Tag Archives: rights

Excerpt: excuses and criticisms for electing inferiors

Sometimes I accidentally write political science, in the context of trying to write more compelling literature. I say that only half-flippantly. Experience tires of what it knows too familiarly, you see. Besides, politics skips over many things I consider essential preliminaries, in order to arrive at loud, thoughtless disagreement that much more efficiently.

NB: Not written about current events specifically, but germane, and therefore I am posting it. I do not write about current events, per se. Current events tend to come back to the same things, again and again. I do write about those things.

Without further ado, an excerpt from work in progress:

When it became fairly apparent (to others) that in time, manifest inferiors would rule democratic republics instead of the best men (in any usual sense, moral or able)—as so often happens in present day, in the calculus of voting machines, mass media, party and political machines—they made excuses. Rationalizations, critiques, and theories proliferated, and they have ever since. Most have blamed technicalities of constitutional procedure, or electoral process, for these “wrong” results. Many have blamed an uneducated citizenry. Partisans blame opponents.

All these critiques come from ideological agreement, from those convinced of the rightness of democracy, or at least taking it for granted (a tenet without alternative), often from insiders in the political class.

They would never conclude, for instance, that corrupt bargains for influence promoting oligarchs and plutocrats among the political class describes an equilibrium of theoretical popular governance, no matter its design.

Insiders in particular would never interpret lack of intellectual competence among bureaucrats and politicians of the state as [suitable] avoidance of misspent, frustrated careers by competent people who have other ambitions and serve other masters. And the more enormous the bureaucracy, the more immune its unelected mediocrity to change by election of very few supervising officials, and their direct appointees.

An unusual critique from outside the consensus lamented a perversion of the natural order by the weakening effect of misguided egalitarian doctrines, from democratic, Judeo-Christian, and socialist origins, promoted with the effect, if not also the intention, that diminutive, weak men could overcome their superiors. Men had become sheeplike, or overly tamed.

This critique happened to agree with neo-aristocrats, oligarchs, and republicans alike that the many, especially the uneducated mob, were not to be trusted with the reins of government. Inferior men could climb up on their backs, to loud applause. Voting was a godsend to the ambitious political creatures whose talents lay in demagoguery, empty promises, fear-mongering, and other unscrupulous means.

But to the traditional mistrust of demagogues, this critique added the [interesting] charge that the potential quality of men had been corrupted, not only by lacking education but also by excess of rote, mass education in uniformity, agreement, and passivity—in the name of equality and good citizens, instead of serving the more venerable, selective educational goal of cultivating a remarkable elite.

Other outsiders critiqued democratic principle not for its foundation upon the many, but for sanctioning and legalizing the might of the many—called mob rule in its informal guise—as though numbers excused or ennobled the exercise of power, and in this case alone, might makes right.

They saw no reason for surprise whenever democratic republics failed. For democratic institutions remained systems for assigning compulsory powers, not fundamentally unlike any ancient state for having devised representation, imagined “good government,” and forgotten the origins of governance in oppression by conquerors, caste, or class.

They summarized that history has always reflected a generally conflicted (if not inverse) relationship between attracting the best men and offering them power. Power to enforce one’s will instead, unsurprisingly, attracts those who cannot exercise any consistent restraint, or corrupts those who have power, including those born into it. Exercise of power for aggrandizement is rarely tempered, with difficulty, only temporarily, and somewhat against the natural tendency.

In fact the founders of modern constitutional republics were not unaware of this critique. Among them, skeptics of democracy as a positive good admitted they could not answer it, and feared it would prove correct. They were not naive enough to believe that men who acquired might would somehow cease to crown themselves right. They hoped that individual rights could find protection for a time, despite tyrants, oligarchs, mobs and demagogues.

Now, the context for generating this digression was: writing about right and might (the famous debate in Thucydides over the fate of the poor island of Melos crops up) as an unusual, applied way of writing about a distinction between the “neutral” descriptive function of idealized science, and the prescriptive, normative, or persuasive functions of value-driven fields such as ethics, or applied science (medicine, psychiatry, engineering), arts, or religion. In a nutshell, saying what happens is importantly, quite different from saying what should happen.

Talking about how those two purposes can either corrupt, or assist each other, is very important to the philosophy of science, to argumentation, to psychology, and to pretty much any subject that people have positions about, or try to understand. Half of political discourse is really about trying to blur the two. (The Athenians certainly do in Thucydides.)

So actually, this is a representative selection in a sense, not for its specific subject material, but because it came about from the larger goal of teaching and reconsidering fundamentals through novel illustrations. In this case, philosophy of science through the lens of political science, in particular, all the thinking surrounding right and might, might makes right, etc. I went off on the tangent above (it happens), broke off that piece, and here you are.

The Political Correctness of Death Threats, and the positive right to not be offended

In a blog post I recommend, Katabasis writes about multiple cases in Britain in which “Three separate University Atheist / Secularist student societies have come under attack from islamists” but also politically-correct peers. One case involved a cartoon depicting “Jesus and Mo.” In another at Queen Mary:

students had organised a talk on ‘Sharia Law and Human Rights’. An Islamist thug turned up (with help apparently), filmed members of the audience and threatened violence against them if he heard of any “insult to the prophet”.

Having now spent some time with the Queen Mary students to find out first hand what happened I can tell you that these kids are feeling not only scared, but also very isolated. Not only do the various students unions involved in these debacles appear to be uncritcially taking the Islamist side against all reason, demanding that the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist societies censor themselves or – in the case of LSE – face expulsion from the Union, but I’ve heard a number of them asking ‘where is the left’?

The university “left,” mired in PC culture and allergic to offense to the point of a zealot’s intolerance in their own right, responded by attacking the victims of death threats such as beheading. Take for example the LSESU Socialist Workers Society statement: “The Atheist Society’s efforts to publish inflammatory “satirical” cartoons in a deliberate attempt to offend Muslims serve to highlight a festering undercurrent of racism.”

It is disgraceful but typical of PC reactionaries that actual oppression doesn’t matter compared to conceptualized victimhood—on behalf of someone else!—or rather some collective identity idol that’s not intended to be interactive or reflective of real people.

The entire account of the surreal PC university culture from the LSE Society is here and worth reading, as is the entire post by Katabasis, particularly to get a sense of just how serious these threats have been, and how unserious and inadequate the response of offense-policing censors and offense-averse police has been.

An American observer may note the irony here that the “creeping tide of sharia” feared by so many anti-Muslim bigots in America since 9-11 is to some extent a reality in exemptions from British law, but while almost exclusively nonviolent and mostly moderate Muslims have been persecuted extensively in the US, actual violent Islamists have been allowed to force their sensibilities of offense upon British society and threaten critics, while those critics have been dutifully attacked for stirring up trouble.

Non-white Muslims are among the special, protected groups under a sanctimonious, multicultural (that is, anti-white, anti-Western, and anti-Anglo) regime of victimhood—so much so that pretend religious adherence can be used as a defense for savagely attacking a woman for being white.

(Americans should also note that Britain is a country where people who defend themselves may be prosecuted, and will be excoriated by the politically correct. In that linked case, the woman’s boyfriend had the gall to fend off four women ripping her hair out, which in its threatening maleness was seen as a mitigating factor by the judge.)

The British infection is at a very advanced state. But I’m not talking about the Islamists, for if they were not treated to special rights to threaten others and impose their will by force, they would stop. Far worse is the cultural infection of pusillanimous political correctness which routinely blames real victims even as special victimhood is cultivated like a renewable resource.*

It’s a predictable disaster when people allow free speech to be trumped by the presumed right to not be offended.

This is an ideal occasion to explain the difference between negative rights and positive rights, the importance of the distinction, and why positive rights set a dangerous precedent.

Traditional, negative rights like freedoms of expression and private property are simply based on people being left alone to do what they will, or treated equally from an official legal perspective—like rights of the accused.

The “right not to be offended” is an example of a positive right. In order for you to not be offended, someone else has to be MADE to shut up. Who’s going to do that? And of course, someone has to determine what the fuck “offensive” means, even though it’s clearly in the eye of the beholder. So with that one pseudo-right, we would empower an entire social apparatus of political correctness to adjudicate and require compulsive thuggery on a massive scale if we wished to enforce it.

Officializing such a right makes these problems even worse, not only metastasizing the state to control citizens so they refrain from “offense,” but ensuring arguments over the official definition. Real illustrations extend from mandated censorship of “bad words” in broadcasts (see George Carlin’s seven dirty words routine) to censoring dissidents during every major war—for nothing is more offensive to jingoes.

Other examples of presumed (positive) rights include food, jobs, high wages, housing, etc. Someone else must be compelled to provide these things for you, so they inherently violate negative rights. They violate the freedoms not to be forced to serve others, or comply with the demands of others.

Positive rights aren’t rights in the traditional sense at all, they are demands on others.

It’s worth noting that “human rights” documents such as the European Convention on Human Rights and UN Declaration  make no proper distinction between the two, in addition to qualifying rights so that they are subject to interpretations of political and bureaucratic officials, and thus useless. The common public perception of human rights is a muddle between licenses to enable tyrannical demands in the name of good ends, and rights that were devices used to help ensure personal freedoms since the Magna Carta and more recently, the American Constitution.

*Addendum: In another stark indication of this abysmal cultivation of victimhood even at the expense of real victims, the violence, hooliganism, and thievery of opportunist rioters in 2011 provided an opportunity for many PC British leftists to sermonize about racial and economic justice, privilege, and other buzzwords, and lecture about the plight of the downtrodden in underprivileged welfare communities—never mind that many of those subsequently arrested turned out to have good jobs, and never mind that the rioters’ targets were often the local businesses serving these communities.