Monday, July 13, 2020

The Moral Libertarian Manifesto

For more about Moral Liberalism, read TaraElla's books.
Where to read
Paperback and Kindle at Amazon
eBooks at Open Library (Multiple Formats)

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Microaggression & Postmodernism are Very Problematic

Today, I'm going to talk about some comments Emma Watson recently made, in an interview she had with feminist academic Valerie Hudson, published in Teen Vogue.

Anyway, there are some very concerning quotes from Ms Watson, who is often considered a role model for young women. Let's start with this one: "I love the word microaggression. I’ve been doing therapy for years and think it’s the best thing ever, and we talk about telling the microscopic truth." I personally don't know what the 'microscopic truth' is, but I certainly don't love the word microaggression. I think it's one of the most problematic words popularized in the last ten years. According to Wikipedia, "microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups". As you can see, the perception of microaggression is necessarily subjective, because it's rooted in perceived linguistic slights, and it counts even when unintentional.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for ending racism, sexism and homophobia. However, I have very genuine concerns that the microaggression concept has a chilling effect on free speech, and it also encourages victim mentality in minorities, which isn't good for them. In life, the expectation of success is half of actually succeeding. Therefore, encouraging minorities to adopt a victim mentality severely curtails their prospect of doing well in life. As I always say, encouraging minorities to adopt a victim mentality is the most effective way of oppressing them. It's really not cool!

Microaggression is also a concept commonly embraced as part of a wider worldview of postmodern radical subjectivity, where reality is constructed by language, and a lack of objectivity is accepted or even celebrated. In the rest of the interview we see some evidence that Ms Watson is buying into this worldview. Here are some more quotes:
"the law is language at the end of the day and it can always be interpreted in different ways, so you need someone that has the right intention to apply it in the right way";
"it's fascinating to me that the origin story of marriage centers around ownership and power"; and finally,
"if we give Earth a male pronoun, maybe we’ll stop pillaging and destroying and killing it".

This worldview is exactly what gave us the post-truth era, where people essentially live in their own version of reality. One of the reasons for our polarized political landscape is that people on either side are reacting to a different reality, because they receive news that is neither objective nor balanced. People also lack shared values, because even once-sacred institutions like marriage and family have come under criticism. Even scientific topics like climate change take on culture war characteristics, which prevent effective consensus and action. I don't think this is progressive at all, if anything, it's regressive. Real progress comes from people finding common ground, talking over their differences, and coming up with solutions. That's what's good for humanity, that's what humanity needs right now. If we declare reality to be subjective and allow people to live their own so-called 'truth', there will be no common ground on which we can reach out to meet people who think differently than us. I think that's the core pathology of our cultural landscape today, and it's something that we should all walk away from.

Monday, February 10, 2020

'Settler Colonialism Is Behind Climate Denial'. REALLY?

Welcome to the first episode of Skeptic TaraElla, where we take a stand against unscientific beliefs that not only defy facts and logic, but also make effective political consensus and action difficult. Subscribe if you are interested.

Today's topic is a reply to a recent video from British left-wing media outlet Novara Media, titled Settler Colonialism Is Behind Climate Denial. Basically, the video mainly discussed Australia's bushfires, and the fact that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hasn't been taking climate change seriously. That part of the video I can agree with. Scott Morrison's attitude towards climate change is certainly pretty bad, and he should be taken to task for it. We should be unrelenting about our demands for science-based policy.

But then, the video didn't talk much about science. Instead, it took a weird turn, and began discussing 'settler colonialism'. The video attempted to link the British colonization of Australia, which occurred way before anyone knew anything about climate science, to the current climate inaction of the Morrison administration! Without taking away from the suffering of the indigenous Australians associated with colonization, I guess we can still acknowledge that the two issues are clearly separate. Climate change is a science issue with clear scientific evidence, and we should not complicate it with cultural baggage. Morrison's climate policy is clearly a function of political convenience at the present moment; it clearly does not have any link to the actions of British colonists in the past! I don't care what fancy postmodern or critical theory you use to justify your point of view; facts are facts, and it is clearly not logical to link the voluntary actions of a current government to completely unrelated historical wrongs.

So why am I so worked up about this? Because it complicates the scientific issue of climate change, making effective action more difficult. What these people are doing is that they are taking an issue with clear scientific evidence and science-based solutions, and muddying it up with cultural analyses based on postmodernism and critical theory. They are thus making climate action less acceptable for many people. They are effectively willing to risk the future of humanity, to promote their radical cultural agenda. This is clearly irresponsible.

Of course, this is also a part of a bigger picture. Critical theory and postmodernism are clearly anti-science in their orientation. These ideologies almost always de-center the objective science, making everything about social construction and cultural critique. Wherever the tentacles of these ideologies reach into, objective scientific discussion becomes impossible, and everything is turned into a culture war. We saw it with LGBT issues, we saw it with so-called gender studies, and now we're seeing with climate science.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Tolerance is CERTAINLY NOT ONLY a Conservative Value

Today, I want to a recent video Dave Rubin made for PragerU, titled Tolerance is a Conservative Value, a video that I am quite disappointed in. The title itself already looks suspicious: tolerance is a classical liberal value, and in the modern West, it should be a universally shared value of progressives and conservatives alike. Indeed, Rubin gets it right when he says in the video that America itself was built on tolerance. Rubin's angle seems to be that, in the America of 2019, only the right is still tolerant of diversity of thought, because the left has become totally intolerant. I guess that, from here, one could claim that tolerance has therefore become a conservative value.

However, this view is not only factually wrong, but also dangerous for the future of liberty and Western civilization itself. Let me explain. Firstly, while I agree that, on average, the left is less tolerant of diversity of thought compared with the right, this aggregate measure is in large part skewed by the fact that a small minority faction in the left has become very intolerant, due to the strong influence of critical theory and the conflict theory of sociology. However, the rest of the left remains quite tolerant, as Rubin should have found when he was interviewing people like Bret Weinstein, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson. To say that the left as a whole is intolerant would be an injustice to these great people and many others. Moreover, to claim that the whole of the right is tolerant would also be inaccurate, as right-wing rejection of classical liberal values is alive and well, as evidenced by thinkers like Sohrab Ahmari and Patrick Deneen.

Furthermore, to claim the value of tolerance solely for the right is to contribute to the elite-led attempt to polarize society, which also plays into the conflict theory of sociology. As history tells us, a polarized society inevitably leads to tribal thinking, and such a society is by definition inhospitable to individual liberty. Right now, Western society is not yet polarized, but there are top-down attempts to make it so. The success of the Yang and Gabbard campaigns have demonstrated that ordinary people are in fact not politically polarized yet. But certain elites on both sides of politics continue to promote the narrative of polarization, in order to create this polarization, which would benefit their agenda in one way or another. For media elites on both the mainstream right and the mainstream left, polarization would mean more loyal audiences and more revenue, healthy political discourse be damned. For those further to the left who subscribe to the conflict theory of sociology, polarization would create the necessary conditions to support a Marxian narrative of society divided between the oppressors and the oppressed, which would be used to justify radical change, including some changes that would trample on individual freedom. In light of this situation, I believe our most important priority as freedom loving people should be to shut down polarization in all its ugly forms, and to encourage the strengthening of the social fabric by bringing people together and emphasizing their commonalities. Sweeping statements like how only conservatives are tolerant and how all progressives are intolerant certainly don't help here.

My point is that, while Rubin has been correct in stating that there is a real threat to classical liberal values, this threat can be minimized by discouraging polarization and strenthening the social fabric. On the other hand, to encourage polarization would be to create the very conditions that would lead to a further erosion of freedom. Therefore, by making a polarizing statement, Rubin has, in my opinion, ironically contributed to the very problem he wants to fight.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Cancel Culture and Free Speech

Welcome to Moral Libertarian View, a program where we discuss news events that are worth looking at from the point of view of the Moral Libertarian idea, that is, every individual should have Equal and Maximum Moral Agency in their lives. I hope you subscribe if you are interested.

Today, I want to take another look at the ongoing drama surrounding some comments made on Twitter by Natalie Wynn of ContraPoints. I've already responded to the substance of the comment a few days ago, so I won't be looking at that now. What I want to explore is why a few comments from one personality have gotten some parts of the internet so fired up, and what implications this may have for the rest of society. Since we last looked at the issue, the conflict between supporters and critics of Natalie has only gotten worse, and Natalie even disabled her twitter account. Meanwhile, even many normally 'woke' people have looked on in disbelief, commenting along the lines of, 'if ContraPoints is not woke enough for you, then you've really got a problem'.

Many also said something about the 'cancel culture' of the left having gone way too far, which of course, I totally agree. If anything, I think the latest incident shows that the situation for free speech is even worse than just a few years ago. Back in 2016, it used to be more along the lines of cancelling men who questioned contemporary feminism, but today, apparently a trans person talking about something that triggers her own gender dysphoria has also become fair game. But then, I had actually been warning people about this possible development even back then. This escalation is actually inherent in the postmodern and critical theory ideologies that are used to justify restrictions on speech in the first place. Furthermore, if we don't have a serious conversation about it, I can guarantee that it will get even worse.

Basically, the core problem lies in the belief that some speech is harmful, and should not be allowed. This idea is probably influenced by several sources, including the postmodern belief that discourse itself is power and hence capable of oppression, and the general critical theory-inspired view that certain common ideas represent a repressive cultural hegemony of the interests of the dominant classes. Furthermore, some increasingly influential conflict theories of sociology, which are inspired by the Marxian idea of society and history based on class conflict, are often used to justify the repression of unwanted speech by so-called privileged groups. As to who is privileged and what speech is harmful, there really is no clear definition or limit. As I said, back in 2016, it was men with 'male privilege' criticizing feminism; today, it's apparently conventional trans women with so-called 'passing privilege' criticizing the radical practice of 'pronoun consciousness'. In both cases, there's no fair judge of what constitutes harm; those who shout the loudest get to determine what's harmful, and the only justification needed is the identification of some kind of privilege. It's really an endless slippery slope.

The thing is, 'cancel culture' not only leads to a toxic society; it is also inherently against morality itself. According to the Moral Libertarian viewpoint, everyone should have equal and maximum moral agency because nobody is always right, and therefore, nobody should have the definitive moral standing to override another's agency. It logically follows that nobody has the moral standing to judge whether others' speech is harmful, and nobody has the moral standing to limit another's agency on the grounds of 'privilege'. It logically follows that the free speech position is the only consistently moral position. Therefore, from a Moral Libertarian viewpoint, the only morally sound way to counter speech you consider 'harmful' is by arguing against it rationally. At this point, you may argue that those voicing their opposition to certain speech are doing just that. But then, this wouldn't be the case if they clearly aren't interested in participating as equals in the arena of ideas, for example when there are calls for the de-platforming or cancellation of certain individuals. While the latest outrage against Natalie has not reached that level, those participating in the outrage clearly aim at stopping Natalie from saying similar things again, therefore it's more like a de-platforming than a debate in essence. Furthermore, the mass mobilization of outrage to overwhelm the capacity of one individual to respond is also inherently against another important rule in Moral Libertarianism, that where groups should never be allowed to combine their share of agency to overwhelm other individuals, lest there be a tyranny of the majority.

All this may sound like theoretical stuff, but as history has shown us again and again, the violation of Moral Libertarian principles always brings about actual harm. Hyperwoke left-wing circles are increasingly being compared to Stalinist dictatorship with its purging of anti-revolutionaries, and I don't think it's an exaggeration at all. In fact, the limitation of free speech and banning of certain ideas has already harmed society by creating an imbalance in the market of ideas, causing the public conversation to be biased in the direction of those with certain agendas. For several years now, many of us have been worried about what this might mean for dissident academics, critics of intersectional theory, or even non-custodial fathers, for example. Right now, the pronoun conversation is similarly being tilted towards the agenda of a certain brand of postmodern feminism and its goal of deconstructing gender, and against the needs of gender dysphoric trans people, as well as an increasingly confused general public. I fear that this won't end well at all.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Little Mermaid Backlash: A 'Cultural Appropriation' Outrage Tragedy

Today, I'm going to talk about the controversy surrounding the casting of singer and actress Halle Bailey as Ariel in the upcoming Disney remake of the Little Mermaid. Mainly, those complains have centered around the fact that Halle Bailey, who is black and doesn't have red hair, doesn't look anything like the cartoon version of Ariel. However, the Woke crowd have predictably screamed racism. They seem to have forgotten that racism is a strong charge, as in for example how black Americans were treated before desegregation, and it's not to be used lightly without adequate evidence, lest the real history becomes forgotten.

Personally, I'm fine with a black Ariel. I agree that The Little Mermaid is just a story, mermaids aren't even real so they can be anything you want them to be. However, I also understand a lot of people, especially those around my age who watched the cartoon back when they were very young, do have an attachment to how Ariel was portrayed in that particular production. So these emotions are jusitifiable, even if not entirely rational, and they certainly do not represent racism. In fact, I even suspect that some of the people pushing the racism angle here may have an agenda, for example to create culture war style conflict for political ends, or to justify a further increase in political correctness. Call me paranoid, but the world has gotten quite strange in recent years, so anything is possible.

Of course, another reason why people are so upset about this is the 'Woke' push against so-called 'cultural approriation' in recent years. Starting a few years ago, the Woke crowd have deemed every instance of someone adopting elements of another culture an injustice akin to blackface. For example, last year's Eurovision winner was accused of appropriating Asian culture in her performance. There was also this pointless outrage about a white young woman who wore a Chinese dress to her prom. And then, again just last year, Scarlett Johannson was forced to quit a trans role in an upcoming movie, because SJWs demanded a real trans person be cast instead. I mean, if you ridigly uphold cultural boundaries like this, you would expect to get a negative reaction towards a black actress being cast as Ariel. To expect anything else would just be a double standard.

While BreadTube itself in general has not cared to comment on this latest controversy, the idea of 'cultural appropriation' has deep roots in the pool of theory that Breadists draw their ideas from. For there to be 'cultural appropriation', culture has to be seen to belong to one group in the first place, which means its use by another group would hence be seen as appropriation, and hence exploitation. This worldview is fundamentally rooted in the systems of oppression view, which hypothesizes that there are interlinking systems of cultural oppression in capitalist society. Both classical liberals and classical Marxists have disputed this view, and I have in the past made my case as to why I believe there simply cannot be interlocking systems of cultural oppression as the Breadists believe. Anyway, what I want to say is that, parts of intersectional theory can have rather divisive consequences for society, which also undermines solidarity between everyday individuals and ultimately serves the establishment's continued economic privilege above the 99%.

I think we need to put this 'cultural appropration' thing to bed, once and for all. While I agree that blackface is certainly wrong because of its particular historical associations, there is actually no reason why most other forms of cultural appropriation are bad, and in my experience even very progressive people secretly agree with me on this. For example, a white woman wearing an Asian dress doesn't actually hurt anybody.

Friday, June 28, 2019

YouTube Politics and Free Speech

Welcome to Moral Libertarian View, a podcast style program where we discuss big ideas to see if they can contribute to more individual liberty and equal opportunity, values that are at the heart of the Moral Libertarian idea. Unlike many popular channels out there, this show is a dedicated non echo-chamber, where views from the left, right and center are all going to be considered without discrimination. I hope you subscribe if you are interested.

Today, I need to vent. I'm sorry, but this is an important message that I think more people need to hear. Let's start here. Andrew Yang is my favorite 2020 Democratic candidate, and Dave Rubin is a talk show host I regularly follow. About two weeks ago, Dave Rubin interviewed Andrew Yang on the Rubin Report, and they discussed some interesting and controversial issues, including identity politics, immigration and abortion. Yang's position on abortion was particularly poorly received by many of Rubin's viewers, which was what made me do a response video, where I outlined reasons why pro-life people can still justifiably support Andrew Yang, in the hope that pro-life people can at least give his ideas a chance despite their differences on this particular issue. The Freedom Dividend is a great idea, and I want to help it along. Basically, I wanted to help Andrew out, and I also wanted to show it's OK in terms of conscience for pro-life people to support Andrew if they want to. Less than twenty hours later, I had lost four subscribers. Yes, a loss of four in a single day, in a channel with only six hundred something, that's nearly 1%. By proportion, it would be like if Dave Rubin lost eight thousand or so in a day. I don't even know if it's people from the left or the right who got upset, honestly. I mean, I didn't even say anything particularly controversial, I merely said that there could be a pro-life case for supporting a particular candidate who is pro-choice. Obviously, I had to refer to my own views to make the argument, but those were just personal views, not even political views. I know that abortion is a controversial issue for both sides of US politics right now, but this is still, well, very disappointing.

I know I shouldn't take it personally, but this feels like a slap in the face of what I'm trying to do. It's so hard somedays. You know, my purpose of doing this, talking about politics here, is to offer a real alternative to the echo chambers, true to the classical liberal tradition of the free market of ideas. Unlike many other creators, I don't get a single cent out of it, but I feel like I'm making a difference, because I'm smashing the echo chambers, giving a different take on the issues, and encouraging people to look across the divide. I want to tackle the echo chamber problem because, in a landscape of echo chambers, there's no effective free speech, and there's no effective free market of ideas, and I am worried about that.

If you want your echo chambers, there's always a lot of popular places to go to. If you want regular conservative stuff there's always The Blaze and The Ben Shapiro Show, if you want regular left-wing stuff there's always David Pakman and The Young Turks, and if you want far-left stuff there's always BreadTube. Don't get me wrong, I'm subscribed to all of these myself. But sometimes they feel just like three big blobs of echo chamber talk, where everyone shares the same view on everything. Most of the time, I don't even need to watch a single video to know what they will say, and I'm sick and tired of it. The point is, YouTube and perhaps the rest of social media is already a landscape of echo chambers everywhere, with audience capture causing creators to have to say the same things and stick to the same worldview all the time. For example, several weeks ago a left-wing channel I follow had a listener dial in and ask how she could convince her single-issue pro-life friend to vote for a Democratic candidate. The answer was generally along the lines of, no, you simply cannot, almost as if they are aliens from another world who cannot be reasoned with. I guess that's the answer that is expected in the echo chamber that is left-world, as evident by the positive reaction. I guess the alternative answer I gave the other day would be too much heresy. Similarly, in right-world, there would probably be another standard answer for the reverse of this question.

The point is, I don't want to turn into one of those echo chamber people, and I don't think I can ever become like them either. I don't know how they do it, but for me, it would kill me inside to be that conforming. I guess that, if someone doesn't appreciate my honesty, so be it. But to be true to yourself is difficult, especially on social media, where all the tribal conformers get to have lucrative careers, and where all the true contrarians get regularly punished for their honesty. I believe this online echo chamber culture is what is making our politics so toxic right now. In a way, rational and open-minded thinking has been swallowed up by identity politics everywhere, and it kills me to see that. Sometimes, it feels like I'm the only one fighting for diversity and real rational thinking out here, when everyone else is more interested in being a true conservative, a true progressive, or a true whatever. Guess what. I'm not a conventional progressive, I'm not a conventional conservative either, I'm not a conventional libertarian either. I am who I am. I believe in the Moral Libertarian doctrine of Equal Moral Agency, and I'm not going to cede any of that agency to peer pressure coming from anyone else. And if someone doesn't like what I have to say, that's fine. But mark my words: encouraging tribalism will only lead to the end of civilization as we know it.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A New Cultural Hegemony of Atheist Fundamentalism, Postmodernism and Identity?

Part 1: Postmodernism as Deradicalization? No thanks!

The first thing I want to talk about today is that there seems to be a new trend in the internet left to promote stories of people who were supposedly sucked into the far-right by watching some YouTube videos, who later left the far-right because they were convinced by some left-wing YouTubers, in particular ContraPoints and/or Destiny. I have come across this type of story so many times in the past few weeks that I have lost count of it by now. I have also become increasingly concerned about the narrative that is being promoted here. My first concern is that, in quite a few of these stories, Intellectual Dark Web type thinkers like Jordan Peterson are described to be part of the pipeline towards far-right thinking. While I can't rule out that some individuals may have been fans of such figures during their political conversion, the fact is many of these figures are rational and moderate people, and this sounds like a case of guilt by association. Jordan Peterson is popular across the political spectrum, for example. What I'm concerned about is that these narratives paint an unfair picture of many classical liberal thinkers, which also mean they are strongly unsympathetic to the cultural worldview of classical liberalism. Notice I said 'cultural worldview', because while leftists and classical liberals have long disagreed economically, they weren't necessarily in conflict in the cultural side of things historically. I mean, I don't see why Marx or Engels would have problems with free speech or an anti-identity politics stance, for example. To be fair, even today, some far-left thinkers like Slavoj Zizek continue to reject the postmodern and identity New Left, and I have great respect for them as a result, but they seem to be in the distinct minority nowadays. If Marx and Engels were alive today, I seriously don't think they would be liked by the New Left, with all their politically incorrect ideas. Gone are the days where the left and classical liberals disagreed on the economic system but at least agree on many cultural issues. Nowadays, to be truly left, it seems that one has to also reject the cultural values of classical liberalism, in favour of agreeing with deconstructionism, systems of oppression analyses, and postmodern political philosophy in general. My other concern is that, in many of these narratives, de-radicalization of the former far-right occurs by the way of watching some YouTubers with New Left type views, and agreeing with what they say. You start with moderate ones like ContraPoints, and work your way through the other, much more radical, channels recommended by the algorithm, including, eventually, some that openly state that free speech is not important! I mean, I actually like to watch many of these channels myself, but it is a fact that many of them are heavy on postmodernist and identitarian ideas. It paints a picture that one needs to go hard left culturally to be no longer far-right. This ignores the fact that disagreeing with one extreme on cultural issues doesn't mean you have to agree with the other extreme. I'm sorry, but I fundamentally disagree with the worldview of the Lobster Queen and her followers, even though I actually like the aesthetics of many of those videos.

Part 2: Why Postmodernism and Existentialism are Atheist Fundamentalism

The main reason why I'm so concerned is that postmodernism, along with its associated ideas of existentialism, and various types of critical theory, are in my opinion, akin to a type of religious fundamentalism, where fundamental metaphysical beliefs drive the agenda, to the exclusion of both liberty and pragmatic reason. My view has always been that while people are welcome to be religious, it would be totally inappropriate for fundamentalist religious ideas to have a strong impact on politics, and this view is shared by most people in the West. While what has been long feared is the influence of say, fundametalist Christianity or fundamentalist Islam, I would say that a bigger threat nowadays is fundamentalist atheism, as expressed through postmodernism, existentialism and some forms of critical theory. These ideas are fundamentalist because their logic is totally based on a prior firm acceptance of atheism, because they simply cannot be true if atheism is rejected. Once again, I am a firm believer in religious freedom, and people are of course welcome to be atheists. The problem is that I don't want any fundamentalism in politics. Just as I wouldn't want the religious fundamentalist idea that being gay is immoral to influence our politics, I really don't want any influence from postmodernism, existentalism, or neo-Gramscian cultural hegemony theory in our politics either.

Part 3: Drug-induced 'Ideas' as False Englightenment?

Another reason why I'm concerned with BreadTube, and also the wider internet New Left, is that they often push people to just accept postmodernist ideas without properly critiquing them. For example, another big problem with a lot of post-1960s far-left philosophy is that some of those ideas may have been influenced by drug use, because some important thinkers, like Foucault for example, are well known to have experimented with drugs. Some of their ideas, for example about how everything is interconnected, sounds to me like the psychotic effects of drugs like ecstacy, at least from what I understand from what people have said in books. I think the content creators of BreadTube, who often talk about ideas that stem from Foucauldian thinking, should at least discuss this concern for once. I really want to hear their perspective on it.