Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Scotland the brave

I have written a lot that is very critical of Scotland recently (e.g. here). The frantic hate of their supposed "oppressors" -- the English -- that is coming from some of the Scots nationalists is grotesque -- if only because Scots get more spent on them per capita by the British government than the English do.  But gratitude is a rare flower I guess.

I have in fact always been a Scots nationalist in my sympathies.  It is obvious to me that the Scots and the English are two very different people and having them yoked to the same cart is bound to produce tensions.  So let each go their own way. After having spent some time in both countries -- and marrying a Scottish wife -- some differences at least seem very clear to me.  The English on the whole are an emotionally restrained people, for instance, while the Scots are great sentimentalists.  An amusing proof of that is that on a traditionally emotional occasion -- parting -- the English have to sing a Scottish song, in an almost incomprehensible language to them: "Auld lang syne".

And the political differences between the Scots and the English are legendary.  The Scots in Scotland are frantic socialists.  When Margaret Thatcher first gained the Prime Ministership with a huge swing towards her in England, Scotland actually swung away from the Tories. So that alone is surely an argument for independence.  Why should either nation have the political preferences of the other imposed upon it?

So the best I can do to understand the hatreds flowing from some of the Scots Nats is that it is a welling up of many lifetimes of frustration at being locked into an unsuitable marriage.  It remains deplorable, however.  Hate is intrinsically destructive.

But there is no doubt that the Scots have been traditionally warlike.  I gather that about a third of the British army to this day is Scottish.  And a tradition of war should select for manly men -- strong, confident and robust men.  And Scotland does seem to produce a goodly number of such men.  Watch the video below to see what I mean.  Bill McCue is the sort of men that Scots think of as Scottish and there is some truth in that.  I hope the Scots speech is not too hard to understand.

How can a country be bad that produces big, confident and yet sentimental men like that?  What woman would not like to have a man in her life like that (pace the feminists)?  Scotland is a wonderful country with massive traditions of its own and it should be free to pursue its own destiny in its own way

I have written quite a bit about Scotland in the academic journals.  See here -- JR.


Liberals and the Left, an unimportant distinction

William Voegeli below looks at Jonathan Chait's claim that he is a liberal, not a Leftist

Chait describes liberalism’s stalwart moderation in a way liberals have long employed, finding it both persuasive and congenial. Liberalism understands itself to be an Aristotelian mean between conservatism, complacently or viciously opposed to reforms needed to rectify social wrongs, and leftist radicalism, which aspires to good ends, but too often resorts to bad, undemocratic means. Liberalism’s excellence consists in pursuing the right goals in the right way; it’s the quality that made the center vital, both indispensable and animated.

Liberalism’s betweenness can be viewed less flatteringly, however, as a double game. Liberals tell radicals that they agree with their goals, but working within the system—letting liberals negotiate the deal—is the only way to get even a portion of what liberals and leftists seek together. At the same time, liberals tell people afraid of the radicals—an audience including conservatives, but also people with limited interest in politics but a clear aversion to aggressive fanatics—that dealing with liberals is the only way to ward off the crazies.

This is a kind of triangulation, but not one where liberalism is equidistant from conservatism and radicalism. Liberals have made clear for a century that they regard conservatives as their enemy and radicals as their coalition partners—though often embarrassing, unreliable, counterproductive ones. However uneasily and fractiously, liberals and radicals share a basic understanding about what they loathe and about what the world will look like when they succeed in removing its injustices. The result is a division of labor and mutual dependence. “Without pragmatic liberals,” historian Michael Kazin writes, “radicals spin into fantasies or eat one another alive from inside their desiccated ideological cocoons. But without radical dreamers, liberals absorb themselves with strategies that lead mostly to defeat.”

No comparable shared purpose or understanding binds liberals to conservatives as a political force. As Chait describes it, liberals and radicals are brought together by a fundamental substantive agreement about the need for greater social and economic equality. What liberals and conservatives share is a procedural commitment to conduct politics according to Enlightenment principles of free expression and individual rights. In this account, liberals are playing on the same team as radicals, but agree with conservatives about which rulebook to use.

Understanding this fact solely in abstract terms would lead us to expect that liberals will be far more likely to side with leftists against conservatives, for the sake of achieving shared objectives, than with conservatives against leftists for the sake of upholding shared norms. The historical record bears out this prediction. The Atlantic’s David Frum argued that the point of Chait’s essay was that political correctness makes liberals look “hesitant and weak.” If liberals can’t stand up to “transgender activists at a graduate school,” they can’t stand up to anyone, for anything.

But the idea that liberals suffer from a reputation for being spineless, soft, and irresponsible—hand-wringing wimps who won’t take their own side in an argument—is not categorically true. Liberals have never been bashful about taking their own side when arguing against conservatives. Chait’s most famous New Republic article, for example, began, “I hate President George W. Bush,” a hatred that went beyond policy differences to encompass the way the 43rd president walked and talked. Liberals demonized Robert Bork, when he was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987, with equal stridency. “Robert Bork’s America,” Senator Edward Kennedy said at the time, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.”

Their determination to fight the real enemy regularly allows liberals to overcome their misgivings, if any, about making common cause with leftists. Democratic senators Tom Harkin, Barbara Boxer, and Tom Daschle attended the Washington premiere of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 in 2004, along with Terry McAuliffe, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee and now governor of Virginia. Harkin and McAuliffe, speaking to reporters, praised the strident anti-Bush film. Similarly, Al Sharpton has his own show on MSNBC and walk-in privileges at the Obama White House.

Liberalism’s Logic

This partiality is not just operational, but theoretical. Chait portrays liberalism as the quest for egalitarian policies while upholding Enlightenment traditions, but a dominant motif in liberalism’s history is the dilution or abandonment of Enlightenment norms for the sake of effecting reform. In one of liberalism’s founding texts, The Promise of American Life (1909), Herbert Croly complained that “the traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth.” The solution? “In becoming responsible for the subordination of the individual to the demand of a dominant and constructive national purpose, the American state will in effect be making itself responsible for a morally and socially desirable distribution of wealth.”

By the same token, to believe that men are endowed by nature with certain inalienable rights is to believe that rights are what they are. The New Deal, by contrast, insisted that rights are what we say they are. Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address proclaimed a second Bill of Rights—to receive a long list of social welfare guarantees—because the rights the founders held to be self-evident had, by the 20th century, “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” And as America moves forward in the “pursuit of happiness and well-being,” FDR said, it can look forward to the elaboration of “similar rights” as circumstances dictate.

This was non-foundationalism avant la lettre. “We have to give up on the idea that there are unconditional, transcultural moral obligations, obligations rooted in an unchanging, ahistorical human nature,” Rorty contended half a century after FDR’s Second Bill of Rights speech. We “so-called ‘relativists’ claim that many of the things which common sense thinks are found or discovered are really made or invented.” Since all rights are made or invented, there’s no reason for New Deal liberals not to avail themselves of the right to make and invent a new right whenever it might be useful. By the same token, we have every reason to discard or curtail rights that have become inconvenient, which is Tanya Cohen’s position on the right to free speech, or the Department of Education’s on the right to a fair trial.

Having anticipated Rorty, FDR closed his speech to Congress by offering a sneak preview of Michael Moore. If “rightist reaction” thwarts the Second Bill of Rights, he said, then “even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.” If, as Chait contends, political correctness consists of radical leftists attempting to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as illegitimate, then your typical hashtag campaign fanatic is a bashful centrist compared to Dr. New Deal.

Jonathan Chait castigates political correctness as “a system of left-wing ideological repression” that is “antithetical to liberalism.” This very welcome rebuke, however, rests on a very shaky premise. The problem—for Chait, and liberalism, and America—is that political correctness is better understood as a continuation of the liberal tradition than as a betrayal of it.

One must applaud and encourage those liberals, like Chait, Shulevitz, and the Harvard law professors, who criticize political correctness. But it’s difficult to be optimistic about whether they’ll ultimately succeed, or even fight all that hard. A liberalism divided against itself, half politically correct and half politically incorrect, cannot stand. When it ceases to be divided and becomes all one thing or all the other, that one thing is going to be P.C. unless liberals repudiate, not just radical leftists, but fundamental elements of their own logic and legacy.



Arty people tend to be a bit mad

The original heading on this report was: "Creativity and psychosis share a genetic source".  But that wrongly inflates artistic endeavour.  There are many types of creativity and the most important type of creativity is scientific and technological creativity -- which can transform not only individual lives but also nations and civilizations.  Artistic creativity is primarily for entertainment.

And there are many quite unrelated types of creativity even within the artistic field.  I know of no great composers, for instance, who are also great graphic artists.  So the report below is of interest but great caution should be exercised in drawing generalizations from it.

And, as ever, we should heed the classic caution that correlation is not causation.  The sort of creativity that was studied tends to be associated with Leftist loyalties so it is possible that it was the Leftism rather than the creativity which produced the correlation with unfortunate  mental states.  Lack of reality contact is the defining feature of psychosis and that lack seems to be almost routine among Leftists.  Perhaps the only difference between Leftism and madness is one of degree.  One certainly gets that feeling when reading anything "postmodern"

Artistic creativity may share genetic roots with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to a study published on Monday. The research, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, delves into a well-known genetic database—the deCODE library of DNA codes derived from samples provided by the population of Iceland.

The authors first compared genetic and medical data from 86,000 Icelanders, establishing a DNA signature that pointed to a doubled risk for schizophrenia and an increase of a third for bipolar disorder.  The next step was to look at the genomes of people engaged in artistic work.

Those samples came from more than 1,000 volunteers who were members of Iceland's national societies of visual arts, theatre, dance, writing and music.

Members of these organisations were 17 percent likelier than non-members to have the same genetic signature, the study found. The finding was supported by four studies in the Netherlands and Sweden covering around 35,000 people, comparing individuals in the general public and those in artistic occupations. Those investigations used somewhat different parameters but found the probability was even higher, at 23 percent.

"We are here using the tools of modern genetics to take a systematic look at a fundamental aspect of how the brain works," said Kari Stefansson, head of deCODE Genetics, who led the study.  "The results of this study should not have come as a surprise because to be creative, you have to think differently from the crowd, and we had previously shown that carriers of genetic factors that predispose to schizophrenia do so," he said in a news release.



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