Showing posts with label ideology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ideology. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Ideological Racism of the Left


“One of the problems with defending free speech is you often have to defend people that you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting,” 
-Salman Rushdie

As a lifelong liberal I am sad to say that I no longer recognise this new strain of liberalism, one that seems infected by close-mindedness, intolerance and a severely judgmental view of everyone that does not conform to some inane and thin-skinned acid test.

It seems that as the liberal world order began to thrive across the globe in the seventies and eighties, the liberal mind grew smaller. Rather than embrace diversity of thought, the left today seems to take pride in chastising, publicly shaming and tearing down anyone whose thinking diverges even slightly from the liberal mob.

As a result, liberals come across as closed-minded, parochial and so thin skinned that they seem unable or unwilling to recognise that protecting free speech means that everyone is entitled to his or her views, no matter how vehemently we might disagree.

In 2014, Brendan Eich, Co-Founder of non-profit browser Firefox and inventor of the programming language JavaScript, was forced to step down of CEO of his company after a popular dating site called for the boycott of the browser. Mr. Eich’s unforgivable crime: he had made a single donation of $1,000 to a group that opposed gay marriage six years earlier.

Seems it did not matter that Mr. Eich was a highly qualified technology executive who had also been part of creating a company that had a history of an open and inclusive workplace, nor did it matter that there was no charge against him of discriminating against gays by bringing his political views into the workplace. He was punished simply because he had a different opinion. I disagree with his view, but I also respect that he has the right to have it.

More recently, Google, which claims to be a champion of free speech, quashed and censored the freedom for one of their employees. By firing James Damore, Google basically proved his point. His memo titled the ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber’ was arguing that Google's, and more broadly, Silicon Valley’s corporate culture is wholly intolerant of conservative views. Forget the merits of Mr. Danmore’s argument in his memo. The point is that he not only has the right to hold such views, but also to openly share them without fear of persecution or prosecution, provided doing so does not break any laws or violate the first amendment, which he did not.

I have no doubt that Google’s lawyers found sound legal grounds to fire him based on some violation of their corporate policy, but a wiser course for Google, as the Economist argued, would have been for Larry Page to have written a full-throated and detailed rebuttal of Mr Damore’s argument. Google would have shown that it respects free speech, especially when it disagrees, and using data and scientific evidence could have eloquently debunked Mr. Danmore’s contention that women are inferior software engineers and programmers.

The whole point of free speech is not that bad or insensitive views and ideas will cease to exist, but that when we encounter ideas like Mr. Danmore’s, we can use more speech to defeat them with better ideas and actual evidence.

If we shut down opinions simply because we find them unkind or hurtful, we will kill free speech. We need to look at actions and not views alone; this is why expressing even the most heinous ideas or opinions publicly is protected under the first amendment. We can draw a line when such views trample on someone else’s rights, discriminate against a group or break laws.

This ideological censorship based on some group deeming something “offensive” is happening even in the media. A conservative writer, Daniella Greenbaum, resigned from Business Insider (BI) after being censored. She wrote a piece defending Scarlett Johansson playing a transgender man, arguing that the main challenge of acting is to portray someone other than oneself and that “Johansson's identity off the screen is irrelevant to the identities she plays on the screen.

Her article went through the publication’s editorial review process before it was published, but the moment it met with resistance, BI took it down. They claimed it was suddenly in violation of their editorial standards, which the article had passed earlier. Rather than take it down to placate the mob, BI should have encouraged everyone who disagreed with her to pen a rebuttal.

I call this disturbing trend, one that shuts down various points of view, ideological racism and it has become even more pervasive in the age of social media mobs. I decided to do research to try and understand how, liberals, once open-minded, thick-skinned and valiant defenders of free speech, had suddenly become so sensitive, plaintive and censorship-happy.

Over the last generation, a dangerous idea has started to take hold among students and faculty on college campuses across the country, one that suggests that speech is violence.

We are not talking about verbal threats against individuals, which are illegal and not protected by the first amendment. No, this idea of words inflicting violence refers to speech that is deemed by members of an identity group to be critical of the group, or speech that simply ‘upsets’ people. Basically, saying that if I were to give a speech on a college campus criticising Indians for not wearing deodorant (a fact), it would be considered violence against Indian students.

A few years ago, a group at Columbia University penned an Op-ed in the student newspaper calling on the school to start implementing “trigger” warnings in curricula to alert students about  potentially distressing material, even for classics like Greek mythology or Roman poetry. In 2014, students at the University of California urged the school to make trigger warnings mandatory on all class syllabi, which would require the school to issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes.

Recentlya Rutgers University sophomore suggested that alerts should be issued for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ to say, ‘TW: suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence and a Columbia student publicly complained about her professor using the word “negro”, even though he said it in a lesson about 1960s America.

Sadly, this anti-intellectual, anti-learning and anti-free speech movement has spread well-beyond classrooms and now extends to blocking all Conservative speakers, and even Liberals who don’t spout the party line, from lecturing on campus, often using the ridiculous argument that words are weapons that can cause physical harm.

Ironically, while students complain about the ‘violence’ of words, they seem to have no issue resorting to physical violence to prevent speakers from setting foot on campuses. A talk by conservative social scientist Charles Murray was violently shut down by students who physically attacked him and in the process injured a Middlebury professor who was with him. At University of California, Berkeley, once a bastion of free speech, a group with bandannas wrapped around their faces, tore down barricades, shot projectiles at police and lit a light stand on fire, causing more than $100,000 worth of damage, and succeeded in cancelling a scheduled talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial far-right speaker.

Another trend contributing to this growing ideological racism has been the creation of ‘safe spaces’. The original purpose of a ‘safe space’ was narrowly defined and meant as a temporary physical space on campus for marginalised groups, often gay and transgender students, to discuss issues without abuse or public attacks. However, what was meant to be a temporary space is morphing into permanent ones for various aspects of campus life; from segregated study halls and libraries and some advocates have turned their attention to student housing, which they want to turn into safe spaces by segregating student living quarters.

Another factor is the lack of diversity within faculty. In 2016, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA that has surveyed undergraduate teaching faculty for the last twenty-five years found that liberals now outnumber conservative professors, five to one. Another 2017 study by Econ Journal Watch found that faculty at the top 40 colleges, in the fields of Economics, History, Journalism/Communications, Law and Psychology were registered Democrat versus Republican by a whopping 11.5 to 1 margin. The New Yorker described this failure among our higher education institutions, now completely dominated by the left, as an unwillingness to engage with conservative thought, an aversion to debate, and a weakened commitment to free speech.

For me the main issue is that these developments defeat the main purpose of higher education, which was to open minds rather than to create conformity. Colleges are meant to challenge our thinking by introducing new ideas and exposing us to a broad spectrum of viewpoints. Instead, it seems education is now focused on creating false realities and safe echo chambers which do not prepare students for the realities of life in the real world.

Colleges are the final rite of passage between the safety and security of home and the unfairness and harshness of life.  Time there is meant to help students grow thicker skins, in part by interacting with people who have different views, backgrounds and life experiences than their own. As our world continues to shrink, having a thicker skin has become more, not less, important.

The point is not to pretend that there are no Holocaust deniers or to tell them never to engage with people with offensive views. Progress requires us to work with all types of people. We need to teach children the facts of history (good, bad and ugly) and equip them with critical thinking skills and thick skins so they can publicly debate and defeat bad ideas with better ones.

How can you change the world for the better, if you refuse to accept its ugly realities first?

Every successful democratic society requires a broad spectrum of views, thoughts and ideas to thrive and succeed. This is the point of diversity, not simply skin colour, but diverse thinking. As a brown person, I would rather someone openly hate the colour of my skin but embrace my thinking, not the other way around. If we try to mould everyone into one way of thinking, then that is the end of innovation and progress in society.

As Mr. Rushdie said, the price of free speech, and a free society, is that ugliness comes with it. If we try to close down speech we define as critical, unkind, hurtful or distasteful, then we walk away from free speech all together – there is no middle ground.

As a society we would be wise to remember that sticks and stones may break bones, but censoring words and thoughts destroys democracy.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I have never been more optimistic about the future of the world than I am today.




I understand that it is hard to fathom or comprehend my optimism based on what you see and hear in the news and on every TV channel in America and globally. Let me explain.

I do not see the world through rose-tinted glasses or suggest that things are hunky-dory. I see the same turmoil: civil wars, terrorist attacks and the potential descent of stable democracies into chaotic anarchy.

In fact, I see chaos growing and I also have absolutely no doubt that things are going to get much uglier, globally and here in America, in the short-term. I see all the same things you do but I also see something you may not - yet.

I have spent the last couple of years getting actively involved in a number of social issues in India, and as part of an organisation in America that brings together accomplished people from many fields, from journalism and marketing to banking and politics. Through this organisation and my personal efforts I have had the opportunity to listen to and engage with a broad spectrum of corporate, social and political leaders, behind closed doors. I have also spent time engaging with extreme right and left wing voices, on Twitter, both in India and America.

In these interactions and in-depth conversations, I have listened closely and learned much more than I could ever learn from watching the news or reading articles that increasingly tilt left or right, but are always filled with one-sided opinions.

Here is the reason for my optimism. I have been heartened to see that many of the people I have met and worked with no longer see the world through a markedly liberal or conservative lens. Like me, they see a world filled with serious and pressing problems that no politician is willing to take on or solve in a manner that goes against their party base or donor interests.

Time and again we have found that it is politicians who have been the fundamental roadblock to solving issues because they invariably put pseudo-ideological and big money interests ahead of meaningful solutions. From the refugee crisis, to understanding the motivations of jihadists, to helping get young girls out of the sex trade - there are many brilliant solutions available that simply cannot be affected because our leaders lack the political will and integrity (and fear losing their popularity) to fight for them.

The people I have worked and engaged with are Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent and come from virtually every political stripe, but not one of them is slave to party affiliation or ideology. They are slaves only to solutions that work, and they refuse to accept less effective solutions merely to placate some personal ideology or partisan bias.

I call us the post-partisans.

We often vehemently disagree with each other but always do so civilly and respectfully.

We have found that heated debate, one that features a multitude of diverse viewpoints, leads to the most innovative and breakthrough solutions. But we never take any of what is discussed to heart or personally.

We also choose never to take offense, even if sometimes in the heat of debate, it is intended. Not because we are without feelings, but because we remind ourselves that the problems we face are bigger and far more pressing than ego or hurt feelings.

We always come with an open mind. Our goal is also never to try and get others to see the world the way we do, but to find the brightest, most cost-efficient and lasting solutions to the problems that affect us all, irrespective of our politics.

Through our dealings, conversations and our work we have realised that political parties can no longer be relied on to lead us forward or solve the problems we face.

Over the last three decades political parties, left and right have deteriorated further into an ideological abyss. They have allowed the most hardened and extremist voices within their ranks to take the reins, and are no longer able to offer thoughtful or pragmatic solutions. Instead, their solutions are built for populist rabble rousing or designed to pander to some narrow interest group.

The post-partisan mentality is a growing movement across the world. It consists not of people who identify as liberal or conservative, but of a coalition of the willing (not like those who invaded Iraq in 2003!), who are passionate about a cause. They consist of people from vastly different backgrounds, upbringing, skill sets and political views who find each other because we are looking for apolitical and uncompromised solutions. Many of us will never become friends, but we will often find ourselves on the same side of a problem and remain together until we find and implement a robust solution.

I am not suggesting that all this will happen overnight or magically mitigate the pain and suffering in the world. I have realised that pain and suffering are part of the human condition, and while we must always strive to lessen each other’s, we also cannot function without them. Remember that there could be no courage if there is no adversity, and good cannot triumph without evil. Real societal change, that requires changing attitudes and mindsets, always takes a generation or more to affect and there is no way around that.

So the rise of populists, nationalist and narcissists do not scare us, but has been a great motivating factor for all post-partisans; we gladly accept the challenge. Their effect has been to end our complacency and serve as a necessary wake up call, one that reminded us that it is naïve to expect democracy to be safeguarded by coming out to vote once every few years or by entrusting it to a corrupt and ideologically bent political class intent on defending their power, at all costs.

It will not be easy but nothing worth doing ever is. The road ahead is arduous and the journey painful (and sometimes bloody) but one thing I know for sure is that we will overcome and our democracies will become stronger for it. The future is very bright and the number of post-partisans will only continue to grow.

My mother once told me something that I never fully appreciated or understood until now – she said, “the job of a parent is not to protect their child from the world but to prepare them for it.”

I am ready
 

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Grand Old Ghost of George W. Bush

“I will not speak with disrespect of the Republican Party. I always speak with respect of the past.”
Woodrow Wilson




America is currently facing the highest pre-election jobless rate since World War II with an estimated 23 million Americans unemployed or underemployed. The number of Americans on food stamps has increased from 32 million to 46 million since Obama took office (source: USFDA). His signature healthcare legislation, as recently as June this year, had a mere 34 percent of the public in favour, while 48 percent disapproved of it (source: CBS News). The national debt increase is now officially larger under Obama’s watch than it was under all of Bush’s eight years in office; “The Debt rose $4.899 trillion during the two terms of the Bush presidency. It has now gone up $4.939 trillion since President Obama took office” (source: CBS News). The U.S. recession officially ended in June 2009, and the pace of recovery has been anemic at best and showing no signs of changing its current trajectory anytime soon.

History has also shown that no incumbent president has won re-election with a weak economy. George H.W. Bush got the boot in 1992 because of a weak economy (even though he had just won the Gulf war), Jimmy Carter in 1980, Gerald Ford in 1976, Herbert Hoover in 1932, William Howard Taft in 1912. Both Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland were also unceremoniously dispatched by the American people because the economy was hurting. “In fact, this formulation holds for every case of a deposed incumbent going back to the 1850s, which is as far back as NBER’s data goes.” (source: The Daily Caller). There have been numerous analyses done by pundits, and even academics are scratching their heads and offering explanations that say the personalities of the candidates maybe playing a more important role today versus the pain people are feeling at the pump. Or that it boils down to Mr. Romney’s inability to connect with the people, the way Mr. Obama does. A few days ago a group of twenty leading conservatives accused ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN of rigging coverage to help reelect President Obama.” (source: Washington Examiner). However, history and conventional wisdom would suggest that all other factors matter little when the economic picture is bleak, painful and unemployment very high. So, the only question that remains to be asked is why is Mitt Romney not running away with this election, and why is this race even a contest?

Rather than look to history, biased polling and conspiracy theories, the Republican Party would be better served to take a long hard look within their own tent. With some honest soul searching they will find that all the answers lead back to George W. Bush, and the party he left behind after eight years of internal turmoil. When Bush won re-election in 2004 it was clear that the cracks that emerged during his first term had started to widen within the party. It resulted in the GOP losing both the House and Senate in 2006, which served to further widen these internal cracks, ensuring that the ideological earthquake that had been swelling within the ranks was now a forgone conclusion. There has long been a small but vocal minority within the Republican ranks that believed this country has been on an unimpeded road to liberal hell and damnation; dominated by feckless Democrats and lily-livered RINO’s (Republicans in name only) who have enacted welfare policies and created a culture of handouts versus hard work, slowly destroying the once strong moral and God-fearing social fabric of America. The attacks on 9/11 presented the perfect opportunity, and George W. the perfect patsy, to implement their ultra-conservative agenda. It would start with a strike first (ask questions later) foreign policy and be followed by a audacious reversal and re-drawing of society and domestic policy to lead us towards a more conservative promised land. However, it did not quite pan out that way as they clearly bit off more than they could chew in an attempt to reverse sixty plus years in one Presidential term.

The ill-conceived and poorly executed Iraq war only served to sidetrack from the half started war in Afghanistan and more importantly the hunt for Bin Laden. It also forced America to live beyond its means, at a time when her economic might and global leadership status were already in decline. China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa were all emerging as strong economic powers, feeling more confident about their place on the world stage and thus less fearful of American dominance, than ever before in history.  Meanwhile, an administration embroiled in trying to save face in Iraq totally missed the numerous red flags and warning signs within the over-heating housing marketing. While Bush is not responsible for the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, he is accountable for ignoring and not paying enough attention to the cracks that had started to show up in the housing market and broader economy, well before his treasury secretary informed him of the stark choice between a $700B bailout and total financial meltdown. At the same time, reeling from botched and hugely unpopular Iraq war, Bush had started to distance himself from Cheney and the Neocon’s; softening his rhetoric, seeking diplomacy in both North Korea and Iran, and giving the foreign policy reigns to his softer Secretary of State. By the end of his tenure, the Bush presidency not only looked and felt like an unmitigated disaster for the country but he had also shattered the hard right dream of taking back the country by reversing liberalism. Under Bush there had been an unprecedented growth in the size of government, never before seen deficits (all financed by borrowing from China), he championed immigration reform that would allow current illegals to stay, provided government handouts, corporate bailouts and extended unemployment assistance, and there was no more tough talk or threats of war with Iran or any other axis of evil power. This betrayal of almost all the most dearly held conservative principles by Bush led to further disenchantment within the Republican ranks and gave birth to the Tea Party. The Tea Party calls itself a grassroots movement for all the people but acts more like it is anti-government, anti-spending/bailouts/stimulus, anti-immigration and anti-compromise politics.

The Tea Party would not be a bad thing if it had a reasonable view about reducing the size of government, bringing down deficit spending, simplifying the tax code, reducing personal and corporate tax rates and overhauling and cleaning up Obamacare but the fact that it has refused to compromise or even sit down and discuss any of these issues makes it feels like their only agenda is to hijack the GOP and yank the entire party to the extreme right. Unfortunately, politics is about compromise by its very nature. Ideology is not. By holding a gun to the head of the GOP the Tea partiers have only served to hurt their chances of success. They have made the GOP look like the party of NO, and provided Obama a free pass, even though he has done little to reach out and seek compromise himself. If you ask the average voter they will say that the Republicans have refused to compromise or reach across the aisle. This growing movement within the party has also forced every GOP presidential candidate to lean further right and appeal only to the extreme right wing base of the party. We saw how John McCain’s VP pick to placate his base turned out, and now a once moderate, slightly right of center, and once imminently electable Massachusetts Governor has been forced to expend considerable time and energy trying to prove that he is conservative enough to his own base. Frankly, this is pretty much all that Romney has been consumed with so far and it is also entirely responsible for his choice of running mate and all his recent gaffes. The man is trying so hard to be someone and something he is not; in the bargain he has not spent any time wooing the electorate, or formulating a strategy to fight his opponent. Meanwhile Obama has spent all his time and money making Romney look like a man who is constantly flip flopping, on virtually every principle and dearly held belief, and has successfully painted him as a weak and ineffective leader who will bend to the will of his party, every time.

Finally, it amazes me how Republicans today behave like the eight years of Bush never happened. That by choosing to ignore all the harsh realities and problems faced by America under his leadership they will somehow magically bear no responsibility. Or that the electorate will simply forget. In this context, laying blame for ALL of America’s problems at Obama’s feet is not only disingenuous but an incredibly naïve and dangerous strategy. Americans are well aware that the grave problems facing this country have been in the making for a few generations. Social security, Medicaid, Medicare, federal spending and ballooning deficits are all cans that have been kicked down the road by both Democratic and Republican presidents alike. What’s more, the electorate today is completely disillusioned with both the House and Senate; much more than they are with the person in the White House. So blaming a president for all our ills, when it is Congress that has the power to act and solve many of them, is like cutting their nose, particularly for Republicans. Consider that during six of Bush’s eight years the GOP controlled both the House and the Senate, and for the last six years of Clinton’s, before that. They also won back the House after Obama’s first two years in office, so have controlled it for half of his presidency. So, as long as the party is unable to fess up to the skeletons in their own closet and admit to the many failures during the junior Bush years, every Republican candidate who is electable will be burdened by the ghost of George W. Bush. He will continue to haunt them until the party is willing to exorcise his ghost. Or, with each subsequent electoral loss, the party can continue to react by pushing itself further to the right supporting candidates who have no chance of being elected. They will only end up looking more extreme, older, largely white male and further and further out of touch with women’s rights and modern America.

The majority of Americans are thirsting for new ideas and real-solutions not no compromise ideology and zero accountability. It would serve the Grand Old Party well to remember that the voter is not a moron, (she is your wife)