Making self-help sound like terrorism

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You’ve heard of Jordan Peterson. He’s a Canadian professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist. In his work in the latter role, he has helped a lot of people deal with mental health issues and sort their lives out, as clinical psychologists are wont to do. He became notorious because of the hate he received when he objected to a university trying to force people to use the gender pronouns of transgender individuals. Not that he never uses those pronouns, but he objected to being told that he had to use them, or else face consequences. He didn’t create the situation, he just responded to it because it affected him directly.

Peterson has managed to offend people in other ways, too (not that this is a great feat today), for example by arguing that genuine sex differences exist – hardly a radical theory. Cathy Newman notoriously made him more famous via an interview in which she spent nearly all of her time re-stating and misrepresenting most of his answers when discussing the gender pay gap. Peterson didn’t force her to do that. She did it herself, and so badly that she became a meme. She was a train wreck, and in retrospect few people doubt that she knows it. Otherwise the interview would have been much less remarkable and would almost certainly not have had the positive effect on Peterson’s fame that it did.

Most of Dr Peterson’s subject matter is psychology and self-help. But (generally when the issue is raised with him) yes, he has talked about things with broader political and social implications. When he does, the target of his criticisms are generally not just people on the left or the right, conservatives or liberals, but rather the space on the political spectrum he calls “the radical left,” although at times he has also spoken specifically about the dangers of fascism in particular as well as the factors that enable it.

Unsurprisingly, the radical left (as much as I dislike collectivism – take me to mean “many people who could fairly be described as radical leftists”) tend not to like Jordan Peterson. But even not liking somebody or their views should surely be compatible with some very basic principles of fairness and decency. Continue reading “Making self-help sound like terrorism”

You don’t matter just because I care

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We can’t erase the fact that abortion is homicide just because we aren’t as attached to the unborn as we are to other humans. The truth is that whether or not your life has value, and whether or not you are disposable, cannot be determined by how I feel about you.

There’s a view that pro-lifers (those who think it is wrong to kill unborn humans) are ignoring the reality that the death of an unborn child is less tragic than the death of somebody else. The death of an unborn is not the death of a human – not really – and actually we all know it, because we react differently to the death of an unborn child than to the death of somebody else. So wrote one blogger:

If you try to get pregnant and fail, it is frustrating. If you have a heavy menstruation slightly late, suggesting that fertilization occurred but the pregnancy failed very early on, it is even sadder. But it is not the same as managing to be pregnant for several months and then finding that the fetus has died. And that in turn is nowhere near as tragic as having your delivery date arrive and the child be stillborn.

Mothers know this. Fathers who’ve experienced any aspect of this know it too. And so how can so many people nonetheless accept the stark and unnuanced claim that “abortion is murdering babies” without a blink?

Continue reading “You don’t matter just because I care”

Talking (and talking, and talking) about mental health

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“Let’s get people talking about mental health.” It sounds good in principle, but like many turns of phrase that sound virtuous, in the wrong hands and in the wrong context it is advice that can be anything but helpful.

[I wrote most of this article shortly after the death of actor Robin Williams. It has sat in draft for a few years for no particular reason, and I have brushed it up and published it now.]

Another man has killed himself, this time another entertainer. Although more women than men harm themselves, more men than women kill themselves. News stories that carry the story are, as always, including contact details for youth mental health services, and the story is being associated with the fact that we need to talk about depression and suicide. That message is loud and clear: We need to talk about it. It’s great that we’re getting people talking. We need to talk more. We need to get the issue out there more and get people talking. Talk!

That’s good and bad. Continue reading “Talking (and talking, and talking) about mental health”

Progressive social media: A translation guide

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The reason the blog is quiet just now is a purely practical one. I’m finishing off some renovation at home. That’s nearly done, and blog entries will start flowing more regularly, but while I’ve been laying floorboards and insulating walls, I’ve been thinking.

We need to be relevant. We need to be able to communicate with the under-30s. What we need to do is learn the language of online progressive communication to use in our articles, blogs, and social media comments. To this end, I’ve taken a swing at a short, handy translation guide. So before you write that next headline or reply to that next tweet, try these easy tips to make yourself more understandable to the generation that really cares about justice.

Continue reading “Progressive social media: A translation guide”

Hogging the resources: Questions for you

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The following is a scenario in an imaginary world:

A seller is selling all the diamond rings in the world, and the world consists of him and ten other people. All ten potential buyers would like diamond rings, but every time a diamond ring is offered for sale and everyone makes an offer to buy a ring, two of those ten people offer more. This results in a bidding war until the other eight people can no longer afford to buy the ring. Consequently, all the diamond rings go to just two people.

But at the end of the day, these are diamond rings. Who really cares? They could never be considered essential for living the good life.

Also in this world: A seller is selling all the food in the world. In advance, we will rule out “but you can produce enough food for yourself without the seller,” by declaring, as part of the thought experiment, that this would require so much time that people could not work for a living, and it would in many cases require resources (such as suitable land) that people do not have. So this is ruled out. Continue reading “Hogging the resources: Questions for you”

Progressive Christians would have shamed Jesus

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Partly a product of social media, the way we talk about those with whom we disagree has changed a lot.

In particular, at the risk of sounding partisan, here is the way I see those who view themselves as “progressive” (what a terrible name to give yourself) engaging religious conservatism: Instead of talking to people about why they disagree and why they think people of a conservative bent should change their minds or behaviour, they talk about them to the world. When they do so they are not critically engaging  with them (even if they tell us that this is what they are doing). Instead they are serving the social function of shaming them, not so that they will change their mind, but so that they will be afraid of speaking.

Many progressive Christians, if I have observed things correctly, think that they are the real followers of Jesus (who, we are told, was an inclusive, tolerant, liberal-minded progressive), while religious conservatives are more like the religious hypocrites from whom Jesus distanced himself. Sweeping generalisations are usually wrong if taken as hard and fast rules. This description is true of many religious conservatives, no doubt There are plenty of them, after all. But to a large extent it is self-flattering nonsense. While many progressives like to say that religious conservatives “pick and choose” which commands of Jesus they follow, sometimes it’s helpful to hold up a mirror to this outlook, if only because of its irrepressible self-confidence in being real, authentic, pure-as-the-driven-snow, Jesus-following Christianity, along with its current occupation of a position of social power, something Christians are justified in being suspicious of (let’s remember that it’s not just a worrying combination when it’s manifested in the religious right).

Progressive Christianity, had it existed in the first century, would have found opportunities to shame Jesus himself. Continue reading “Progressive Christians would have shamed Jesus”

Voting for death to save life?

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Abortion and politics are two areas where people’s ability to think is seriously compromised. People use and share arguments that employ reasoning they would never find acceptable in another setting. With the American Presidential election looming and with abortion being a perennial political hot potato (not that I realistically see any real change likely with either major candidate), the noise of contorted reasons for why you should vote for this or that candidate is rising to a deafening level.

This morning I spotted this argument being shared on Facebook by a prominent Christian blogger, as follows: Continue reading “Voting for death to save life?”

Killing the conversation on justice: Social justice warriors and the sabotage of dialogue

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You might think that when people dismiss “social justice warriors,” it is because they just don’t want their own bigotry to be challenged. You’d be wrong. It’s because social justice warriors kill the very conversations about justice they want to be seen as having. The reaction to Mike Hosking’s comments about Māori representation on the local councils is just the latest example.

The back story: There’s a current affairs TV show here in New Zealand called Seven Sharp, so named because it screens at 7pm. It’s normal on this show, as on many others, for the presenters to offer their own editorial comments on stories, discussing the issues raised with each other and provoking conversation from viewers. Continue reading “Killing the conversation on justice: Social justice warriors and the sabotage of dialogue”

Required to study Islam: Religious Freedom?

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Is forced Muslim religious education compatible with freedom of religion? We don’t tend to have court news quite this interesting (as far as religion goes) here in New Zealand.

I’m not commenting on this case because of the details that brought the parties to court, so let me quickly summarise what I think are the facts and then move on to what interests me.

  • The tenant is a Muslim woman. The landlord is a 73-year-old ordained pastor from Nigeria.
  • The tenant has had between 12 and 15 people staying in the rented apartment, which the landlord does not permit (or at least does not want, I don’t know if it’s contrary to the lease).
  • The tenant claims that the landlord has a history of shouting anti-Islamic abuse at her and that she pushed her, making her fall down some stairs.
  • The landlord denies treating the tenant this way, saying that the tenant had a vendetta against her because she wouldn’t let more people live in the apartment and because of her religion.
  • The judge found against the landlord, also noting that previous tenants have taken out prevention orders against her.

That brings us up to the part that I’m interested in. Here’s what the judge did:

He sentenced her to two years in jail on the assault and battery charge for pushing Suliman but required her to serve only six months, with the remaining 18 months suspended if she complied with certain probation conditions.

“I want you to learn about the Muslim faith,” he said. “I want you to enroll and attend an introductory course on Islam. I do want you to understand people of the Muslim faith, and they need to be respected. They may worship Allah … but they need to be respected.”

Continue reading “Required to study Islam: Religious Freedom?”

Useful falsehoods: New Zealand’s secular left narrative

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Research suggests that many New Zealanders are ignorant in ways that support left-wing and secular ideologies. Don’t blame me, I didn’t carry out the survey!

A common theme in my thinking lately is about the way that we humans come to hold many beliefs for non-rational reasons. We imagine the world to be a certain way, not because it is that way but (whether we realise it or not) because it would suit us in some way for the world to be that way. If we’re prejudiced against foreigners, it’ll suit us to say that we’ve got a major problem with migrants coming here, whether such a problem exists or not, and we’ll – unconsciously, perhaps – look for ways to interpret any available data in a way that supports this belief. If we are hardcore left-wing feminist social justice warriors (you know who you are), it would suit our interests if there was a real massive pay gap between men and women in our country, or if a lot of pro-lifers were violent terrorists, and as a result we may well form those beliefs with little or no assistance from the facts, quite apart from whether or not the world really is this way. In bipartisan fashion I’ve picked a “left wing” and a “right wing” example.

Because of my interest in the subject of why we believe as we do, I was intrigued to look at the findings of recent survey called “Perils of Perception 2015: A 33 Country Study.” The subtitle is “Perceptions are not reality: What the world gets wrong.” The summary reads: “Ipsos MORI’s latest version of the Perils of Perception survey highlights how wrong the public across 33 countries are about some key issues and features of the population in their country.”

Continue reading “Useful falsehoods: New Zealand’s secular left narrative”