare abortion completely legal and taxpayer-supported for all time. All this is aside from the fact that, at the time, there was no organized effort on the part of abortion opponents to have such a ballot; and public opinion surveys indicated that there was little support for an outright ban on abortion. 

The whole episode showed, however, the contempt with which the modern left holds democracy. Were the pro-abortionists, in 2000, so fearful of direct citizen balloting, because they knew their positions were not popular - they need the courts to fulfill their agenda? That seems to be the case. 

There have been many legitimate criticisms against plebiscites or referenda. But I think citizen-initiated ballots are just dandy. They are used in Switzerland, as I said, and in fact they are used more frequently there than anywhere else. Anti-plebiscite people are always ready will examples of how, in referenda, the people made the `wrong' choice (ie., the recent Swiss vote which banned minarets on Islamic temples). 

Do these critics ever believe the people make the right choice? I would like to return here to the more general thrust of this discussion. 

I identify myself as a conservative, but that is only because I believe the nomenclature of ideology has become outdated and insufficient to describe what is really going on in Western political culture. Rather than dividing up politics between `liberals' and `conservatives', I think it is more useful, now, to say the biggest divide is between those who are liberal-democrats, and those who are statist-(or social-)democrats. 

Before I explain this, I would like to take a slight detour into political terminology as it is employed in American politics. In the U.S., a `liberal' is someone to the left of the political spectrum. This does not mean, as is usually suggested, that the U.S. has no true left-wing. In fact, is simply a euphemism for `socialist' or `social-democrat.' 

Those who, in other Western countries, are called `liberal', are in the U.S. called `moderates' (the U.S. use of `conservative' conforms to that found elsewhere, at least in the English-speaking democracies). 

This is to say that many or most American `liberals' are not liberal in any meaningful sense of the word: they are statists, who believe that the government, rather than civil society, or the collective of individual citizens voluntarily working in cooperation with each other, should have the lead role in society. 

This is the difference between statist- and liberal-democracy. I should caution that not all statist-democrats are on the left, or at least, they traditionally were not. Up until the 1970s, at least, many conservatives were quite keen to use the state in order to enforce what could be considered a generic Christian ethics: chiefly in regard to sexual morals (ie, bans on homosexuality, premarital and adulterous sex, severe limitations on divorce, abortion, contraception, etc.), but also bans or controls of behaviours thought sinful (mainly, the drinking of alcohol, but also the use of drugs such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana - though it must be strongly emphasized that Prohibition in the U.S. was a Progressive hobby-horse for decades before the Volstead amendment of 1919, which banned the consumption and sale of booze; and the Franklin Roosevelt government imposed the first restrictions upon marijuana). 

As evidenced by Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and other movements of the religious right, statist-democrats continue to exist on the right of the political spectrum (in part, the modern religious right arose in reaction to the loosening or revocation of the sexual-prohibition laws described above during the 1970s). 

What is also remarkable is how spectacularly unsuccessful these right-wing statist-democrats have been in imposing their agenda on anyone. Thus, abortion: still not banned. Homosexuality: this speaks for itself, but not only has the Christian right singularly failed in its attempt to re-marginalise homosexuals, the latter now have the right at least to enter into civil partnerships in most places, and the right to marry in some others. Porn: not banned and (since the advent of the Internet) has become nearly a mainstream area of entertainment. The list goes on. 

This is in marked contrast to the great success that social or statist-democrats have had in imposing their own agenda on everyone else (as with `politically correct' speech codes; `employment-equity' or `affirmative action' - preferential hiring based on race and sex; the alteration of judicial and policing polices to suit the whim of left-wing activists). 

And again, in spite of the lack of success by conservative statist-democrats in imposing their polices on government, their very presence has been used as a cudgel by those on the left, including but limited to social- or statist-democrats, to bash more moderate and centrist conservatives with the charge of `theocrat' (invariably, those who scream about the `threat of the religious right' maintain a blissful ignorance about the real theocratic fascists in our midst, the Islamist radicals). 

This, then, is the distinction between statist-democrats and liberal-democrats. The latter believe the heart of a polity resides in its civil society, the voluntary association of individual citizens, who are assumed to be rational and if not completely virtuous, then possessed of moral (and common) sense. 

Accordingly, liberal-democrats believe that laws and regulations are a necessary evil, a mechanism for ensuring that the actions of one individual or one group, do not infringe upon others, and that the law should be applied evenhandedly to all persons and all groups. 

Statist-democrats believe, in broad form, the opposite of these things. Christian-right statists, on the one hand, view human beings as inevitably fallen and thus, cannot be expected to resist the temptation to sin, if private sexual and other practices were not strictly regulated by the state. Social- or statist-democrats on the left, do not base their beliefs on the Bible or Christian theology. Instead, they see people as not essentially rational, and thus, not able to assess and regulate their own behaviour without the assistance of the state, which is thus given primary in society. As for `civil society', statist-democrats only recognize the contributions of individuals, when the latter belong to groups that would not exist without the subsidies provided by the state. The latter are usually really referred to as `non-governmental organizations.' 

But since most of them would not exist without the largesse of the government, they are really more accurately named `para-governmental organizations.' They exist only because of the state; but unlike government officials and agencies, they are completely beyond the control of the state and of the electorate. 

Para-governmental organizations can be relied upon to promote an ever-expanding state, and to criticize those liberal-democrats who wish to limit the power of government (and generally, their status as creatures of the state goes completely unmentioned in the news media). It is important to remember, however - and their critics often do forget - is that statist-democrats are democrats. 

They are not Stalinist or Leninists in disguise (or at least, this is the case with statist-democrats in the Western world), who would impose a dictatorship of the proletariat at the first chance. Social- or statist-democrats believe that popular sovereignty (as opposed to say, violent revolution) should be the vehicle for the imposition of their agenda. 

When this agenda is met with defeat through a democratic mandate, statist-democrats accept (however begrudgingly and half-heartedly) the verdict of the people, and leave office. On the other hand, the attitudes held by social-democrats, when they do encounter electoral defeat, give a clue to their views of `the masses.' Rather than conceding that the electorate was not in agreement with what social-democrats believe, at least at the moment, statists believe that the voters have somehow been tricked or deceived by their opponents into voting for things that are against their interests. 

This was the thesis of What's the Matter with Kansas?, a 2004 book published by the American `liberal' (statist) Thomas Frank. It was the logic behind the statement made by Barak Obama, when he was running for the U.S. presidency in 2008, and he told a well-heeled San Francisco audience that the decline of traditional American industries in the heartland, was the reason so many working-class and rural whites became `bitter', making them `cling to their guns and religion.' 

This thinking reared its head, too, more recently, when Republican Scott Brown was elected to the Senate in Massachusetts in a special election, and at least some `liberal' commentators condemned the Massachusetts electorate of voting against their own interests (at least this point of view made more sense than the instant dogma among the American left, that Scott Brown's victory meant that the electorate was angered that Obama was not being statist enough for them). 

 As I said, not all statist-democrats are on the left (at least, this was the case traditionally). Conversely, not all of those on the political left are statists. But there is a definitive trend where those who would have in the recent past been considered liberal-democrats, are growing increasingly statist in orientation. 

No better example of this exists than the Liberal Democratic party of Great Britain (formed by the union of the once formidable British Liberal party, and the Labour-breakaway Social Democratic party), which far from being liberal-democratic, is in many ways more statist than the British Labour party. 

In Canada, the Liberal party has gone so far to the left that its previous leader felt comfortable enough, in November 2008, to attempt a coalition with the social-democratic party and secessionist Bloc Quebecois (also a social-democratic party), to turn the ruling Conservative party out of government, this just weeks after the Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, had specifically disavowed such an idea, but which he had entered secret negotiations about immediately following the October vote (the plan was abandoned in the face of popular outrage). 

To restate: statist pols in Occidental democracies, are democrats (and not, say, closet Leninists). This doesn't mean there are not contradictions in the statist-democratic credo. For example, if people generally are not rational (and thus, need to be guided or - in the fashionable terminology - `nudged' to behave correctly), how is it that the people in government can be so rational not only to determine what is in their own best interest, but that of everyone else? Further, if the `little people' need a powerful state to protect them, what will protect the little people from a powerful state. Nevertheless, logical contradiction didn't stop any political movement before, and it won't stop statist-democrats now.