Sunday, 12 May 2013

Thomas Day - Man of Feeling

Thomas Day ((22 June 1748 – 28 September 1789)

I came across this painting by Joseph Wright (1734-1797) on a recent visit to Beningborough Hall in Yorkshire. It was commissioned by Thomas Day's life-long friend, Richard Lovell Edgeworth who called Day 'the most virtuous human being he had ever known'. The composition is intended to portray Day as a man of feeling, with a meditative and melancholy air.

Richard Edgeworth was a progressive educator inspired by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and through his influence Thomas Day became equally enthralled by his ideas. Rousseau's philosophy of education is not concerned with imparting information and concepts but with bringing about certain qualities in a young person. The aim is to develop character and moral sense so that a person may be his or her own master and uphold virtue even in the unnatural and imperfect society that he or she will have to live in.

After failing to find the perfect wife (several women turned down his proposals of marriage), he decided to adopt two foundlings from orphanages and, using Rousseau's maxims, educate them to be the perfect wife (two would ensure that one of them worked out). This illustrates one of the liberal themes of creating human perfection through education.

He adopted a 12-year-old and an 11-year-old whom he renamed Sabrina and Lucretia and took them to France to educate them in isolation. Unfortunately, the girls became ill and "squabbled" and he decided to give up on Lucretia, whom he did not think could satisfy him intellectually. Sabrina he felt was still a possibility, but her character had to be further strengthened. After dropping hot wax on her arms and hearing her scream, though, he gave up in despair.

Day did finally meet his "paragon" of a woman in Esther Milnes (1753–1792). They were married on 7 August 1778. They lived a very ascetic lifestyle and Esther was never allowed to contact her family.

In 1780, the couple moved to Anningsley in Surrey, when Day bought a new estate there. It was a philanthropic project for both husband and wife and they laboured to improve the conditions of the working classes around them. Here are the liberal themes of philanthropy and Care for the poor and needy.

In 1773, Day published his first work-"The Dying Negro," a poem he had written with John Bicknell that tells the horrifying story of a runaway slave; it was a best seller. Here is the liberal theme of concern for the Oppressed.

When the United States Declaration of Independence was first published, Day pointed out the contradiction between the claim that "all men are created equal" and the existence of American slavery. There were also members of Congress who owned black slaves. In 1776, Thomas Day wrote:
"If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves."
This illustrates another liberal theme of striking blows at inequality and standing up for those Oppressed by the social order. It also shows the role of reason in pointing out inconsistencies between principles and behaviour.

Day argued for the rights of the American colonists in his poem "The Devoted Legions" (1776) and in 1780 he argued in Parliament for an early peace with the revolutionaries as well as parliamentary reform. Here we see liberal support for those Oppressed by the "home team" (in this case the nascent United States of America seeking independence from the British Empire). Also, a familiar liberal position of suing for peace earlier rather than later and, in parliamentary reform, the search for a fairer distribution of power.

It was as a writer for children that Day made his reputation. The History of Little Jack (1787) was extremely popular, but it could not match the sales of The History of Sandford and Merton (1783, 1786, 1789) which was a best seller for over a hundred years. Embracing Rousseau's dictates in many ways, it narrates the story of the rich, noble but spoiled Tommy Merton and his poor but virtuous friend Harry Sandford. Through trials and stories, Harry and the boys' tutor teach Tommy the importance of labour and the evils of the idle rich.

Imagine the thousands of young minds that Day was able to influence through this story! Again, liberal themes emerge: Care for the young; education as the route to a better society; the superior virtue of the Oppressed; the evils of being rich.

Day was thrown from his horse while trying to break it using kindness on 28 September 1789 and died almost instantly.

There were many admirable qualities in Thomas Day, as there are with many liberals, but practicality is not usually one of them (in my experience). Here we see that Day was trying to apply Rousseauian principles to the training of a horse and the result was a collision with reality. I would be the last person to advocate cruelty in dealing with animals but perhaps sensibility has its limits?

This episode with the horse reminds me of how liberals are trying to come to terms with Islam, though the discrepancy between the strength of Thomas Day and his horse, shrinks into insignificance compared to the discrepancy between the power of Islam and the liberals of this world.

Liberals tend to have a strong caring side. Many of the liberals I know or have known certainly share this quality. They do not want to cause harm - to other people, to animals, or to the environment. They usually have a strong empathising tendency and they feel dismay at what they see as other people's disregard for these feelings. They abhor suffering and do not want to be the cause of it. Thomas Day is a good example of these character traits.

Where perhaps they tend to go wrong is in seeing those with less preoccupation with Care than themselves as completely without feeling. It's as if they project the Harm aspect of the Care/Harm dimension onto those they identify as uncaring. This can quickly lead to demonisation of their political opponents. Even though they are engaging in behaviour which from the outside they would condemn (e.g. when Jews were demonised by Nazis) they feel so much self-righteousness with regard to their own causes that they feel justified in behaving this way. They also see their political opponents as being powerful and privileged and deserving targets of any amount of venom.

But what they do is nonetheless dehumanising and infantile.

Thomas Day, and those like him, have done a lot to extend the sphere of compassion in liberal society. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Where conservatives are apt to feel rather exasperated with liberals today is really related to what they see as a dereliction of duty. Why are liberals not doing what they usually do and get out and protest about the incursion into liberal society of Islamic mores, Islamisation? This is the phenomenon that I call Malsi-tung: the liberal surrender to Islam. Not only are liberals not protesting the sexism, racism, and oppression that Islam brings to liberal societies, they are demonising anyone who does stand up to it. This is what is so bizarre.

But the reason for it may be found in the sphere of compassion that I've mentioned above. Liberals have extended their sphere of compassion so far out that they now feel only compassion for those who would kill and enslave them.

Islam is as Islam is Interpreted

I've heard this argument quite a few times from liberals. It's quite a persuasive argument but nonetheless wrong in my view. It runs like this: Islam is not a fixed and immutable thing. It is the sum of however Muslims practice it. The way Muslims practice Islam is neither uniform nor unchanging. Therefore, Islam is simply the most prevalent interpretation of itself as practiced by self-identified Muslims.

First of all, this is typical liberal thinking at work. In liberal culture we talk a lot about different interpretations of things: ideas, words, books, films, poems, pictures, etc.; it is an integral part of our liberal culture. To talk of varying interpretations of Islam is, to some extent, to see the Muslim world as a reflection of our own in certain respects. This might be true or it might be false but this "interpretative" perspective does not ask that question, it simply assumes it to be true. It may be hard to prove it true or false but that is still no excuse for assuming it to be true.

Secondly, Islamic doctrine is constructed logically from the teachings and example of Muhammad. It is not a difficult task to compare these three things and ask the question: how close to the teachings and example of Muhammad are the different interpretations of Islam that we have presented to us? The objective answer to this will conclude that what liberals deem to be the most extreme forms of Islam are in fact those closest to the teachings and example of Muhammad. What kind of Muslim was Muhammad? Answer: an extreme Muslim.

Thirdly, we can ask which groups currently possess the means (money, influence, networks) to make their interpretation the dominant one? The answer to this is also easy to demonstrate. The Saudis, the Emir of Qatar, the Deobandis, are those best placed to make their interpretation dominant; all of whom share what the ignorant call extreme forms Islam. So, if we were to accept that Islam is whatever is the prevalent interpretation among Muslims, then we can safely conclude that the "extreme" interpretations" are likely to become more dominant in the near term.

Fourthly, although this interpretative view of Islam might hold true for any point in time it does not address Islam's historical mission. The mission statement of Islam is clear: to make the whole world submit to Islam. "Fight the unbelievers until their is no more fitna and all religion is for Allah." No ambiguity there. Islam is not a state, it is a process. It has a teleological dimension in so far as it aims for an end result. All manner of states in between can serve that end result. If Muslims in a particular time and place are required by the mission to be ignorant of Islam's real nature then their ignorance serves the mission. For the Muslims currently living in non-Muslim countries to be able to say in good faith, "Islam seeks to live in peace with all people" is ideal, even though the statement itself is fundamentally false and misleading. These very attributes serve Islam's ultimate mission.

As the strength of Muslims grows in the various societies where they are embedded, the need to mask Islam's real character, to go along with more benign interpretations, can be phased out and the Islam of Muhammad can emerge, unambiguously brutal, clear, and in total fidelity to Muhammad's mission statement: "Fight them until there is no more fitna and all religion is for Allah".

Liberal Idea #1 - Human Nature is Infinitely Malleable

Liberalism believes human nature to be not fixed but changing, with an unlimited or indefinitely large potential for positive (good, progressive) development. This is contrasted with the traditional theological doctrines of Original Sin in which our nature was seen to have a permanent unchanging essence; that we are partly corrupt and limited in our potential. In the late 17th C. John Locke formulated the idea that we are born as tabula rasa (blank slates) and that we learn everything that constitutes our character. Any flaws in our character are therefore the product of our upbringing and environment and therefore subject to amelioration. In the 18th C., Rousseau, Condorcet, Diderot and other French philosophers promoted this view and taught that human beings are innately good, they have un-limited potential, and are perfectible.
Modern liberalism is more cautious: our nature is neither good nor bad; we are "plastic" in the sense that we can develop in almost any direction; there may be some limit to our potential but there is no limit we can specify in advance. As Burnham says, "Modern liberalism...holds that there is nothing intrinsic to the nature of man that makes it impossible for human society to achieve the goals of peace, freedom, justice and well-being".
This outlook is extremely optimistic and one of the reactions we get from liberals when we question an assumption of theirs like this one is that we're being mean and bigoted and trying to spoil things. It has been a tough job during the last 50 years of social science research to propose theories or produce evidence which throws doubt on the tabula rasa belief. One very notable example was E.O. Wilson, who became a figure of hatred for liberals when he published his ground-breaking book Sociobiology. This book explored how natural selection, which undoubtedly shaped animal bodies, had also shaped animal behaviour. That was not controversial but he then went on to suggest that the same processes had shaped human behaviour. He believed there was such a thing as human nature and that it constrains the range of what we can achieve when raising our children or designing new social institutions.
As Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind,
Wilson used ethics to illustrate his point. He was a professor at Harvard, along with Lawrence Kohlberg and the philosopher John Rawls, so he was well acquainted with their brand of rationalist theorizing about rights and justice. It seemed clear to Wilson that what the rationalists were really doing was generating clever justifications for moral intuitions that were best explained by evolution. Do people believe in human rights because such rights actually exist, like mathematical truths, sitting on a cosmic shelf next to the Pythagorean theorem just waiting to be discovered by Platonic reasoners? Or do people feel revulsion and sympathy when they read accounts of torture, and then invent a story about universal rights to help justify their feelings?
Wilson charged that what the moral philosophers were really doing was fabricating justifications after "consulting the emotive centers" of their own brains.

Obviously, liberals were incensed by this idea and immediately pronounced Wilson to be a "fascist" which justified the charge for some that he was a "racist" which  justified that he be stopped from speaking in public. (sound familiar?)

Protesters who tried to disrupt one of his scientific talks rushed the stage and chanted:
"Racist Wilson, you can't hide, we charge you with genocide."
This is depressingly familiar behaviour from the liberal guardians of our morals. First the leap from hurt feelings to damning label (fascist); then, on the basis of the first damning label, a leap to the next (racist); then, on the basis of that damning label, he is accused of "genocide"; and then the boycotts, the sit-ins, the campaigns to isolate the heretic and destroy his career and social standing. Such behaviour is reminiscent of witch trials and the Inquisitions. How demonic the angelic liberals can be! But they are in the matrix and they can't see themselves for what they are.

The research by Tajfel on minimal groups points to something in human nature which is both very deep-seated and unchangeable. We coalesce into groups very readily and on the basis of our group membership we make judgements about the superiority of our own group. We even do this when the group we are assigned to is based on trivial, arbitrary, and random criteria.

Confirmation bias is another universal in psychological research. We are very good at finding and remembering information which confirms our beliefs but absolutely terrible at seeking or remembering information which contradicts them. This behaviour is found across all cultures, it is not limited to the New York Times. We are cognitive misers who find the quickest route to the conclusions we want to reach and we apply different tests to information depending on whether it supports our beliefs or contradicts them: for the former we ask Can I believe it? and for the latter we ask Must I believe it? We are biased by nature. We also continue to cling to beliefs even when presented with strong evidence that those beliefs are false. Liberals will read this and continue to believe that human nature is perfectible - given the right social conditions.

One of the things that has made science so successful is that the scientific method is a procedure which enables us to circumvent the natural human tendency to seek information confirming our beliefs. In science, we can formulate a hypothesis which is a clear statement about the world that can be subjected to a confirming or falsifying test (a falsifiable hypothesis may be preferable). The test can be designed so that it is a fair and objective test of the hypothesis. Arriving at a conclusive true or false test is obviously much easier with respect to physical phenomena than it is with psychological and social questions and there is therefore much less wiggle room when results contradict a pet belief. Many scientific facts are neither pleasant nor unpleasant to know; they are simply useful. When they do have more emotional impact they become controversial and hotly contested - think of evolution for example.

Psychological and social information does generally have an emotional impact; there is a basic like or dislike response to it. This necessarily engages the mechanism of affective priming and the powerful forces of the emotional centers of our brains. Try as you might, you cannot prevent this. (The liberals attacking Wilson certainly didn't even try.)

Moral Foundations Theory indicates that we are born with a number of inherited moral foundations. These moral foundations are the result of evolution. Different cultures (and social environments) develop these structures in different ways and to different degrees. Nevertheless it is these moral foundations which underlie moral responses in all of us, they are part of our nature.

These examples should be sufficient to show that human nature is not infinitely malleable nor inherently good or perfectible. Liberals will look for flaws in the arguments that will enable them to wriggle off the hook of Must I believe it? I can't do anything about that, it's just human nature.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Truth and Its Alternatives

There is a cure for Malsi-Tung. I used to suffer from it myself and I no longer do. I used to be very negative about the impact of European civilisation on the world. My big crusade was on behalf of the environment. I wanted to protect the environment from human activity. I felt very passionately about this. I still do. Without the threat of Islam I might still be primarily concerned about the environment.

It was after asking questions after 9/11 that I changed. I realised that the attacks were not (as I had at first thought) an environmental protest on a huge scale but the action of Muslims, sworn enemies of all things non-Islamic.

The really important step in my personal process of change was the inner questioning that occurred. I wanted to know if there was a critical perspective on Islam so I typed a search "critics of Islam" into Google. Hey Presto! up came That was the beginning of my recovery.

As more attacks succeed, as they will, more people will begin to wonder "Do those Islamophobes have a point?", and when the mass media eventually begins to ask more searching questions (or at least not obscure reality) , the dam will burst.

Liberals have become very cynical about truth. They play endless games in their avoidance and distortion of truth. They are very selective in their view of the world; taking what they like and avoiding what they dislike. They are selective with facts in order to demonise their opponents and they are highly selective with facts in order to protect their favoured groups from scrutiny or criticism. Their sense of moral superiority makes them feel justified; their implicit rule is" the end justifies the means".

Try asking your liberal friends whether they respect truth. They will probably say yes or question what you mean by truth. Don't get annoyed or diverted.

See if you can get a commitment from them to ask themselves a question and accept the answer whatever it is. Try a second and a third. Are they sincere? Will they accept a question from you and answer in the same spirit?

What question would you ask?