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For some time I have noticed animal shapes and animal faces traced in red ribbon which had been threaded and tied into chain-link (wire-mesh) fencing around the city. I only recently realized that these were part of a campaign for veganism and animal rights. I mentioned this campaign in a previous post.

These images certainly represent an interesting form of self-expression or persuasion: gentle and oblique. I saw a young man creating one of them quite late one night. It was cold. He was alone and working very fast. Within 24 hours his images had been ripped to shreds by a person or persons unknown; new ones appeared just the other day. (See photo.)

For now I am just observing, but there are some big issues behind this odd campaign which I still intend at some point to write something about.
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Earlier this year the city in which I live was the target of a well-funded campaign promoting veganism and animal rights. The funding reportedly came from an anonymous American philanthropist, but ‘philanthropist’ is a particularly bad choice of word for this particular cause.

Some of the propagandising was grassroots stuff: confronting messages on city sidewalks in colored chalk. Some of it involved very expensive poster and billboard advertisements all around the central business district and theatre precincts. One billboard featured a headshot of a terrified cow with the slogan Dairy 1-2-3: 1) We take her baby. 2) We take her milk. 3) We take her life.

I looked at associated websites (the main one being http://befairbevegan.com) and will probably be returning to the topic.

The content of the advertisements and the content of the websites – much of it at any rate – is not only extreme, it is just plain silly. Obviously it works on vulnerable minds however. The perpetrators are either being cynically manipulative or they are not thinking rationally.

One poster openly states that a cow is a person. Others deal with other farm animals in a similar way.

You can redefine ‘person’ if you like, but, to the extent that this and similar politically-motivated attempts at manipulating and debasing the meanings of words are successful, our world begins to resemble more closely the dystopias described by George Orwell in *Animal Farm* and *1984*.
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Referencing George Orwell's 1984, Gerald Warner comments on cultural changes in the United Kingdom which mirror similar changes in other Western countries. I agree with the gist of what he is saying but I think it is best said without using the terms 'Marxism' and 'cultural Marxism' in the way that he does – too loosely. As he uses the terms, they are almost semantically empty.

"Political correctness – the euphemism for cultural Marxism – has colonized almost every corner of life in Britain. The social assumptions and public discourse, as well as the legal framework, have become Marxist. Genuine free speech is now an historical memory.

"One can only marvel at the prescient accuracy of George Orwell’s dystopian warnings in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Thought crime is today called “hate crime”; Newspeak is the constipated, hideous neologisms of PC language. People have begun to police their own speech; formerly articulate individuals now have a hesitant delivery as they negotiate the pitfalls of an ever-expanding minefield of taboos."

(From his article, "Marx is winning", Reaction, May 15, 2018.)
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Daniel Kaufman recently made some cogent points about the paradoxes and contradictions at the heart of today's gender identity politics. I won't try to sum up his view or even articulate my own in a rigorous way. In fact, my views are not settled, and I am just noting down here a few preliminary, disconnected thoughts which Dan's essay has prompted.

The way that identity politics has developed is unfortunate in a number of respects, and the contradictions and apparent absurdities play into the perception on the part of many that something has gone badly wrong here. These ideas have adversely affected the standing of institutions where they have taken root: universities, sections of the media, government bureaucracies, etc.. More broadly, they could be seen (as Dan also notes) as evidence of the breakdown of the liberal consensus (I am using the word "liberal" in its old-fashioned sense here) upon which secular, Western forms of democracy have historically depended.

My first response to most gender identity talk is to dismiss it as self-indulgent and silly. And I think a powerful case can be made that most of it is.

Dan is right that there are conflicts and contradictions within and between various kinds of contemporary progressivism and feminism. He sees this as a problem for progressives (like himself) because, clearly, it undermines their credibility and so weakens their cause.

But I am tempted to the view that the current absurdities are not so much aberrations as a natural development of what were, from the beginning, basically flawed ideas. I am thinking particularly of the notion (dominant in the 1960s and 70s) that the brain is like a blank slate upon which social and cultural experience writes.* This idea is simply wrong as many capacities and behavioural tendencies are innate. This is not to say that all boys like to play with trucks and all girls with dolls; there is huge individual variation. But general tendencies are to a significant extent built in. Sure, they develop and are often reinforced in a social context. And attempts can be and often are made to counter them.

Some such attempts I would endorse, in fact. My point is not about the desirability of particular behaviours but rather about the roots of such behaviours.

Just look what happens when you let baby chimpanzees loose in a playroom: the males go for the trucks and hammers, the females for the dolls. Or rats in a maze: the males have a better sense of the wider environment, the females of details of the proximate environment. The evidence for innate differences is overwhelming, and it is clearly only an ideological commitment to certain social ideals which – as far as I can see – can explain the persistence of (variations of) the blank slate view. Obviously, to the extent that certain tendencies are deemed to be innate, there are limitations on what social engineering can achieve, so there will be a natural resistance to these ideas on the part of those hoping for or seeking to implement radical social change.

Dan quoted from a recording which his parents gave him as a child and which was designed to express in simple terms some of the doctrines of the secular liberalism and progressivism of the time (early 1970s). He links to the title song of the collection which, he says, still elicits a positive emotional reaction. I think I understand this. But I interpret it in slightly different terms.

As I see it, such childhood influences – and all of us have them in one form or another – run very deep and continue to affect our values and how we think. Crucially, they operate largely beneath the radar of consciousness and so tend to make certain views seem self-evident and others anathema. (Parental views are not reliably passed on, of course: there are many other inputs and factors – including rivalry with siblings, and alliances and rivalries with friends and contemporaries – to take into account.)

This may be a simplistic view – it is certainly speculative – but I can't help seeing left-wing or secular progressive politics as playing a similar role to that traditionally played by religion, as being a kind of religion-substitute. Some of my radical cousins, for example, identify themselves largely in terms of their political position, and it seems to operate in a similar way to my early experiences of religious identity, both within the bounds of the nuclear family and beyond. Even naming practices are involved. My cousin Lizzie has a daughter whom she called Rosa (after Rosa Luxemburg).

I suggested above that the conflicts and contradictions which Dan Kaufman highlights in contemporary identity politics may derive in part from internal contradictions in certain basic liberal progressive doctrines. But, applying this politics-as-religion idea, one could also see the current disputes as paralleling the universal tendency of religious denominations to fragment into warring factions.


* I'm not sure what Dan's views are on this idea, but there are oblique references to it in his essay, and a direct (and approving) reference in a linked and recommended article.
Thoughts on Sex and Gender
Thoughts on Sex and Gender
theelectricagora.com
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I was skeptical of the original reports of a Syrian chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April last year, and in June I read a reasonably persuasive article (published in Die Welt rather than by an American or British newspaper) by the American journalist Seymour Hersh casting doubt on the official story.

Recently we had another apparent chemical weapons attack by Bashar al-Assad's regime (on Douma). These claims of chemical weapons use have been fuelling calls for NATO countries to become more involved in Syria to counter Assad and his Russian allies.

I have just learned of the retaliatory missile attacks by US, French and British forces on Syrian military bases and other facilities. They seem to have been quite limited and constrained, thank goodness. Dangers remain, however, that such interventions will escalate and lead to conflict between major powers. This is something which should concern us all.

Have the so-called neocons been cynically attempting to manipulate public opinion in order to facilitate such a conflict? I don't know, but caution and a healthy dose of skepticism regarding some of the claims being made certainly seems appropriate.

In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq claims were made – which subsequently proved to be false – about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. You could make a case that we are witnessing something similar now in relation to Syria and her allies.

In an interview on BBC radio, the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, scoffed at the idea that Assad's forces were responsible for the alleged chemical attack on Douma. He suggested, in fact, that there was no such attack, that it was faked.

Who does one believe? The likes of Ford or Hersh, or official Western spokesmen? There is no easy answer here: each question needs to be looked at individually.

Nonetheless, we obviously come to see and interpret individual questions in terms of a set of narratives. These broader narratives are never true or false as such but some are certainly more plausible (fitting the facts) and useful (having some predictive value) than others.

The crucial point (as I see it) is that we shouldn't be too locked in to a particular story (or framework of interpretation). A good narrative has to be constantly revised, as more facts come to light.

Moreover – for most of us at any rate, and for most geopolitical questions – there is no need to come to a quick decision. In many cases, the truth will become clear over time to those who are following events in an open-minded, non-dogmatic and non-ideological way.
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A clearly heartfelt claim by the social philosopher George Grant in an episode of a 1960s TV discussion program archived by the Canadian national broadcaster concerning the noxious nature of the book, Peter Pan (the fantasy by J.M. Barrie about a boy who wouldn’t grow up) puzzled me when I first came across it a couple of years ago. Twice he called the book "revolting" and he clashed with an actress on the panel who had a very positive attitude to the story. (You will find a link to the video in the latter part of the attached article.)

I think I understand now what was driving Grant: a sense that such fantasies – and there are many similar fantasies about today – both reflect and, to the extent that they are popular and influential, encourage a false and sentimental view of the world and undermine some very important values.

See the full article (and the comment section) for more on this.
Science, Fantasy and Religion
Science, Fantasy and Religion
theelectricagora.com
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Reputations, in my opinion, are taken far too seriously, moral reputations especially. There are very few real heroes and very few real villains.
Moral reputations and politics
Moral reputations and politics
conservativetendency.blogspot.com
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Life, it seems to me, is deeply and irredeemably unjust, from the womb. Our attempts to “make things right” are worthy, even inspiring. But it is wishful thinking to believe that political or judicial actions can ever have more than a very modest positive effect on the scheme of things; that they can ever right more than a minuscule fraction of the countless wrongs and injustices that surround us on every side.
Truth and justice
Truth and justice
conservativetendency.blogspot.com
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China's so-called Belt and Road Initiative can be seen as an over-ambitious attempt to plan and control economic forces, as a Machiavellian plot to project Chinese power and create an empire or, more reasonably I think, as an intelligent response to recent economic and geopolitical changes. These changes present China – as the main rising economic power – with an opportunity to bring about a fundamentally new economic and political order, at least in the Eurasian region.

How it all pans out will obviously depend on the level of international cooperation, but early indications are that most countries in this vast region see benefits for themselves in the plan and are keen to join the process.

The BRI is all about creating trade-related infrastructure linking the Far East to the rest of the Eurasian land mass and adjacent areas. This map illustrates the main economic corridors involved.
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Coming to terms with political and social questions can be seen as a form of self-discovery. It may be useful, for example, to examine one's own early attitudes and intuitions, and perhaps especially basic personality traits and early childhood experiences.

An early obsession of mine with military toys and marching and military music could perhaps be put down to environmental influences and specifically to my father’s background. His life had been changed and his personality profoundly affected by his military experiences. These had occurred a good number of years before my birth but though he never really talked about these experiences – perhaps because he never did – somehow the war never ended for him. (I knew that he had received the Military Medal for his work behind enemy lines but it was only after his death, when I did some archival and other research, that I found out the full – horrific – story.)

My anxieties were not as bad as my father's but behind my toy soldiers and obsession with marching bands lurked a kind of fear or dread, undefined to some extent, but often linked to aircraft (the sky was full of them where I grew up, many of them military). Bombing raids haunted my imagination.

And, of course, this was the time of the Cold War when the prospect of major nuclear conflict loomed large in many people's minds.

Certainly, the world seemed a fundamentally dangerous and hostile place to me, and such an attitude would obviously colour, and to some extent shape, any developing social and political views.
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