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Like most Australians, I have spent the past few weeks isolated in my home. With stores closed and public events cancelled, many of us have had to find new ways of keeping ourselves entertained. For me, this period of isolation has been spent reading, writing, and reflecting. However, when one is relaxing it can become easy to forget about the outside world. And it is easy to forget that the long-term consequences of Covid-19 will far outweigh any short-term inconveniences we may be suffering.
After its human victims, the first casualty of Covid-19 will be the health and vitality of the global economy. Nations like Australia have decided, quite rightly, that their most immediate priority is to protect the health of its citizens. The lockdowns, social-distancing, and other measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have certainly been effective, but they have come with negative economic consequences.
This fact has been recognised by authorities ranging from the Australian Prime Minister to the World Economic Forum. The World Economic Forum has warned that Covid-19 will keep “large parts of the global economy shuttered” through April. This view was reflected by J.P. Morgan who stated that Covid-19 had pushed the world’s economy into a twelve per cent contraction.
Particularly hard hit will be the tourism and hospitality industries. The Asia Conference stated that the negative impacts of the virus are “likely to worsen as the outbreak continues to disrupt tourism, trade, supply chains, and investments in China.” Likewise, the World Travel and Tourism Council has warned that the economic impacts of Covid-19 could wipe out fifty-million jobs in the travel and tourism industries.
The second casualty will be a change in the way much of the world thinks about its relationship with China. It took the Chinese Communist Party a month to be bothered informing the World Health Organisation of the existence of Covid-19. Thanks to their incompetence, the virus has been able to spread beyond China’s borders. Many people will be left asking: can we really trust a government that has proven itself to be so intrinsically untrustworthy?
The Chinese Communist Party’s reaction to negative press hasn’t exactly endeared them, either. Chinese authorities have been quick to clamp down on anyone who contradicts the claim that the Chinese response to the virus has been effective. In one notable case, a post made by Dr. Li Wenliang on WeChat was dismissed as “illegal acts of fabricating, spreading rumours, and disrupting social order” because it claimed that victims of Covid-19 were being quarantined at the hospital he worked at.
China’s attempts to crack down on negative press outside their borders have been less successful In February, Ivo Daadler wrote in the Chicago Tribune that the Chinese government’s secrecy over Covid-19 made the situation worse than it needed to be. “The fact that China chose secrecy and inaction turned the possibility of an epidemic into a reality”, Daadler wrote in his article.
Daadler’s article has been picked up by several publications, including the Korea Herald and the Kathmandu Post, who published it with an illustration of Chairman Mao wearing a surgical mask. The Chinese Embassy in Nepal dismissed the article as “malicious.” The Nepalese press, however, responded to the accusation by accusing the Chinese embassy of making a “direct threat to the Nepali people’s right to a free press.”
The third casualty of Covid-19 will be the globalist philosophy that has dominated politics over the past few years. People have discovered, much to their chagrin, that the spread of Covid-19 has been facilitated by the ideals of openness that globalism espouses. They are discovering that open borders, mass migration, and crowded housing are harbingers of disease. It is very unlikely that people will be as accepting of open borders and high immigration as they once were.
The ability to share products and ideas is a wonderful innovation. However, people must be willing to accept that the transfer of these things from one place to another also comes with the transfer of less palatable things, like crime and disease. And, truth be told, most people aren’t. This fact has not been lost on many of Europe’s right-wing political parties who are now calling for tighter restrictions on borders during the pandemic.
Although the decline in globalism is sorely needed, Covid-19 has also come with an increase in racism and xenophobia, particularly against Asian people. According to Business Insider, instances of racist and xenophobic attacks, ranging from mere verbal abuse to physical assault, have increased with the Covid-19 pandemic. The sad truth is that discrimination and hatred go hand-in-hand with pandemics. If you associate a group of people with a particular disease and then refuse to associate with them you are much less likely to catch that disease yourself.
The long-term consequences of Covid-19 are going to be far more severe than the current inconveniences it poses. Measures to restrict its spread have caused profound economic penalties, especially in the hospitality and tourism sectors, that will take years to heal. Similarly, relations between China and the world have been tarnished by the Communist Party’s vehement attacks against negative (and richly deserved) criticism and their refusal to be honest about the situation. Finally, Covid-19 will see a decline in the popularity of globalism, open border policies, and mass migration. This pandemic has marked the beginning of a brave new world.
Just over a month ago, a crazed gunman entered the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Armed with an arsenal of weapons which included semi-automatic firearms, he began to shoot worshippers engaged in Friday prayers.
Fifteen minutes later, the gunman repeated his dastardly deed at the Linwood Islamic Centre. In the end, fifty people lay dead and thirty-six lay injured. The entire incident was broadcast live on Facebook.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, denounced the massacre as a ‘terrorist attack.’ She echoed the sentiments of the general public. In response to the attacks, three thousand people participated in a “march for life” in Christchurch carrying signs that read “Muslims welcome, racists not”, “he wanted to divide us, he only made us stronger”, and “Kia Kaha”, which means “stay strong” in Maori.
The Muslim call to prayer was broadcast on television and radio with twenty-thousand-people attending prayer services in the park across from the Al Noor Mosque. And two New Zealand rugby teams – the Chiefs and the Hurricanes – paused for a moment’s silence before the Super Rugby game in Hamilton.
New Zealanders have been praised for their unity and compassion in response to the attacks. But what would happen if the roles were reversed? When it is not a Westerner killing Muslims, but rather a Muslim killing Westerners? Then the response, or lack of response, is rather telling.
At this stage, I should point out that what happened in New Zealand was an act of evil. The massacre of any group of people for any reason whatsoever is an act of evil. I am not trying to condone attacks against Muslims, I am merely trying to expose to the hypocrisy of our so-called betters.
The point I am trying to make is not that the Christchurch massacre was somehow a form of justified retribution. It clearly was not. The point I am trying to make is that our leaders say one thing when an attack is perpetrated by Muslims and another when the attack is perpetrated against Muslims.
To put it bluntly, whenever a terrorist attack occurs involving a Muslim or a group of Muslims, politicians and the media are quick to downplay the Islamic elements. But if it is a Westerner targeting Muslims, or any other minority group, accusations of racism and xenophobia are repeated ad nauseum.
Whenever a Muslim, whether affiliated with a terrorist organisation or not, commits an act of terror, his actions are typically met by that all-too-common disclaimer: “it had nothing to do with Islam.” Even when the perpetrator expressly states that he is committing his heinous deed in the name of Islam it still has “nothing to do with Islam.”
The British journalist, Douglas Murray made similar observations when he appeared on Fox and Friends. “We’ve had a different response when it comes to Islamic terror”, he stated. “Consistently we find out there are people [after a terrorist attack] who knew about the extremism [and] didn’t report it, members of the community who say they don’t want to go the British police, and we find out Mosques people attended are being run by radicals.”
Murray has accused the West of resorting to the “John Lennon” response to terrorism. “They blow us up, we sing Imagine”, he says. “Our politicians still refuse to accurately identify the sources of the problem and polite society remains silent.”
I think it is self-evident that there would have been an entirely different response had it been a Muslim perpetrator attacking Westerners. There would not have been the protests, the moment’s silence, the religious and cultural messages broadcast on television and radio. Politicians and media identities would not have condemned the attacks as viscerally or as quickly as they did. There simply would not have been the same level of outrage. Instead, the Islamic elements would have been dismissed and the incident largely would have been ignored.
It is hard to believe that this kind of willful ignorance boils down to mere incompetence. To acknowledge that Islam has been responsible for a great deal of misery in the world is to go against the narrative that anyone who is not a straight, white, male, Christian is a member of a victim group. To acknowledge Islam’s role in a great deal of the misery in the world is to acknowledge that Muslims can be, and frequently are, the villains.
The left and the media, but I repeat myself, reacted to the Christchurch massacre in the way that they did because they want to elevate Muslims to the category of victim. It is a blatant attempt to sell black and white and white as black. And if you dare suggest the advertisement is misleading, you’re a bigot.
It really boils down to virtue signalling. That self-centred and cowardly habit of making vacuous comments in an attempt to make yourself look good. Public figures will now say anything that makes themselves appear more virtuous than everybody else. They resort to making statements that appear say something intelligent without really saying anything at all.
There has been an alarming trend in modern culture: numerous political and social activist groups have been attempting to use the pernicious and false doctrines of political correctness, tolerance, and diversity to silence those they disagree with. Many of these groups have sought the passage of so-called “hate speech” laws designed to silence voices of dissent.
At public colleges and universities, places where free speech and open debate should be actively encouraged, measures – including protests, disruption, and, in some cases, outright violence – taken to suppress voices of dissent has become tantamount to Government censorship. This censorship prevents students from inviting the speakers they wish to hear and debate speech they disagree with. Eva Fourakis, the editor-in-chief of The Williams Record (the student newspaper of Williams College) wrote an editorial, later recanted, commenting that “some speech is too harmful to invite to campus.” The editorial went on to say: “students should not face restrictions in terms of the speakers they bring to campus, provided of course that these speakers do not participate in legally recognised forms of hate speech.”
The University of California, Berkeley, is famous for sparking the free speech movement of the 1960s. Today, however, it has become a haven for radical, anti-free speech Neo-Marxists and social justice warriors. Not only have many Republican students had their personal property destroyed, but numerous conservative speakers have had their talks disturbed, and, in some cases, halted altogether. In February, Antifa – so-called anti-fascists – set fires and vandalised building during a speech by the controversial journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos (1984 – ). In April, threats of violence aimed at members of the Young Americas Foundation forced political commentator, Ann Coulter (1961 – ), to cancel her speech. A speech by David Horowitz (1939 – ), founder and president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, was cancelled after organisers discovered that the event would take place during normal class times (for safety, or so they claimed). Finally, the conservative journalist, Ben Shapiro (1984 – ), was forced to spend US$600,000 on security for his speech at UC Berkeley. These events show that those who wish to use disruption, vilification, threats, and outright violence to silence others can be, and often are, successful in doing so.
Like most the principles of classical liberalism, free speech developed through centuries of political, legal, and philosophical progress. And like many Western ideas, its development can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. During his trial in Athens in 399BC, Socrates (470BC – 399BC) expressed the belief that the ability to speak was man’s most divine gift. “If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind”, Socrates stated, “I should say to you, ‘Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”
Sixteen hundred years later, in 1215, the Magna Carta became the founding document of English liberty. In 1516, Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) wrote in the Education of a Christian Prince that “in a free state, tongues too should be free.” In 1633, the astronomist Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Catholic Church for refusing to retract his claim of a heliocentric solar system. In 1644, the poet, John Milton (1608 – 1674), author of Paradise Lost, warned in Areopagictica that “he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.” Following the usurpation of King James II (1633 – 1701) by William III (1650 – 1702) and Mary II (1662 – 1694) in 1688, the English Parliament passed the English Bill of Rights which guaranteed free elections, regular parliaments, and freedom of speech in Parliament.
In 1789, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, an important document of the French revolution, provided for freedom of speech (needless to say, Robespierre and company were not very good at actually promoting this ideal). That same year, the philosopher Voltaire (1694 – 1778) famously wrote: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” Over in the United States, in 1791, the first amendment of the US Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble:
ARTICLE [I] (AMENDMENT 1 – FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND RELIGION)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
During the 19th century, the British philosopher, John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) argued for toleration and individuality in his 1859 essay, On Liberty. “If any opinion is compelled to silence”, Mill warned, “that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to presume our own infallibility.” Mill believed that all doctrines, no matter how immoral or offensive, ought to be given public exposure. He stated in On Liberty:
“If the argument of the present chapter are of any validity, there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.”
Elsewhere in On Liberty, Mill warned that the suppression of one voice was as immoral as the suppression of all voices:
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
Centuries later, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, accepted unilaterally by the United Nations, urged member states to promote civil, human, economic, social, and political rights – including freedom of expression and religion.
Within the American Justice System, numerous Supreme Court cases have created judicial protections for freedom of speech. In the case of the Nationalist Socialist Party of America v. Village of Stoke (1977), the Supreme Court upheld the right of neo-Nazis to march through a village with a large Jewish population and wear Nazi insignia. The Justices found that the promotion of religious hatred was not a sufficient reason to restrict free speech.
In the city of St. Paul during the early 1990s, a white teenager was arrested under the “Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance” after he burnt a cross made of a broken chair (cross-burning is commonly used by the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate African Americans) in the front yard of an African American family. The Court ruled that the city’s Ordinance was unconstitutional. Justice Antonin Scalia (1936 – 2016), noted that the purpose of restricting fighting words was to prevent civil unrest, not to ban the content or message of the speaker’s words. Scalia wrote in the case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992):
“The ordinance applies only to ‘fighting words’ that insult, or provoke violence, ‘on the basis of race, colour, creed, religion or gender.’ Displays containing abusive invective, no matter how vicious or severe, are permissible unless they are addressed to one of the specified disfavored topics. Those who wish to use ‘fighting words’ in connection with other ideas—to express hostility, for example, on the basis of political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality—are not covered. The First Amendment does not permit St. Paul to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.”
In the Matal v. Tam case (2017), the Supreme Court found that a provision within the Lanham Act prohibiting the registration of trademarks that disparaged persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols violated the First Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito (1950 – ) opined:
“[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy (1936 – ) opined:
“A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”
In recent years, numerous calls to ban speech have been justified on the basis that it is “hateful.” Much of this has come from the political left who (in what one may cynically regard as having more to do with silencing voices of dissent than with protecting vulnerable groups) argue that restrictions on hate speech must occur if minorities are to be given equal status with everyone else.
That certain types of speech can be offensive, and that some of that speech may be aimed at certain groups of people, is undeniable. Hate speech has even been criticised for undermining democracy! In an article, Alexander Tsesis, Professor of Law at Loyola University, wrote: “hate speech is a threatening form of communication that is contrary to democratic principles.” Some have even argued that hate speech violates the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees equal protection under the law:
Article XIV (AMENDMENT 14 – RIGHTS GUARANTEED: PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES OF CITIZENSHIP, DUE PROCESS, AND EQUAL PROTECTION)
1: All persons born or naturalised in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
That there is a historical basis for restricting hate speech is undeniable. Slavery, Jim Crow, and the Holocaust, among other atrocities, were all proceeded by violent and hateful rhetoric. (Indeed, incitement to genocide is considered a serious war crime and a serious crime against humanity under international law.) Genocide is almost always preceded by hate speech. However, what proponents of hate speech laws fail to realise is that the countries that perpetrated these atrocities did not extend the freedom to speak to the groups that they were targeting. Joseph Goebbels (1897 – 1945), the Nazi minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, for example, had such an iron grip on Germany’s media that any voice contradicting the Nazi’s anti-Semitic propaganda had no opportunity to be heard.
But who, exactly, supports hate speech laws? Analysis of survey data taken from Pew Research Center and YouGov reveals that it is primarily non-white, millennial democrats. In terms of age, the Pew Research Centre found that forty-percent of millennials supported Government censorship of hate speech, compared to twenty-seven percent of gen x-ers, twenty-four percent of baby-boomers, and only twelve percent of the silent generation.
In terms of race, research by YouGov reveals that sixty-two percent of African Americans support Government censorship of hate speech, followed by fifty percent of Hispanics, and thirty-six percent of White Americans.
In terms of political affiliation, research from YouGov taken in 2015 found that fifty-one percent of Democrats supported restrictions on hate speech, compared to thirty-seven percent of Republicans, and only thirty-five percent of independents.
The primary issue with hate speech is that determining what it does and does not constitute is very difficult. (The cynic may argue, fairly, that hate speech begins when the speaker expresses a view or states a fact or expresses an opinion that another person does not want others to hear.) As Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011) pointed out, the central problem with hate speech is that someone has to decide what it does and does not constitute.
The second issue with hate speech laws is that they can easily be used by one group to silence another. Often this kind of censorship is aimed at particular groups of individuals purely for ideological and/or political purposes, often with the justification that such actions increase the freedom and equality of the people the advocates claim to represent.
In Canada, Bill C-16 has sought to outlaw “hate propaganda” aimed at members of the community distinguishable by their gender identity or expression. The Bill originated with a policy paper by the Ontario Human Rights Commission which sought to determine what constituted discrimination against gender identity and expression. This included “refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun.” Supporters of Bill C-16 see it as an important step towards the creation of legal protections for historically marginalised groups. Detractors, however, have expressed concern that the Bill creates a precedence for Government mandated speech.
The Canadian clinical psychologist and cultural critic, Professor Jordan Peterson (1962 – ), first came to public attention when he posted a series of YouTube videos warning of the dangers of political correctness and criticising Bill C-16. In his videos, Professor Peterson warned that the law could be used to police speech and compel individuals to use ‘transgender pronouns’ (these are terms like ‘ze’ and ‘zer’, among others). For his trouble, Peterson has been accused of violence by a fellow panellist on the Agenda with Steve Palkin, received two warning letters from the University of Toronto in 2016, and was denied a social research grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Europe has been experiencing similar attempts to silence speech. A law passed in the Bundestag this year will force social media companies operating in Germany to delete racist or slanderous comments and posts within twenty-four hours or face a fine of up to €50 million if they fail to do so. Additionally, numerous public figures have found themselves charged with hate speech crimes for merely pointing out the relationship between the large influx of non-European migrants and high crime rates, particularly in terms of rape and terrorism. One politician in Sweden was prosecuted for daring to post immigrant crime statistics on Facebook.
In Great Britain, British Freedom of Information documents reveal that around twenty-thousand adults and two-thousand children had been investigated by the police for comments that made online. In politics, British MP, Paul Weston (1965 – ), found himself arrested after he quoted a passage on Islam written by Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965). In Scotland, a man was charged under the 2003 Communication’s Act with the improper use of electronic communications after he filmed his dog making a Hitler salute.
In Australia, Herald Sun columnist, Andrew Bolt (1959 – ), was found to have contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act after he published articles accusing fair-skinned Aborigines of using their racial status for personal advantages. The law firm, Holding Redlich, speaking for a group of Aboriginal persons, demanded that the Herald Sun retract two Andrew Bolt articles, written in April and August of 2009, and restrain Bolt from writing similar articles in the future. Joel Zyngier, who acted for the group pro-bono, told Melbourne’s The Age:
“We see it as clarifying the issue of identity—who gets to say who is and who is not Aboriginal. Essentially, the articles by Bolt have challenged people’s identity. He’s basically arguing that the people he identified are white people pretending they’re black so they can access public benefits.”
Judge Morcedai Bromberg (1959 – ) found that the people targeted by Bolt’s articles were reasonably likely to have been “offended, insulted, humiliated, or intimidated.”
We need speech to be as free as possible because it is that which allows us to exchange and critique information. It through free speech that we are able to keep our politicians and public officials in check, that we are able to critique public policy, and that we are able to disseminate information. As the Canadian cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker (1954 – ), observed: “free speech is the only way to acquire knowledge about the world.” Measures taken to restrict free speech, whether it be the criminalization of hate speech or any other, is a complete contradiction of the principles that free Western democracies are founded upon.
On November 20th, 1945, twenty-four leaders of the defeated Nazi regime filed into Courtroom 600 of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice to be tried for some of the most reprehensible crimes ever committed. Over the next ten months, the world would be shocked to learn of the depth and extent of the Nazi regime’s mechanised horrors. By the end of the trial, twelve of the defendants would be sentenced to death, seven would be sentenced to periods of imprisonment, and three would be acquitted.
Contrary to what one may believe, the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not psychopaths, sadists, or otherwise psychologically disturbed individuals. Rather, their actions arose, as psychologist Gustave Gilbert (1911 – 1977) concluded, from a culture which valued obedience. The observation that mass-horror is more likely to be committed by normal men and women influenced by social conformity would later be categorised by Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) as the ‘banality of evil.’
This shouldn’t be as too much of a surprise. After all, human beings are hard-wired to obey orders from people they deem superior to themselves. In 1961, Yale Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933 – 1984) carried out a famous experiment which explored the conflict between authority and personal conscience. Milgram’s experiment was inspired by an interview with the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (1900 – 1947). Höss was asked how it was possible to be directly involved in the deaths of over a million people without suffering emotional distress. Chillingly, Höss answered that he was merely following orders.
The process of the experiment was simple. Two participants, one who whom was actually a researcher, would draw to decide who would take the role of teacher and who would take the role of student. (The system, needless to say, was rigged to ensure the actual participant took the role of teacher). The teacher and student were then separated, and the teacher was taken to a room with an electric shock generator consisting of a row of switches ranging from fifteen to four-hundred-and-fifty volts. Supervising the teacher was an experimenter in a grey lab coat (an actor in reality). Through the experiment, the teacher was to ask the student questions and administer an electric shock every time the student got a question wrong. As the experiment continued the student would deliberately give wrong answers. As the shocks got more and more severe, the student would scream and beg for mercy. When the teacher expressed concern, however, the experimenter would insist that the experiment continue. By the end of the experiment, Milgram had concluded that all participants would continue to three-hundred volts whilst two-thirds would continue to full volts when pressed.
The Nazis were able to create such obedience through a well-calculated propaganda campaign. Hitler outlined the principles of this campaign in Mein Kampf:
- Keep the dogma simple. One or two points only.
- Be forthright and powerfully direct – tell or order why.
- Reduce concepts down to black and white stereotypes
- Constantly stir people’s emotions
- Use repetition.
- Forget literary beauty, scientific reasoning, balance, or novelty.
- Focus solely on convincing people and creating zealots.
- Find slogans which can be used to drive the movement forward.
Similarly, Hitler’s speeches also followed a very specific and calculated formula:
- Hitler would unify the crowd by pointing out some form of commonality.
- Hitler would stir up feelings of fear and anger by pointing out some kind of existential threat.
- Hitler would invoke himself as the agent of a higher power.
- Hitler would present his solution to the problem.
- Hitler would proclaim the utilisation of the solution as a victory for both the higher power and the commoners.
In essence, the Nazi propaganda machine facilitated feelings of group identity and then used conformity to gain control over that group. They gambled that the majority of people preferred being beholden to a group than identifying as an individual.
If there is any lesson which can be derived from the Holocaust it is that the distance between good and evil is shorter than we like to believe. As clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson is fond of pointing out, if the Holocaust was perpetrated by ordinary people and you’re an ordinary person, the only logical conclusion is that you too are capable of horrendous evil. It is not enough to be critical of those in powers, eternal vigilance means being critical of our own need to conform and obey. Our freedom depends upon it.
The evolutionary psychologist E.O. Wilson referred to war as “humanity’s hereditary curse.” It has become infused in our collective and individual psyches. The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, Shakespeare’s Henry V is centred around the Battle of Agincourt, and All Quiet on the Western Front tells of the experiences of young German soldiers on the Western Front.
The purpose of war can be split into two fields: philosophical and pragmatic. Most modern wars are fought for ideological, and therefore philosophical reasons: capitalism versus communism, fascism versus democracy, and so forth. Richard Ned Lebow, a political scientist at the University of London, hypothesised that nations go to war for reasons of ‘national spirit.’ Institutions and nation-states may not have psyches per-say, but the individuals who run them do, and it is natural for these individuals to project the contents of their psyches onto the institutions and nation-states they are entrusted with.
Rationalists, on the other hand, have another perspective. War, they argue, is primarily used by nations to increase their wealth and power: allowing them to annex new territories, take control of vital resources, pillage, rape, and so forth. Bolshevism arose in the political instability and food shortages of World War One Russia. The Nazis used the spectre of Germany’s humiliating defeat in the Great War and its treatment in the Treaty of Versailles as a stepping stone to political power. In the Ancient World, Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279BC) used war to form the Akkadian Empire, and then used war to quell invasions and rebellion. Similarly, Philip II of Macedonia (382BC – 336BC) used war to unify the city states of Ancient Greece.
Another explanation may be that we engage in war because we are naturally inclined to. War speaks to our need for group identity, and to our deep predilection for conflict. And it should come as no surprise that the two are not mutually exclusive. Our strong predilection towards our own group not only makes us more willing to help other members of that group, it makes us more willing to commit evil on its behalf. Chimpanzees have been known to invade other congresses of chimps and go on killing sprees. The obvious intention being to increase territory and decrease intra-sexual competition. Similarly, our own evolutionary and primitive past is fraught with violence and conflict. It should not escape our attention that history is abundant with examples of invading soldiers slaughtering men and raping women.
Like all the profound aspects of culture, war conceptualises a facet of a deeper truth. It has been central to our history and culture capturing both the more heroic and the more frightening aspects of our individual and collective psyches. We both influence and are influenced by war.
Otto Von Bismarck, the great Prussian Statesman, once observed that it is better to profit from the misfortunes of others than to learn from one’s own mistakes. With the current threat from North Korea, it would perhaps be wise to learn from the annals of history, and not repeat the mistake of following a pacifist agenda.
We like to see nature as a wise and fair judge which rewards the good, protects the weak and punishes the wicked. In reality, it is a callous and unpredictable maiden. It should come as no surprise, then, that history shows the human-race to be inherently blood thirsty, violent, and cruel. This violence is derived not only from competition over resources and mates but also from our social natures. This is an aspect of our character we share with our primate cousins. A team of researchers at Yale University, headed by psychologist Laurie Santos, revealed that primates treat outsiders with greater suspicion and disdain than members of their own group. This trait can also be observed in modern humans, as Santos observed: “one of the more troubling aspects of human nature is that we evaluate people differently depending on whether they’re a member of our ‘ingroup’ or ‘outgroup.’ He went on to explain how this leads to violence: “pretty much every conflict in human history has involved people making distinctions on the basis of who is a member of their own race, religion, social class, and so on.”
In 1942, C.S. Lewis published the essay “why I am not a pacifist.” For Lewis, the question of pacifism was a moral one. Take murder, for example, no one can intuitively argue murder to be wrong under all circumstances, but it is possible to make such a claim using rational arguments. Pacifism, then, is the irrational belief that violence can only be used for evil, and never for good. If this is the case, defeating a tyrannical power like Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany is evil because it necessitates the use of violence, stopping a man raping a woman is evil if doing so requires the use of physical force, and executing a serial killer is immoral because it violates his right to life. Any individual who takes such a position is not a moralist, but a coward and a fool. This type of peace is that of “Ulysses and his comrades, imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops and waiting their turn to be devoured” (Jean Jacques Rousseau, a Lasting Peace Through the Federation of Europe and the State of War).
When Patrick Henry, an American attorney and politician, gave his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech, he asked: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” Pacifism presents nature as passive and just when, in reality, it is unkind, capricious, brutal, unforgiving, ruthless, bloodthirsty, and cruel. With the threat of North Korea looming over our heads, it may serve us to remember that those who do not conform to the laws of reality are always destroyed by them.
CNN host, Fareed Zakaria, has blamed the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election on the insecurities of white working men. Zakaria told CNN’s New Day that the election of Donald Trump was really “a kind of class rebellion against people like us, educated professionals who live in cities, who have cosmopolitan views about things.”
Zakaria went on to explain:
“A real sense of cultural alienation, older, white, noncollege education Americans have, a sense that their country is changing because of immigrants. Because maybe blacks are rising up to a central place in society, because gays being afforded equal rights. Because of, frankly, working women. Everybody is muscling in on the territory that the white working man had.”
Zakaria’s comments seem to come from a piece he had written for CNN. The piece, entitled Why Trump Won, chalked Trump’s victory up to a division of Americans along four lines.
First, Zakaria blames capitalism. Zakaria claims that the US economy only enriches those with education, training, and capital. Second, Zakaria blames culture, claiming that whites are bucking against increasing rights for gays, the rise of African-Americans and Hispanics to a more central place in society, and increases in immigration. Third, Zakaria claims animosity towards elites led many white working class men to vote for Trump. Fourth, Zakaria claims that the advent of social media now means many Americans have access to seemingly unlimited number of news sources, rather than just the original two or three.
Zakaria’s views are indicative of what drove many to vote for Trump in the first place. He, like many on the left, believes Trump’s election victory is the result of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and jealousy. This rhetoric, which is blaming white voters for Clinton’s defeat, reeks of arrogance and snobbery. Ordinary people are sick of being insulted in this manner. Mr. Zakaria, shame on you.