Privileged Planet? Yeah right…

Imagine receiving a gift from a long-lost relative: a great mansion; on the outside the most beautiful house you could conceive. Unfortunately, over 80% of the mansion is uninhabitable, partly due to flooding, partly due to mould or razor sharp rocks. Other parts of the mansion are closed off from collapsed roofs and other areas have dangerous animals infesting them. Of the 20% of the mansion that you can actually live in, most of that is too cold in the night and too hot during the day – you have to wear protective gear most of the time. There are insects carrying diseases around it and invisible viruses and bacteria that can make you very sick, if not kill you. Worse, parts of the mansion are prone to structural collapse at any moment with harmful or even fatal results. Even this 20% of the house that can you get by in was only re-conditioned that way by countless previous owners, each struggling to improve it over the course of their entire lives; the work even costing many their lives. Outside the house is an unbreathable expanse, entering which even for a split second means certain death.

Now imagine being told that the state of this mansion is no accident, but a wonderful gift that hasn’t simply fallen into disrepair – no, this great house was designed specifically for you, and its current condition is exactly how the designer wanted you to receive it! This is just the look he was going for! This is the best house that could possibly be imagined! There is simply no improving this building, you are told. More so, the designer expects you to be eternally grateful for this gift every day – but if something goes wrong with the house, it’s your fault. Worse, if you can’t understand why on earth anyone would specifically design a house like this, you aren’t intelligent or spiritual enough to grasp his higher motives. Finally, imagine being told that the designer was the most intelligent individual who’s ever lived, the greatest structural engineer of them all, the master of building design, an expert in human biology, and someone who truly cares about his work and the people who live in his homes…

How many people on earth today accept creationism?

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The ‘good of The Game’ and other ‘Higher Purpose’ fallacies

One of the most common pieces of rhetoric I hear is what I’ll call the “greater good” fallacy – though it comes in many forms. You even hear it in football circles when people refer to this mysterious and supernatural force called “the good of the game”. Outside of football it’s “the good of society”, but it’s all variations on a theme: some transcendent higher cause external and beyond us. “Us” of course can only mean some limited number of individuals, you and me.

Here’s an example of this nonsense in action. The details are irrelevant here and I’m paraphrasing: a football manager recently was denied permission to speak to another club who wanted to hire him, which they had every right to do. He resigned, but they rejected his resignation. One commenter essentially said: ‘yes he has a contract there and yes they have the right to reject approaches for him under contract, but at some point you have to think about what the manager wants and what’s best for the game.’ What does that even mean? What is this “game” being referred to? Football. Ok…so what does “football” want? What does “football” like and dislike? What is its favourite meal? Does it like music?

Absurd? Yes I think so too. But notice how this “good of football” rhetoric can be applied to just about anything and make as much sense. In the example above let’s flip the comment to: “yes the manager wants to leave and yes he has a right to resign and accept another job if he wants to, but at some point you have to think about what the club wants and what’s best for the game.”

“A club can in theory pay as much as they like for a player and they can pay that player whatever wages they want…but at some point you have to think about what’s best for football”. Ok, so salary caps then. But hang on a second, couldn’t we just say: “You might not like to see such disproportions in salaries and exorbitant fees exchanging hands over one player…but at some point you have think about what’s best for football.”

Here’s another example: “yes a man has the right over his own mind and body, and yes he has a right over his own property and choices, but at some point you have to think about what’s best for society”, and you can justify taxation. But that exact same sentence could be used to justify conscription or anything else you can think of. (Hell, it could be used to justify cannibalism). And that’s why it’s fallacious: there is no logical connection, no necessarily chain of reasoning from the premise to the conclusion. The “greater good” fallacy rests on an unspoken assumption implicitly accepted by all parties (unless they are shrewd enough to reject the bankrupt ethics at work): that there is actually a higher purpose at work. Even if there were, it would still not necessarily follow that the Higher Purpose™ demanded this, that and the other from us – not without a sound argument. The examples above prove this: you can twist the “good of the game” or “best for football/society/community/whole” to mean whatever you want it to mean. I could say that I don’t expect you to buy beggars on the street meals for the rest of their lives, but at some point you need to think about what’s best for society.

As it happens, there’s no such force at work anyway: there is no Higher Purpose. There is no such thing as the “good of football” and don’t be taken in by the ignorant who spout this rubbish on TV to justify their particular subjective opinion. In football, there are only fans, players and owners, each of whom are individual human beings with their own values. But there is no such thing as a value disconnected from an individual person – and whenever you hear anyone imply differently the alarm bells should be going immediately! Only living entities have values, so when you hear someone talk about a “good” above and beyond any individuals, what they’re really saying is that this thing is value…but to no one in particular!

What do all these “good of the [insert higher purpose higher]” fallacies have in common? What do they play on? As I said above, they rest on the unspoken (and wrong) premise of a value external to us (which is a contradiction in terms). But this is really transparent when we break the assertions down: they all ask for a sacrifice; they work by saying ‘your personal interest might be this…but you must give it up’. And this works because it’s just assumed that a “higher purpose” is necessarily beyond our petty selfish individual values – and this is actually true, in the same way that no one has ever seen the Invisible Pink Unicorn – but it isn’t because she’s invisible! Everything that is a value in this reality is a value to someone. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be a value! (Who would value it??) So the only way to get someone to accept this garbage concept of Higher Cause is to define it as being of no personal value. In other words: ‘it’s a Higher Value precisely because you don’t value it.’

Once you understand this fallacy you will see it everywhere, especially in politics. The reason it’s so popular is because if your audience accepts it, you can get them to do anything without any argument. It’s so simple: tell them it’s for a Value they don’t hold, and if they don’t see how that benefits them tell them that’s precisely the point! If it benefited you (i.e. any individual), well, it wouldn’t be “Higher” then would it?!

The Head versus the Heart – Is Love Rational?

In the words of Chris de Burgh, “it’s the classical dilemma, between the head and heart.” The head says one thing, the heart says another. The rational cold objective facts versus passion and senseless emotion. Is love irrational? Is there a necessary conflict between head and heart? I don’t think so.

Food and drink

But, there would seem to be. It’s quite obvious that love can make people do crazy things or act in irrational ways. In fact, on the face of it, there would seem to be an innate conflict in human nature between what we want and what’s best for us. A trivial example is one that I’m all too familiar with: a good curry. I could probably eat curry every day and never get bored with it; I love it. But my rational mind tells me that too much too often of the saturated-fat ridden delicacy is deleterious to my health, and waistline. Is this a conflict between head and heart, or mind and body? Well, instead of curry let’s say it’s something far more pernicious: heroin. In the words of one user it’s “as if you are kissing the creator.” I really can’t imagine how psychologically and physically pleasurable it must be but let’s say that, again in the words of the user: “you will NEVER feel that way again, although you will certainly try.” It’s certain that whilst the body might crave the pleasurable (a perfectly natural desire), not every desire is good for us. And just as we are beings of body and mind, so there are things which are bad for our bodies, our minds, and both. Heroin might feel amazing, but it’s not good for either, if “good” is taken to mean “that which is proper to the life of a rational being” which is how the philosopher Ayn Rand described it. Conversely the bad is “all that which destroys it.

So if we desired heroin, our rationality should win over and say “no”; we’d have to say that the desire is bad. Knowing that, we shouldn’t even want it. I’m not talking about addicts going through withdrawal here, as their rational judgement is indeed comprised, but it’s to illustrate that there’s a reason that the 99.99% of the planet who aren’t addicts aren’t smacking up every day, and it’s not just because the drug is illegal; it’s because most of us realise that it’s not in our selfish best interest to get high, despite any transitory euphoria. So the “conflict” isn’t really a conflict at all.

That might not sound very convincing so far. That might sound like word play, trying to define the contradiction away. ‘The conflict still exists’ some might say. That would be true, if human beings were slaves to emotions and had no way to control them. Fortunately, we do. Ayn Rand saidEmotions are produced by man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly.” What this means essentially, and quite elegantly, is that our emotions are properly the results of our actions (or of events, of course). Just because it’s true on principle that pleasure feels good and human beings seek pleasure, it does not therefore follow that we should seek all forms of pleasure, as if the desire for pleasure was a primary. Otherwise we would think ‘I like to feel physical pleasure. Heroin gives physical pleasure. Therefore I should take heroin.’ Of course we want physical pleasure (or any pleasure) but we choose how to obtain it. How do we choose? By reference to our standard of “good” and “bad” of course, as described above: that which is proper to our lives.

To continue the heroin example just a bit longer: as rational beings we have identified this drug as not proper to our lives well-lived. We have programmed our emotions to react accordingly, just as I have programmed myself to not over-indulge on unhealthy food. One of the benefits of forming our value judgements so that they correspond to what is actually proper for us is that we don’t feel guilty when indulging in something we shouldn’t – and for the same reason we don’t indulge in that which will make us feel guilty. For example, we all know the “guilty” pleasure of having a double helping of ice-cream for example, or an extra curry, or another bag of crisps, or one-too-many drinks; we feel guilt, to ourselves, because we are (in an admittedly trivial sense) betraying our principles. We know it’s not good for us, but we’re doing it anyway – we are (again, in a rather trivial example of a much grander principle) acting contrary to our well-being and our lives. But whilst this is a conflict, it’s not a necessary one. Juxtaposed to the guilt, how much better does a “well earned” curry or glass of wine feel when it’s consonant with our life, when it takes its proper place as a treat, something to be savoured in our diet, and not us ‘pigging out’ because we can’t help ourselves? And why does it feel better? Because we’ve programmed (consciously and subconsciously) our emotional response to appreciate pleasure more when it serves our rational interests. That is, emotions should serve us, not the other way around. Or to put it in scientific terms: cause should precede effect.

I don’t think this is anything special or unusual. Most of us do this every day without thinking. For example: the alarm goes off and you’re in bed. It’s cold and dark outside, you’re nice and warm in bed. You’re tired. You’d love an extra hour of sleep. But you have work. The senseless pleasure-only creature would think “stuff work” and turn the alarm off. But no rational person, no matter how tired or comfortable, could possibly enjoy that lie-in knowing they were jeopardising their job (and therefore well-being). To flog this dead horse one more time: a conflict between mind and body, head and start, only exists if one is irrational to begin with. The rational person sees no conflict because his emotions serve him, not the other way around. In fact it’s quite easy to project what would happen to a person who served his or her emotions; living a proper life would be impossible.

Friendship

We will get to love but before then it’s necessary to lay the groundwork for all the elements of it. Let’s take friendship, which also involves a form of love. Friendship is undoubtedly one of the most rational endeavours one could ever engage in. With platonic friendships this seems a no-brainer: no one is friends with someone they hate. Nobody wishes to not be friends with someone they deeply admire. Friendship is probably the best example of the head and heart working together (as they should) because all the psychological and physical benefits we get from friendship are a naturally and rational consequence of the objective and “cold” truth that another human being is a value in our lives. (Friendship is better than family in a sense since we cannot choose our family, which may or may not be a good thing – fortunately for me it is). Friendships don’t happen by accident. They happen because we encounter people who share values with us. The more our values align the easier it is to form bonds, and the more fundamental and life-affirming the values being shared the deeper the friendship. For example, one pair of friends might get on well because they support the same football team, but would their bond be as profound and deep as another pair who are passionate about individualism and human freedom, about life-affirming values as such whether they agree on any particular optional values (like football clubs)? In other words, which bond would be easier (or possible) to break, the former or the latter?

We simply don’t make friends with people we dislike. We don’t like to help them or support them or even associate with them. We get no pleasure from them and might even feel displeasure at the thought of them flourishing. Again, this is a perfectly rational response – the emotion logically flows from the objective value judgement in our head; the head and heart sing from the same hymn sheet. We love our friends and we hate our enemies.

Sex

Before we discuss romantic love, there’s another mind/body issue: sex. Like a good curry, sex is pleasurable. Of course, not everyone likes curry, and not everyone likes the same thing in sex. In the words of Phoebe Buffet “sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men”. It’s obvious that simply say “sex is good” is far too lacking in context: a gay person, although he or she likes sex, doesn’t want it with a member of the opposite sex; they have no desire for that and would gain no pleasure from it. I always find it laughable when people say that “sex is just sex” when even by the loosest of any standards it’s not: there is always a psychological and emotional factor at work, no matter how shallow. If there weren’t, it wouldn’t matter if you were gay or straight, it quite literally wouldn’t matter who the other person was – and obviously this is never the case. And if anyone says ‘I’ll sleep with anyone’ I’d reply ‘so you wouldn’t mind being raped?’ Crude, I know – but it does hammer the point home: sex, like every other ‘physical’ aspect of our emotions is still a programmed response to our values. On a lighter note, one might’ve had the experience to feel a gentle lady run their fingers through your hair only to turn around and realise it was your big hairy male best friend. “Ooh that’s nice that” turns into “get off me you fag!” All in good humour of course. But the point is: our bodies respond to pleasure automatically and naturally – but even then in context. Without giving this blog an adult-rating, I’m sure the reader can discern what I mean when I say that “a good feeling” is a good feeling is a good feeling, right? Well, not quite. We might like something sexual, but not when performed by say, a family member or, depending on your preference, the same sex – even though the physical action would be the same. To illustrate: if a genderless and sexless alien visited earth it might not be able to comprehend that if you enjoy some particular physical contact, why it matters who is causing it! To the alien it might be just as incomprehensible as a human not enjoying a curry just because it’s on a different coloured plate!

Of course, to us humans it does matter, which is the only point I wanted to make: our values are a factor in sex. Even if the values are shallow, poorly chosen, contradictory or ignored, they are present. We can question our motivating factors and values, often rightly so, but very rarely (if ever) will our sexual response be inharmonious with our values.

But this all seems rather tautological doesn’t it? Isn’t this just another way of saying: we don’t want what we don’t want; we don’t desire what we don’t desire; we don’t get turned on by that which doesn’t turn us on? We want what we want and we get turned on by that which turns us on? Hardly a ground-breaking philosophical discussion so far.

But actually, that is my whole point: if our emotional response is programmed by our rational values, if our heart is led by our head and not the other way around, that is indeed the case! It is logical and obvious, and even redundant to say, that we like what is good for us and don’t like what is bad for us (or in a broader ethical sense, that which furthers the life we want to life as we want to live it, or that which does the opposite).

Love

So then why the popular notion that romantic love causes a split between the head and the heart – a conflict between what we want and what is good for us, between the sensible and the crazy? Reflecting on this article so far, assuming we accept the conclusions reached, this notion doesn’t seem to make much sense anymore: this is where the three elements covered so far all come together in harmony: pleasure (psychological and emotional), friendship and sex. If all three are present with romantic love (incidentally when I say sex I don’t necessarily mean the physical act, just as long as there is sexual attraction, otherwise the relationship is indistinguishable from friendship), and we’ve seen that all three as emotional responses are logical results of our rational values, why should it be any different when they’re all together with someone you’re in love with? In other words, is there a necessary conflict between the head and heart where being in love is concerned? Clearly, no.

Why then does it seem this way a lot of time? The answer, or at least my answer, goes back to what I said above and is based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand: if there is a conflict it’s because one is putting the heart above the head; trying to serve emotions or chase consequences instead of acting rationally to achieve values. To be sure, achieving values (like love) gives emotional pleasure, our body’s “success” response. But it doesn’t mean that one can “shortcut” their way to success without going through the rational steps. Actually, this is precisely what “whim worshipping” and emotion-chasing is: trying to cheat your way to the finish line without running the race; pretending that if one can only feel good it doesn’t matter how or why. As we saw above, of course these conflicts exist, but are they necessary – does it have to be this way? Definitely not.

There are physical factors at work with love. It’s well documented that being in love produces hormones and endorphins that cause a “high”. These feelings can be profound and can cloud judgement, especially in the young who might be overcome for the first time and have a ‘brain overload’. Only recently I heard the story of a friend of a friend who killed herself because her boyfriend finished her. I don’t think we can totally blame love for this but it does show how crazy it can make people act. Like an addict chasing a high, someone in love might act rather odd or lose inhibitions or their sense of judgement. As the Merovingian from the Matrix says: “it is curious how similar the pattern of love is to the pattern of insanity.” Whether this is true or not is open to opinion and it depends on the context: as I’ve said if one listens to the ‘senseless’ heart and ignores the rational, that is almost by definition insane. But not every apparently “crazy” act might really be crazy: someone in love might be acting very logically and rationally to pursue that value: their actions are consistent with their rational objectives; to them it does make sense. For example, throwing oneself in front of a train would be considered mad, but we might not think so if that action saved a lover’s life. And to those who suggest that giving up one’s life for a lover is an act of emotion, not reason, well that person has very sadly missed the point. Pursuing love is totally a rational course of action: it’s the attempt to gain or keep a value – and who in their right mind would suggest it’s rational to NOT pursue values?! (By extension: who would throw themselves in front of a vehicle to save a stranger but NOT to save their lover?) (Incidentally, in that scene from the Matrix Trinity is prepared to die killing all her enemies because of her love for Neo. That sounds perfectly rational to me.)

So if our emotions and psychological measures of “success” or “failure” are the result of the values we hold and if our values are harmonious with our life then our emotions will respond accordingly. As I said above, we already do this most of the time anyway. This proves that a conflict between our head and our hearts doesn’t have to be; it is not fate, bad luck or some unavoidable incomprehensible existential labyrinth which manifests itself with that “lost” feeling I’m sure all of us experience at one point in life.

So is love rational? Yes. If one defines what love is, why it is, and how we respond to it – it is almost rational by definition. In fact, it is frankly ludicrous to suggest otherwise. Show me someone to whom, in Ayn Rand’s wordsit makes no difference whether one deals with a genius or a fool, whether one meets a hero or a thug, whether one marries an ideal woman or a slut.” The person you want to fall in love with should be your ideal of what a human being should be. Who on earth would seek out the most despicable dishonest cruel careless lazy cowardly thug and fall in love with them? And what could we say about the values of the person who wanted to find such a person? Would we call them life-affirming?

The emotions of love are so powerful because they are the highest possible response to the deepest and most fundamental values in life. Just as one feels more heartache when one loses a spouse or parent to death than say, a dog – so the emotional “success” rating in our souls (a term to nicely encapsulate the human essence as a being of body and mind, not one or the other), is at its highest or lowest when the core of our being is at stake – and since with love it is that very thing we expose and invest in another person, the intense emotions in play are perfectly natural and understandable. In fact, it would be irrational if they weren’t! It would be crazy to not expect them to be as strong and compelling given the values involved. It would be like shrugging off the death of a parent but having your heart smashed over discovering a dead goldfish. Surely that would be a disparity between value and response!

To love that much means to invest that much and feel as much. So again, is this a conflict between reason and emotion, between the head and the heart? It can’t be. I’ll let Ayn Rand have the last word:

“Love is a response to values. It is with a person’s sense of life that one falls in love—with that essential sum, that fundamental stand or way of facing existence, which is the essence of a personality. One falls in love with the embodiment of the values that formed a person’s character, which are reflected in his widest goals or smallest gestures, which create the style of his soul—the individual style of a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable consciousness. It is one’s own sense of life that acts as the selector, and responds to what it recognizes as one’s own basic values in the person of another. It is not a matter of professed convictions (though these are not irrelevant); it is a matter of much more profound, conscious and subconscious harmony.”

Who watches the Watchers?

I recently wrote about 21 year old Liam Stacey, a man who was arrested for making racist comments on Twitter. Well, he’s now been imprisoned for 56 days. To be fair to our current justice system, when politician Diane Abbott make racist remarks on Twitter, she too was arrested and thrown in prison for 56 days. Oh no wait, that didn’t happen in this universe – my mistake. She apologised without an arrest, trial or sentence.

Let’s remind ourselves what Abbott said: “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’“. Nice. A disgustingly generalised brush to tar all white people with an innate love of slavery and conquest.  These comments are horrifically offensive to me, not least because I despise slavery and racism, but here is a black woman (who seems to assume she has a right to comment as a supposed victim of racism simply because she is black) insulting all white people (simply because, as white people, they are supposed perpetrators of slavery and imperialism, simply because they are white.)

Why is one white man imprisoned for making racist remarks on Twitter about a black person, but a black person isn’t so much as arrested for making racist remarks about all white people on Twitter? And Diane Abbott has a history of making racist remarks! Why has she gotten away with it in the past? Why did she get away with it on Twitter? Would her comments have been met with jail-time if she was white making comments about blacks?

About Abbott’s comments, Met police said: “We reviewed the circumstances of the comments and having considered all of those circumstances and the information available to us, we do not believe a criminal offence has been committed.”  I agree. No criminal offence was committed – because voicing an opinion, no matter how stupid, no matter how wrong, no matter how evil, no matter how publically, is not a crime! (The only exception to this is slander, because you are not free to lie about someone else.) Why were Abbott’s comments not a criminal offence, but Liam Stacey’s were?

And of course at face value, and you can call me cynical, Diane Abbott is a black female politician, and Liam Stacey is a white male civilian – the demographic with probably the fewest “rights” in this country.

Of course there will be the “me-tooers” and politically-correct crowd, eager to high-five themselves that a free citizen who made racist remarks has gone to prison, blissfully ignoring the real issues going on around them: our freedoms and liberties are being eroded month after month, year after year, sometimes behind closed doors (like with the European Union) and sometimes right before our eyes amidst cheers of multiculturalism and zero-tolerance.

But the laughable irony here is one which is blatantly staring people in the face: they want zero-tolerance…but only for the things they don’t like. They want inappropriate speech to be banned, as long as they get to decide what is inappropriate. In short, everyone wants to play King and rule the kingdom. Am I saying that everything should be allowed? No. But the very idea of a free society, the thing we should all be most proud our species has voluntarily established, is the recognition that we can’t just get our own way by magic just by stamping our feet like spoilt brats. So we all agree to recognise the freedoms of each other to believe, say, speak and do whatever we want – with one common stipulation: don’t harm me and I won’t harm you. Sadly, in this pathetic celebrity-obsessed postmodern philosophically-bankrupt guilt-ridden eco-crazy mentally-stunted irresponsible socialist cesspool called the modern Western world, everybody thinks everyone else’s stuff is up for grabs to the one who shouts loudest; so everyone points the finger, everyone compares wallet sizes, everyone claims that “the other guy” is offending him, and the slightest disagreement means someone goes running to teacher. And teacher, oooh… teacher is only too happy to lay down the law. After all, he’s only dealing with children…

But then in the playground, who watches the Watchers?

After thoughts: a friend made the statement “Freedom of speech does not cover incitement and obscenity”. Obviously I disagree with this. In fact, by definition freedom of speech should most certainly cover such things. Here is the Wikipedia article on freedom of speech in the UK based on current law. I must point out that am not challenging the criminalising of racist comments based on the current law, but that is precisely my point: the law regarding freedom of speech is phrased in such a way as to ban that which is deemed socially unacceptable. In this sense, the law is simply circular: “you are free to speak, unless it’s illegal”, which really means “you are free to say anything legally acceptable”, which just re-defines free speech to be that which is not illegal. In other words, if you say something which is now deemed illegal, it couldn’t have been “free” in the first place. So what then is free speech? Whatever the government decides it is.

There is a place for a restriction on speech by law but only when it is objectively shown to infringe the rights of another. Objective law isn’t based on the latest mood of society, referendum, moral outrage, an over-powered and bored police force, or a politician looking for votes.

Links: “What you can and can’t say on Twitter” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17530450

Racism more important than Fascism

In another demonstration of how your freedom of speech extends only as far as the State allows it, a 21 year old man has been arrested for alleged racist remarks on Twitter. Story. It’s incredible the depths we’ve sunk to when this is just reported as being perfectly acceptable, with Swansea University and Treorchy RFC distancing themselves from the man, as if this were just an everyday regular police investigation of a crime. Everyone is quick to play the “me too” card, as if not expressly declaring “I’m not a racist!” might make you a suspect.

Racism is not a crime. A crime requires the violation of an individual’s Rights by another. Having a racist opinion doesn’t make you a criminal. Vocalising a racist opinion doesn’t make you a criminal. Initiating violence against someone does make you a criminal, whether you do it because your victim is black, white, yellow, fat, thin, tall or short.

Yes, racism is anti-human and as well as that is just plain stupid. But you could say that about any irrational ideas that people hold. Some fundamentalist Christians and Muslims hold extremely offensive and evil beliefs related to race, gender and sexual orientation. Astrology might not be as viciously anti-human but is still irrational. Those who claim to be psychics and talk to the dead are frauds, duping the gullible or emotionally-vulnerable to make money. I find that offensive. I also find socialism and communism offensive: two variations on the same theme that the individual must defer to the State and sacrifice his interests to the “greater good”. For that matter, I find modern “art” and postmodernism offensive. I also don’t like R&B music and would rather listen to nails down a blackboard than hip-hop.

But, I can accept that other people don’t agree with me and I’m fine with that, because no one is putting a gun to my head and telling me to hold a particular opinion, or not hold the one that I do. The idea of individual freedom is that you can like whatever you want, choose whatever you want, do whatever you want, as long as you don’t infringe on the freedom of others to do the same. In fact, it’s inevitable that human beings won’t always agree – which is precisely why individual rights enshrine this principle of freedom! Some will believe this, some will believe that, some will be right, some will be wrong, some will be moral and some will be evil – but that’s the point! You can’t pick and choose what opinions to allow in society because then nothing would ever change; whatever the status quo or popular opinion of the time was, that would be the unchangeable “truth”, and heresy against the Accepted and Allowed would be a crime. Ironically, that’s exactly the case in other parts of the world like Iran, a totalitarian religious dictatorship where freedom of speech is a concept as foreign as sexual preference. But isn’t that what makes us better than them?

You can’t pick and choose politically acceptable speech because no one has the right to make that decision. Sure, you can give it to the government and leave the State as moral arbiter of acceptable speech (and behaviour), if you’re a fascist. But the idea of freedom of speech is that…you might not always agree with it! It’s not freedom to speak…unless you don’t like or agree with it. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s wrong. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s socially frowned upon. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s evil. In fact, the principle of free speech exists precisely to protect the unpopular and marginal viewpoints from being banned by the majority. Saying “ah, but racism really is evil and we as a society have decided to outlaw the expressing of such opinions by force”, is defeating the very principle upon which anyone is allowed to voice any opinion anyway! Tomorrow, it could be your opinion that clashes with that of the majority of society, and should you be silenced? So then, the only way to never have a clash of opinions and find yourself on the “wrong” side of the State is to conform to whatever the collective opinion is at the time. In the words of Bill Hicks: “you are FREE…to do as we tell you.” But since the collective opinions of a society at varying points in recent history have been xenophobic, homophobic, sexist and more – you’d be taking your chances even by being a sheep.

Look, this isn’t about racism. The issue is not whether racism is acceptable or not, or what “we” do about it – as if the State were a true reflection of the will of the people – as if such a collective entity existed in the first place. The matter at hand is: do we want a society with freedom of speech, or not? There are no half-measures. You can’t have it both ways. If speech should not be politically endorsed or condemned, and if force shouldn’t be used by the government against civilians for holding an unpopular opinion (whatever it is), then it is unconscionable to arrest someone for a racist remark. And yet here we are in the United Kingdom, where saying something offensive is a crime. But not just anything offensive: only particular speech is a crime (you can insult someone for being fat, but not of a different colour), which means the government makes a decision about what is acceptable speech (and conduct) and what isn’t. You might say “well I’m ok with that”, which is honest at least – but you’re a fascist.

Speech is a natural form of human expression. Human expression is a result of individual choices and motives. Choices are a product of thinking or believing. Thinking and believing are mental activities inextricable to human nature. Banning speech is like banning thought. That is why the State restricting speech is anti-human.

There is a great hypocrisy going on here though: an ounce of rationality will tell you that banning unpopular opinions (even morally reprehensible ones) doesn’t eliminate anything. All it does is leave the belief to fester, unspoken. People who are truly racist won’t be “cured” by being treated like criminals, they will just feel aggrieved and even more hostile. But the fascists who support banning “hate speech” don’t care about curing irrational ideas, they just care about not offending people – and that’s the critical issue. There are countless ways to offend someone and the people in charge of deciding what is acceptable or not are the same ones whose sole purpose in life is to curry favour by winning votes and appealing to the masses. Hardly a great combination.

The way to defeat an opinion is intellectually. Truly false beliefs of years past didn’t disappear because the government banned them, but because they were shown to be simply wrong. Racism should not be treated like a taboo, as something hush, hush “we don’t talk about”. It needs to be discussed openly and objectively to lay it to rest once and for all. Let the racist have his opinion…and then destroy it. If he continues to hold it, he’s declared himself to be foolish and irrational in front of the world, along with his opinions. If he changes his mind, the world has one fewer cretin and the case for the truth is made all the stronger.

I’ll give you another illustration based on a true story: someone I know is homophobic (actually due to their religion a lot of people I know are). Some of the opinions this person has stated have been anything from “it’s unnatural” to “it’s disgusting” to “I think they get bored with the opposite sex and go after the same sex” to “it’s a perversion” to “it’s a conscious choice.” Now, I know if people like this were put in a room with others and voiced these opinions they’d probably be shouted down. They might fall silent or feel oppressed. Imagine if they were imprisoned for their opinions! But they’d still hold them. But this could be an otherwise kind well-intentioned person labouring under a false belief (God knows there are plenty of them in the world). Similarly, in the past as well as today, there are those who genuinely believe that race is a factor with human intelligence, ability and morality. The Hitler Youth were shown “scientific proof” that blacks were inferior; what were they to believe? If you want to get rid of irrational and immoral ideas, do you merely silence them with a gun, or do you prove in front of the world exactly how and why they are wrong?

Where does curtailing free speech end? If the government gets to decide what is offensive “enough” to be banned, how long before any potential opinion or speech of yours crosses the line? Will you be able to insult anyone, for anything? What is an acceptable topic for humour? What about “racist” friendly banter? What if you voice an opinion about say, the Euro or inflation or taxation, and it’s deemed harmful to the common good? Some British citizens have already been told what flags they can or cannot display (on their own property!) in case it offends others. These issues aren’t new; they are as old as dirt: a government with the power to dictate lifestyles to its people will inevitably use that power to do just that. And it happens because the people let it, because they believe it’s well-intentioned.

Fascism is different in approach today than it was in the dictatorships of the 20th century. Fascism doesn’t come to you and say “don’t you think your speech and behaviour should be sacrificed to the collective good of society, with politicians deciding what is acceptable for you to say, or what food and drink you’re allowed to consume?” No, modern fascism, nicey-nice Left-wing fascism today says “don’t you hate racism? Isn’t it just bad? Don’t you think we as a society should take steps to get rid of it? Don’t you think the rightfully elected ruling body of a society should outlaw such behaviour?” It also says “isn’t alcohol bad for you? Don’t you hate the number of alcohol-related violent crimes? Aren’t saturated fats bad for you? Wouldn’t it be easier and safer if certain foods were just banned to save you having to decide for yourself? Don’t you think it’s only fair to tax the naughty food and drink more than the stuff we decide is ok?”

Forget the content of the words, look at it like this: a private citizen, using his own computer, to post his comments on another privately-owned website (however visible) to make bad words appear on the screens of other people – is officially a criminal, an enemy of the State. Now consider on principle: if the State can pass judgement on what’s acceptable or not on any private property but simply because it’s visible (popular with free admission doesn’t make it “public”), then where does the future of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the entire internet lie? You don’t need to try hard to imagine, there is already a place today where freedom to say whatever we want with whomever we want is forbidden by law: Communist China.

Suarez v Evra / Racism in football / Free Speech

I’m going to give my opinion on the recent Suarez/Evra racial abuse incident, racism in general and where freedom of speech and the law should come into it.

What happened between Suarez and Evra?

I’m going to assume the reader is fairly familiar with the situation, but to summarise: Luis Suarez, a Liverpool player, allegedly racially insulted Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. I say ‘allegedly’, because I think we will never know for sure what was said between the two, but having read the evidence presented to the panel and their judgement, I will say that it is hard to defend Suarez. My opinion from the start in this has simply been that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The question for me wasn’t really if Suarez is a racist or not, but whether it could be reasonably proven, since otherwise it’s one man’s word against another, something we don’t usually accept as damning evidence. I think Liverpool FC reacted so strongly to the affair because they felt a miscarriage of justice had occurred. I also felt there was a witch-hunt going on; the perfect chance for the politically-inclined to curry some favour by jumping on the anti-racist bandwagon. Whilst I still believe this, I think it’s hard to defend Suarez.

What I will say is that, ironically, if Suarez completely denied using any racial words at all, he might’ve been acquitted. He admitted using the words but denied there was racist intent. I’m not saying this excuses Suarez, but it does make the incident seem less clear-cut which probably made his supporters feel justified in defending him at first.

The handshake

On Saturday 11th February, Liverpool faced Man Utd at their ground in a League game. By an astonishing coincidence, Sky decided to switch their pre-kickoff advert run to much earlier, before the players even lined up in the tunnel (usually the players walk onto the pinch and Sky cut to commercial for several minutes, then return for the kick-off proper), which meant that the line-up and handshake could be televised live. There are some who suggest that Evra half-heartedly offered his hand or even slightly pulled it away as Suarez approached. This may be true or it might be clutching at straws. Personally, I don’t buy it: his hand is out. In contrast, Suarez made no attempt at all to shake hands with Evra and instead blanked him, continuing down the line. Evra reacted angrily, grabbing Suarez’s arm. Suarez pulled his arm free and continued on.

Now there are two ways to take this: if Suarez is innocent and was convicted on the word of another man and the reasonable certainty of a judiciary panel, his reputation has been tarnished forever. As long as he lives, wherever he plays, he will have the term “racist” hanging over him. If this was me, and I was innocent, I’d have blanked Evra too. Contrastingly, if Suarez was guilty and I was Evra, I would not shake his hand at all! I cannot understand why Evra offered his hand. If he is the victim, the innocent one, then the racist filth of another person isn’t something you should forgive and forget. Suarez should’ve been the one to offer his hand (if guilty) and Evra would’ve been fully justified in ignoring it, given that, remember: Suarez denied the charge of using racist insults, so if he’s guilty it makes him a liar on top of a racist. At the time of the handshake I was actually biased toward Suarez given how the situation played out. What I mean is, if I was one of the parties concerned, it would’ve made more sense for Suarez to not be guilty and snub Evra, than for the innocent Evra to offer his hand and then get so riled up when it was refused.

What I disliked about Evra’s reaction (and I will assume he is in the right), is that if he wanted to be the “bigger man” and offer his hand, why did he then completely lose his temper? Wouldn’t a “bigger man” have given a wry smile or shrug, and simply think “to hell with him!” with all the cameras watching? That would’ve made a bigger impression, in my opinion. His reaction, coupled with his red-mist charge into Suarez which ended up only taking out teammate Ferdinand, and his excessive post-match victory dance appeared to me, not as a man celebrating a football result nor a man celebrating a judicial verdict, but a man whose pride had been wounded and wanted to get even. Again, I could be wrong (and given the evidence I probably am), but that’s how it could look. Having said that, after months of repressed emotion and winning an important game against a fierce rival where a racist abuser tried to embarrass me in public, I might be tempted into a bit of self-righteous gloating myself, understandably.

My personal opinion is that the evidence against Suarez was satisfactory for the verdict. I personally don’t believe Evra should have offered his hand, but it was his choice and he did it. But I also think that, even for an innocent man, his reaction at the end of the game, waving his arms in circles and skipping along the touchline to his fans, inciting their anti-Liverpool venom all the more, and trying to provoke or belittle Suarez, was irresponsible. He is supposed to be a Manchester United captain. Manchester United has been the biggest team in the world for decades, and is arguably only eclipsed in its success and attractive football by Barcelona and Real Madrid – and is this the guy Man Utd fans want as their leader, their talisman, their representative on the pitch? I’m not equating his antics with Suarez’s racism and if he wasn’t the captain I’d be inclined to ignore it, but surely it was out of order and grossly unprofessional?

Speaking of which, if Suarez led his colleagues and superiors to believe he would shake Evra’s hand (which it seems he did) and then refused to – he put them in an unfair and uncomfortable situation and deserves to be punished. It was sly and dishonourable behaviour and he let himself and everyone connected to Liverpool down. He has subsequently apologised for this.

But what I have to point out is the hypocrisy of Sky: despite the presenter, pundits and commentators insisting that “we” talk about football, they did a damn fine job of talking about everything but the football. As I previously said, Sky switched their pre-match commercials to make sure they covered the handshake. They extended the post-match section of their coverage, no doubt anticipating having much to discuss. The post-match interviews glossed over the actual football so we could get to the really juicy stuff.

Reaction

Of course, everyone had an opinion on the incident. Some Liverpool fans fiercely supported Suarez to the death, simply because he is a Liverpool player. Some Manchester United fans had similar support for Evra. Extreme opinions were voiced on both sides, with many clambering to assert what Suarez should or shouldn’t have done and how he should be punished further. (Personally I think that the pre-match handshake in all football games is a farce; another example of bureaucracies having too much time on their hands to invent silly little rituals instead of being an administrative body and nothing else.)

I will always give my honest opinion and be as objective as possible: for a start, I totally reject the suggestion that footballers are responsible for the behaviour of fans, with one exception: encouraging a frenzy by running to the crowd. A hero scoring a goal and running to fans causes them to naturally rush to meet him, which is dangerous. Players are rightly booked for this. This has absolutely nothing to do with referees being “spoil sports” or politically correct or some health and safety nonsense. We have seen the injury and death that can be caused at football matches from stampedes, and they can be caused by anything from gross police negligence to something as innocent as goal scoring. That aside, if you’re a Liverpool fan who sees Evra’s post-match reaction and it enrages you so much that you find the nearest Man Utd fan and hurl a brick at him, the responsibility for that action is as follows: Evra: 0%, You: 100%. Similarly, if you’re a Man Utd fan who is incensed by Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand, you cannot use this as an excuse for beating up some Liverpool fans. Crimes are not morally transferable, and only in rare and mitigating circumstances are the motives for crimes balanced against the action. Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez was a disgrace and “could have caused a riot today.” Well I’m sorry, Alex, you might be right about the “disgrace” part but since when was one man morally accountable for the decisions of another? No, this piece of nonsense needs to go from football and society: you cannot use other people as excuses for your idiotic violence. We don’t accept “he made me hit him!” in the school-ground or from our children, so why is it ok for grown adults in the society to try the same?

Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez shouldn’t be allowed to play for Liverpool again, presumably meaning that LFC should eject him. Now, whilst I agree that a club should be picky about the character of player who wears their shirt, the simple fact is: most clubs don’t give a damn who or what a footballer is, only that he makes them successful, so it’s a little odd to start getting morally uppity now, even in the face of racism. It also exposes you to counter-assertions of hypocrisy. Let’s remember that two Manchester United captains in the last 20 years have: performed flying kicks into the necks of opposing spectators and deliberately set out to cause harm to opposing players. Roy Keane’s assault on Alfe-Inge Haaland was as premeditated and vicious an attack as you could see on a football pitch. Off the pitch, this would be treated as grievous bodily harm, carrying a fine and probable jail term. In a civilised society, we allow offensive speech and ban violence, because the former doesn’t violate anyone’s Rights and the latter does. In football, it seems to work the other way around: initiating violence against someone carries a 5 match ban; a racist slur incurs 8. Imagine if the law in everyday life worked this way! Some might say that violence is violence and happens in life but racism is a social evil that should be eliminated. Well this is my opinion: both are evil but violence is socially worse. Why? Evil opinions can (and should) be legally permitted because they can be defeated by reason and non-violent means. Violence can never be legally permitted because it destroys reason, can only be stopped by more physical force, and invariably leads to more violence. I’ll go into this in more detail later, but if you disagree, think about this: would you rather someone approach you on the street and insult you, or break your legs?

On the subject of players representing a club, in football “we” seem to allow: violence, cheating, name-calling, unsporting behaviour and sociopaths, but a racist slur should be grounds for immediate dismissal? And I am not claiming that they are one and the same or morally equal, but let’s be clear what we’re talking about here: there are a great number of disgraceful things that football clubs happily turn a blind eye to. And if you think that a racist insult is necessarily worse than trying to hurt another human being, you should be prepared to fully justify that position, if you can.

The Government and Free Speech

The PFA Executive Gordon Taylor said “the situation is running away with us and this isn’t healthy for football, particularly with the government looking into the governance of football”, which probably explains why so many people in positions of power are worried about the situation. What no one is asking is why the government is poking its nose into the administration of a sport!  Don’t our politicians have anything better to do? I would think economic crisis and national security should be enough to be getting on with, but if they’re that bored I encourage them to please consider getting a proper job. If I were Taylor I’d politely tell the government to mind its own damn business, but that  might affect all the State parties and gatherings that FA executives and footballers get invited to huh?

The racism in football issue is another excuse for the government to extend its power over free speech. There are some well-intentioned individuals whose natural reaction to racism is to call for more laws and government action. You are not helping anyone. Before anyone objects, can we all just agree at the outset that racism is evil and should be socially unacceptable? Now that that’s over with, let’s get back to the very basics:

Why is racism a bad thing?

So many opinions float around in a vacuum, taken for granted or as self-evident truths. But it is not self-evident that racism is evil. It is not self-evident that rape is evil. Why? Because “racism is bad” is not a moral primary. “Rape is bad” is not a moral primary. Rather, racism and rape are violations of the most basic pro-human virtue: rationality. For example: “physical force” is not itself bad, as a primary. If it were, it would be wrong to lock criminals up or punish them no matter what they did. Physical force is acceptable, as long as it’s not initiated. Therefore, we are justified in locking a criminal up (or killing him), but not an innocent man. Therefore, rape isn’t evil simply because it’s physical force, but because it is necessarily the initiation of force against an innocent; it’s a violation. It is evil because it is anti-human.

Racism is evil, not because it violates Rights (it doesn’t) but because it’s anti-human. Racism is probably the most profound and stupid example of irrationality in existence, which says: “just because someone has different skin colour or was born elsewhere, they can be judged as individuals”. It is the judgement of a man’s character based on his geography or bloodline. It is irrational; it is anti-human; it is evil. But what racism is not, in itself, is a violation of anyone’s Rights. Fascists will disagree, but the government’s job is to protect Rights, not to police acceptable speech. This is why racism cannot be a crime.

The principle of freedom of speech is not to preserve or encourage popular or admirable opinions (although that is a natural consequence) but to prevent unpopular opinions from being suppressed, however ridiculous or inhuman they may be. The idea of free speech allowing everything, except the stuff we really really don’t like, is a contradiction in terms! Either everything is legally permissible to say, or none of it is. And before I get accused of creating a false dilemma: I’m not; there is no objective standard by which to determine what speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable, since any opinion in the world is potentially offensive to someone somewhere. All that truly exists is what some politician decides based on the votes he’s trying to win, or the “popular opinion” of the time, a fallacy which says that something is true simply because enough people think it is. Remember that in the past what we would consider racist was the general opinion, even from the intellectuals at the time. Even as recently as a few decades ago, the popular opinion of homosexuals and sexual equality was what we’d now call archaic.

The beauty of the “freedom of speech” principle is that it protects us all from whatever mob, whatever dictator, whatever bureaucrat, whatever despot, whatever faction, decides our opinion is a threat to them and wants to stamp it out. (It also prevents the government giving special favours to those opinions it wants to encourage.) The more ridiculous (or evil) an opinion, the more important it is to not censor it. Why? First, because trying to ban an opinion is impossible anyway. Opinions are individual matters which arise from a person’s choices and premises (conscious and unconscious). Second, because trying to blacklist an opinion (or anything) creates a black market; you drive it underground where it meets the worst of humanity. Third, you discourage honest debate. For example, if someone is truly racist and honestly believes that nationality or race plays a part in the judgement of another individual (these people are far more common than you realise), it is all the better to let them speak and offer their arguments so that they can be defeated. If someone says “it’s obviously true that black people are mentally inferior to whites”, do not silence him! Do not give him the “respect” that many a brave voice in history was met with: censorship. Do not plant the seed in another’s mind that “maybe he has a point?!” Rather, let him speak and explain himself, and then show why he is totally and utterly wrong. Blast the argument in public for all to see for all time. But do not simply ban it, or treat him like a criminal for holding an opinion (even an evil one).

(As an aside, I should mention that the only exceptions to free speech in any form are libel and slander, which are rightly illegal.)

We can already see around the world our governments taking measures to control speech and the mediums of speech, the best example of which being the internet. It is not that our governments are necessarily fascist and wicked (though some politicians are), but because they simply assume that moral evils are the remit of the government to police. And when the average citizen agrees and even calls for it, how can we expect anything else?

The government has no job banning and criminalising any speech. It is a slippery slope we are already going down, where the government penalising particularly motivated-actions over others necessarily leads to the home of motives: thoughts. And if the government bans one, it will sooner or later try to control the other.

Hate crime and hypocrisy

Today in England, a “hate crime” is treated more seriously than a “normal crime”. Presumably, if you violate someone else’s Rights you are super-duper guilty if you did it for racist reasons. Interestingly enough, what this means is that if you’re the same colour as your attacker he is less accountable for his violence than if you or he were a different colour. In other words, people of a different race are more or less guilty than others, all other things being the same. What’s that word for pre-judgment based on race again?

But the elephant in the room that no one is talking about, and which is uncomfortable to discuss for obvious reasons is: why is a cruel and irrational insult against a person acceptable for some reasons and not others? Some footballers have been treated to disgraceful abuse at football grounds, not because of their colour or character or behaviour, but their sexuality. Why is this any different to racism? Aren’t both attacks on an individual based on un-chosen and arbitrary traits? Aren’t both anti-human? Continuing this theme, why is it less frequently condemned when insults are for being: fat, thin, short, tall, attractive, ugly, butch, effeminate etc – most of the time attributes also outside anyone’s control? Of course most decent people would reply “well they aren’t acceptable either” – but the truth is we do view them differently and no matter how hurtful an insult is we are generally told “brush it off, ignore it”, unless it’s racist.

I haven’t established the difference clearly in my head, but if you seriously discriminate against another, or abuse them, what does the particular subject of abuse matter? I welcome an honest answer.

I have many foreign friends, and it’s not uncommon to hear “you Swedish bastard!”; “you Czech retard!”; “you Welsh sheep-shagger”; “you stoned Dutch idiot!”, between us. If any of these insults, albeit in jest, included a reference to colour they would probably be considered racist. But what is the difference? If a genuine light-hearted joke can include reference to someone’s race – then what difference does it make what the race is? I am not saying there isn’t a difference, but if there is I’m having a hard time seeing it. Again, I welcome an honest answer.

Of course historically race has been far more divisive with human beings than gender and other physical attributes – no doubt why it is such a sensitive and inflammatory topic. I can certainly appreciate the emotive nature of colour-related racism. But we’d all agree that racism isn’t primarily a “colour issue”, it’s an issue between any two peoples of different nationality, culture, location or language. So again: if racism isn’t necessarily a colour issue why do “we” assume it is by allowing other kinds of race-related banter, except where colour is concerned?

You see, there is a danger of going too far to the other extreme. In fact, the debate is not: ‘racism is ok’ or ‘racism should be banned’, the debate is: ‘free speech of any kind should not be banned’ versus ‘some speech should be criminalised and some shouldn’t’. The danger is in fact seeing the world in terms of skin colours which is just what racism is. Like any movement to counter discrimination, it can become paranoid and see villains in every decision, enemies around every corner.

Racists see the world as a conglomeration of accents, nationalities, histories and colours – which of course it is, but that is all they see. They think of you, not as you the individual but you the white, the black, the Asian, the American etc; incidents outside your choice are relevant to their judgment of you. The politically-correct multiculturalists are so desperate to not appear like the racists, they pretend that there are absolutely no differences at all between people and insist on a “colour blind” world. Worse, they favour positive-discrimination which is just another form of racism.

But people are different! Not being a bigot isn’t ignoring someone else’s differences, it’s accepting that we human beings are a varied bunch – and not giving a damn about it: another person’s race, or colour, like their accent or birthplace, sexuality or gender, shouldn’t be something we tiptoe around but simply irrelevant in our judgement of them. Gay, straight, fat, thin, black, white, yellow, tall, short, intelligent or dumb – if you’re a monster you should be damned and if you’re virtuous you should be praised. Everything else, everything you didn’t choose, is irrelevant.

The Ferengi – the ultimate strawmen of capitalism

You don’t have to have seen Star Trek or even like sci-fi to find this relevant. This isn’t just about bad writing, which is an artistic crime by itself – and when the very thing you’re trying to denounce is so obviously a ludicrous strawman not only do you fail to make the point, you end up undermining your own position. It’s also about propaganda.

I am a geek, I admit, so I can unapologetically say that if you’re not, I’ll do some quick back-story for you: the Ferengi are an alien race in the Star Trek universe, introduced way back in The Next Generation’s first season. Since the Federation (sort of like all the best parts of the United States in space; in Kirk’s words a place where people had “the full exercise of individual Rights” source) finally made friends with the classic bad guys the Klingons, the show needed a new nemesis for our heroes. Now, when you consider that even someone who hasn’t watched Star Trek probably knows who The Borg are, this should give you an idea of the impact a truly terrifying enemy can have…and how far off the mark the writers were with the Ferengi. They are ugly apish buffoons (the Ferengi, not the writers – though I don’t deny the similarity). After only a couple of episodes it was clear they couldn’t be taken seriously, so much so that almost every “Ferengi” episode of DS9 and Voyager to come was written as a “comedy episode”, with one exception.

The Ferengi were shown to be a technologically-advanced intelligent species (appearances to the contrary) who could rival the Federation in space exploration and/or conquest. As I said, this didn’t last long and they instead devolved into the ultra “capitalist” exploitative bigoted idiots that would crop up every now and then to beat us over the head with the “too much capitalism is bad!” mallet. I could attribute this to just bad writing, but the problem is that the Ferengi are a caricature of everything the Left believes about capitalism, beginning with a most profound and basic misunderstanding. Of course, it’s not the Left I’m addressing this to, but the everyday person who doesn’t know any better and whose only understanding of capitalism comes from false generalisations and clichéd movie villains.

Capitalism in one sentence

“Do not initiate force against an innocent rational being.” Got that? Good, because this is the basic premise of capitalism. Of course, people will disagree and they’re welcome to. You are welcome to define capitalism as you like, but you have to justify your definition and show how it’s logically derived. This is the job of philosophy, but I don’t intend to go into that much detail here. The best philosophical defender of capitalism was Ayn Rand and it’s her understanding of the term I’ll use. Even if you totally disagree with Ayn Rand, I don’t see how someone can object to me invoking her here. After all, when I attack communism and socialism, I don’t attack what I think they are, I attack what they actually claim to be! I am happy to take a socialist’s definition of their own system and roll with it, so no one should object to me using Rand’s definition of capitalism here.

Why does it matter? Well, the “profound and basic” misconception of capitalism that I alluded to is of capitalism saying “make money!” But it doesn’t. Don’t confuse an economic consequence with a political principle. I attack socialism, not because it says “surrender all your values to the State!” (although that is a logical consequence of socialism) but because it says “the Rights of the individual are secondary to the needs of the State.” I think capitalism has proven that wealth and profit are its corollaries (hard to argue with, even if you don’t like capitalism), but the political principle on which it stands is: “leave people alone”, or “don’t initiate force against others.”

We’ll see that every distasteful aspect of the Ferengi, who are supposedly the unavoidable consequences of rampant unchecked laissez-faire capitalism, are false and even precluded by capitalism.

Sexism

In Ferengi society females are treated like second class citizens. The men run everything and exclude Ferengi women on the grounds that they are useless in business, and all the Ferengi care about is profit. This is probably the biggest non-sequitor of them all. I don’t know how someone gets from “leave people alone” to “treat women like useless house-bound tools”. Capitalism’s principle of leaving every person free to pursue their own life, liberty and happiness surely encourages respect for our fellow creatures, recognising that they are just like us and have the same potential as we do. Also, with the use of force banned, how could women be forcibly restrained from having jobs and earning money? The Western world has proven (most memorably during WW2) that having half your entire population not sitting around doing nothing, increases production and profits. Imagine if today women were suddenly forbidden from working – almost every business where gender is irrelevant would collapse! Yet we’re supposed to believe that a society so obsessed with profit as the Ferengi wouldn’t take advantage of a worker base which could in theory double its workforce? Isn’t a common criticism of laissez-faire capitalism that would it end up employing too many people that it shouldn’t, not excluding them?

Of course, as any real life rational businessman knows, there is no profit in unnecessary discrimination.

You might say that this is just an example of an alien race which is ultra-capitalistic and also happens to be ultra-sexist. But every single aspect of the Ferengi revolves around profit, so the implication is clear that their horrifically-sexist society is connected to their capitalism. But even if it wasn’t, it’s guilt by association. For example, imagine if Trek gave us an alien race who are all black, oh and it just so happens they’re thieves and rape isn’t a crime on their world. Who would dismiss this as innocently exploring ethical issues in a science-fiction format and not racist?

Exploitation

The Ferengi are open to and encourage bribery, and forever force money from their customers by upping prices, lowering wages, and denying basic commodities to their employees, since without a regulation from some Progressive bureaucrat of course, this is what would obviously happen in all companies. Naturally, all unions are banned.

Leaving aside the government support that unions have had in the Western world (which only gives one side an unfair advantage in negotiations, but since that side isn’t the evil businessmen it’s ok), with the use of force banned, how could unions be prevented? They are an obvious and natural means for employees to pool their (economic) power and lobby their employer for change. If we drop the premise that businessmen are James Bond villains or irrational scrooges, it’s clear that no reasonable employer is going to lose his staff when by making acceptable changes (or losses) he can keep them here and happy. On the other hand, he isn’t going to needlessly cut into his profits if he doesn’t have to. And implying that this is necessarily a bad thing isn’t an attack on capitalism, it’s an attack on the very inescapable nature of human trade itself!

Also, it’s simply daft to assert that a businessman can keep upping his prices to extremes. Of course, in the heads of anti-capitalists, prices are set in a vacuum and buyers are at the whims of sellers. But prices reflect costs, overheads, the affluence of the customer base and competition. Yes, if there is little competition you can get away with upping your prices, but it doesn’t mean that, for example, if I’m the only pub within a 50 mile radius I can charge $20 for a pint of ale. No matter how rich my customer base is, no is going to pay that much for a pint. And even if a tiny minority could, would that handful keep my business running? If only 1 person a day buys a $20 pint, it does not follow that if I cut my prices to $2, I will now get 10 customers a day instead of 1; in reality I’d probably get many times that, because not only will more customers be attracted to my pub, they will each spend more because the prices are good. ‘Good’ here being within the context of my customers’ affluence; in some regions I could up my price to $3 and not lose customers. In other regions I’d have to drop it to $1.50 to (counter-intuitively) make profit. But to say that the customer is irrelevant and an unchecked businessman would just irrationally up his prices is pure fantasy. Which would be fine if this was just another alien race and not an unashamed caricature of a genuinely pro-human political system.

(Incidentally, in my experience pub managers and owners resent raising prices because it simply drives customers away, which means they lose the atmosphere in their premises and lose business. Ironically, the ever-increasing costs on alcohol are imposed by government taxes, something that wouldn’t exist in a truly capitalist society.)

Corruption

The Ferengi give and take bribes like we shake hands. This is bad, naturally, because the affairs of two private consensual individuals are of course the concern of the rest of society. Oh wait…

A bribe is a bribe if it’s a way to circumvent honest trade. For example, if you’re a buyer you could be bribed to accept some poor quality stock that you normally wouldn’t, and which your company wouldn’t normally want – but you get a brown paper envelope and press the Confirm button anyway. This is a bribe. Similarly, you could be a politician with the power to use force against your own civilians, and be bribed by a business to grant them special privileges. This is a bribe. (By the way, whilst the former could of course still happen under capitalism, the latter could not. Remind me again why the Left doesn’t like it?)

But saying that any private settlement reached between two free individuals is a bribe is just ridiculous. By this reasoning, any bargaining or negotiation at all should be viewed as a bribe. Offering to give someone a bit more for something you want isn’t a bribe, it’s called trade! But presumably this is frowned upon by the Soviet Federation of Planets because all transactions are the concern of the State.

It’s either fraud, in which case it’s illegal (even and especially under capitalism) or it’s not fraud in which case it’s no one else’s business.

Obsession with profit

Everything the Ferengi say and do revolves around profit. Their version of the bible is “The Rules of Acquisition” and even their afterlife myths involve a latinum-plated vault where treasures await them. How many businessmen do you know whose every topic of conversation concerns money? How many of them actually dream about it? How many of them see it as an end in itself?

Like everything else with the propaganda of the Left, it makes no sense. Anti-capitalists think that just because capitalists want to be left free to pursue their own selfish values, which includes making money, that “making money” is therefore all they care about. I’ve seen scarecrows with less straw than this argument. It’s like saying that just because someone thinks drugs should be legalised, his ulterior motive is getting high on anything he can get his hands on. I happen to think all drugs should be legalised, but if they were I wouldn’t take them. So why assume that someone who wants property rights fully respected automatically wants to stand on the necks of the poor to make some extra cash? It’s because the Left frames every anti-capitalist argument as a matter of money, and not the principles that political systems should be based on. It is here that anti-capitalists reveal that they are the ones obsessed with profit. But whereas the Ferengi are obsessed with having more money, the Left is obsessed with making sure no one has too much of it!

Greed

This ties in with the above: that just because capitalists want to be left free, which includes having no limit or checks on the profit they can acquire, they are “greedy”, an adjective related to excessive consumption. The difference is: rational people eat until they are full, because there is a logical and practical reason to eat and cease eating when that biological urge has been satisfied. The difference with money is, there is no logical or practical point in life at which it becomes pointless to acquire more money (especially since wealth isn’t finite, it’s created). Ok, in theory you might have so much money that literally nothing is an obstacle for you – but if your productive effort reaps money then the only way to stop making it, short of refusing to get paid, is to sit on your hands and watch TV for the rest of your life, a position itself that is contrary to human flourishing. Also, the incredibly rich do seem to be quite generous with their money in real life, a fact borne out by billionaire philanthropists and mega-corporations who are the largest contributors to charity in the world.

In fact, if greed is the irrational pursuit of objectives, then why would we assume that a person who continues working with no end in sight to what he can achieve or acquire is being irrational? We don’t see the best sports stars earn enough to live comfortably and then retire, do we? And we don’t criticise the likes of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Stephen Hendry and Lionel Messi for continuing to blow the opposition away even after achieving everything “reasonably” necessary in a career, do we? So why are businessmen with the same ruthless determination to win viewed as greedy? The best sports stars make  fortunes for themselves in exchange for a relatively limited return to their “customers”, the spectators. They smash the hopes and dreams of their rivals and seek to conquer everything and hope the other guy loses. Even assuming a businessman of equal ruthlessness, he at least brings a product to the world, not just a group of fans, and gives how many others a career and purpose along the way? And unlike a sportsman’s titles and records, the businessman’s practical achievements will live with humanity forever.

And yet, it is the charity worker which is held alongside the sportsman and businessman as the model of humanity.

Public welfare

Towards the end of the Ferengi story arc, which we see in the last season of Deep Space Nine, the leader of the Ferengi Alliance (though what he leads and how, in a system where government force is supposedly banned, is a mystery) has introduced taxation (pretty much a swear word to the Ferengi) and instituted various social reforms such as “free” healthcare and pensions. Ironically, a society where energy is free and unlimited and all matter can be “replicated” from thin air is probably the only one where socialism would actually work. But even then it wouldn’t, unless doctors and scientists could also be replicated…

Yes, the immoral Ferengi slowly begin to learn the true meaning of Christmas; that profit is a vice and the true calling of all sophisticated beings is of charity work to any potential number of other individuals they may never meet and might care nothing about.

But the funny thing is that despite the Ferengi being deliberately stacked as caricatures, they still manage to get things done! Throughout Trek, the Ferengi are never involved in any wars and their business interests are allowed to continue without interference from any aggressive power. They have an impressive military and aren’t slackers when it comes to exploration and invention. We are never shown the Ferengi homeworld in ruins, resource-deprived, impoverished or with people enslaved. In fact, in the words of Trek’s most famous Ferengi: “You’re overlooking something, Commander. Humans used to be a lot worse than Ferengi. Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar war; we have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you. We’re better.” And despite the Trek writers giving us the kind of alien history that we can only dream about, we’re still told “but if you want all this, you going to have to take corporatism and sexism too.” One can’t help but think that if ultra-capitalism produced a world without war, slavery and genocide, maybe it’s worth a few greedy businessmen.

I’m reminded of the Caldari society in Eve Online, which is supposedly a capitalist state taken to extremes; from Wikipedia: “the Caldari State is organised as a form of statist corporatocracy, where the State itself is owned by and operated on behalf of a few trust-like megaconglomerates.” Whilst I don’t deny that such a State could exist in theory, it isn’t capitalistic. Capitalism is the separation of corporation from State. The Caldari are contrasted with the Gallente, who “favour liberal economic policies, encourage individual entrepreneurship and social democracy, and maintain a progressive approach to social welfare”. The Gallente are very much like Trek’s Federation politically, but the problem is that these “virtues” are reeled off in one sentence as if they are mutually compatible or inevitable. They aren’t. Progressive social reforms are a hallmark of Leftist politics and are undeniably fascist in origin and nature. Individual entrepreneurship is antithetical to social welfare and liberal economics, since Liberalism in the modern sense means socialism, not capitalism. Again, we see strawmen in action: the best of all worlds is a semi-socialist “liberal” democracy and anything else must necessarily be an undesirable radical society which is either fully-despotic and totalitarian or ultra-capitalistic where the mega-corporations are in charge. How convenient. But I say again: this is all based on a simple misconception of capitalism. If capitalism is the society where nothing trumps individual Rights, then please tell me, how exactly could business own the State? How could despotism come about? How could anyone be forcibly included or excluded from any activity against their wish?

Why?

Because I’m so opinionated I can’t just leave it there and point out the flaws of anti-capitalism in just two popular works of fiction. The question is: why is capitalism painted this way? Leaving aside conspiracy theories of the Left (not because the Left is innocent but because not everyone who is sceptical of capitalism is always a Leftist), I’ll suggest this: it’s easy. If capitalism was understood properly it necessarily would exclude most of the nasty stuff that people don’t want to see in politics. The problem though is that it raises a lot of uncomfortable questions that people don’t want to answer, or simply can’t, like: what about education, roads, healthcare, tax? It’s easier to imagine that somehow our society just works with the balance of individual freedom and Statism, and pretend that the two are compatible or can even co-exist for a while, and anyone else must just have it wrong. And how much better does such a Liberal Progressive society look when contrasted to the strawmen alternatives?

The irony is that despite Roddenberry’s Marxist utopia, the United Federation of Planets was supposed to be the United States of America in space, a place where individual freedom was treasured and people of all races would work together, not because they are forced to, not because they are guilt-tripped into it, not because of positive discrimination or ethic-minority quotas, not because of political correctness, but simply because there is no rational reason for us to not cooperate if everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, and because there is no profit in discrimination. It was the capitalism of early America that smashed slavery and feudalism and allowed men to flourish (and get rich), and those countries that followed the example (like Britain in Europe) also succeeded compared to other nations. It was the Progressives of the late 19th and 20th centuries that would re-introduce the anti-individualist God-state as the political ideal, whether as expressed fascists, communists and socialists, whether as brazen as Hitler’s Nazi party or as nicey-nice as Barak Obama’s neo-socialism. Rather than being cutting edge thought-provoking television, Star Trek is just another example of anti-capitalist nonsensical clichés. We can blame it on bad writing, but the reason for such an obvious strawman in the first place is sadly more pervasive.