Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

Follow-ups: A few thoughts on specialization and excellence (part I)

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Two follow-ups to an earlier text ([1]):

  1. Reading a magazine, I note repeated discussions of the need for Germany to have a high competence in this-or-that new field—matching the common politician’s panic when Germany fails to be world-class in any given field. Moreover, this is not uncommon in e.g. Sweden or the U.S. either.

    *Specifically, the members’ magazine of VDE—a German professional organization for engineers, of which I am (still) a member from my days in IT.

    However, is this really needed? Some of the greatest benefits of modern society come from cities, countries, groups, companies, …, specializing and gaining a high degree of competence in a more limited number* of fields. By gaining this high competence, they remain competitive in the market and the market benefits from the higher average competence level in the field. This is similar to specialization by individuals in [1].

    *The suitable number will depend on the entity in question: a company might do well with one single field, a country might need dozens.

    My own Wuppertal is one of many good historical examples: By ducal decree, Wuppertal* received a local monopoly** (the “Garnnahrung”) on certain steps of yarn processing. This lead to a great concentration of textile industry, making Wuppertal’s fortune for long after the monopoly was abolished.

    *Strictly speaking, areas since joined into Wuppertal, which has existed as a legal entity only since 1929.

    **Which should not be seen as an endorsement of monopolies: the monopoly caused the specialization; the specialization was good.

    Such specialization can have many positive effects, including building a higher competence through interaction and increased competition between different masters, but also e.g. lower transportation costs between specialists in various sub-sections,* better infrastructure,** talent being drawn where there is a better chance of work, etc.

    *E.g. that the weaving industry can get its yarn locally, in large quantities and with many competitors to choose from, without having to shop Germany-wide.

    **E.g. that the public roads, treatment plants, whatnot used by the one company benefit the others too. (Note that similar companies tend to have similar needs.)

    I strongly suspect that trying to be good at everything is counter-productive and that specialization, to be really good at something, is the better strategy. If so, politicians should stop complaining about how their respective country is falling behind at new technologies A, B, and C—and instead laud and support its excellence at new technology D. Export D; import A, B, and C.

    As a caveat, being too much of a “one-trick pony” and failing to adapt to new developments is dangerous (and here concerns are reasonable). If, e.g., D had been an old technology, it might not have been a valid argument against lack of excellence with A, B, and C. Wuppertal, again, is a good example: in the 20th century, the lower production costs of e.g. India killed much of Europe’s textile industries. Wuppertal was no exception—but it had some four hundred (!) good years before that.

  2. In [1], I am critical of the U.S. system of requiring a bachelor for certain professional degrees, the (potential) lack of specialization found in “general studies” or “liberal studies”, and the possibility to get a degree* in a softer field while being weak at thinking. I also mention the lower university-entry ages of older times. Factor in the shorter U.S. high school (compared to e.g. Germany),** and the use of variations of “bachelor” and “college” to refer to secondary education in some other countries, and I suspect that we have an unfortunate clash of ideas and terminology that lead us away*** from a better way to handle education, in that students are increasingly forced to go through two stages of education (high school, bachelor) that try to fill the same purpose.

    *Note that I do not necessarily claim either that it is possible to be good in a field while being a weak thinker, or that a weak thinker would profit as much from the studies as a great thinker. The point is that the degree it self is attainable and proves next to nothing about someone’s intelligence.

    **Indeed, it could be argued that at least the first year of a U.S. college is high-school level from a Swedish or German perspective. Cf. e.g. parts of an older comparison ([2]) of my own education with a U.S. J.D. “doctorate”.

    ***Including e.g. the “Bologna” reforms in Europe.

    How to do it better? Let a bachelor be something with a low degree of specialization* and let it be a pre-requisite for e.g. “med school”—but let it come at a younger age, e.g. 15 through 19. Either the students already have the brains to handle it, possibly with some softening to compensate for lack of experience and maturity, or they likely never will. For those that do not,** other educational venues or work should be available. Notably, the benefits of having both e.g. a German Abitur*** and a U.S.-style Bachelor are small when we look at suitability for higher (or even higher) education. Compared to today, this might or might not leave the student short in some areas, but these areas not being necessary for higher education, they can safely be left for the students’ spare time and private interests—should they be so inclined. (I also suspect that the loss would be much smaller than the official syllabus might indicate, considering both memory failures over time and that much of high-school would likely be subsumable in the bachelor. Indeed, when we look at the recent U.S. situation, a considerable portion of college is spent teaching the students what they should have learned in high school—but did not.)

    *As a consequence, more specialized topics, that might today be studied in the form of a bachelor, would earn another degree—as used to be the case in Germany (e.g. the various Diplom-X degrees) and partially still is the case in Sweden. This type of bachelor would be in the “general studies”/“liberal studies”/“liberal arts” area, possible with some hybrid traces of the old high school.

    **The implied restoration of the filter effect is a positive. Do not let PC thinking, unrealistic expectations on humans, and “no child left behind” ruin education.

    ***Secondary education which is longer and decidedly tougher than U.S. high school—but still well short of a U.S. bachelor. (The former is more comparable to the “mittlere Reife” than to the Abitur.) Also see [2]. Note that Germany, to some degree, already performs the type of filtering that I wish, but is increasingly falling into the “everyone must have the Abitur” trap and, thereby, moving in the wrong direction, towards less excellence.

    Disclaimer: This assuming that the traditional system of “go to school first; work later” is followed. I favor an entirely alternate system of mixing work and education (preferably, not school) through-out life.

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Written by michaeleriksson

August 8, 2019 at 5:35 pm

Potential flaws in the U.S. justice system (ACLU injunction against Trump’s wall)

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Apparently, an injunction against Trump’s use of Pentagon money for his wall has been overturned. (As reported e.g. in [1]. Note that the main suit continues.) While I do not really care about the wall or its financing, I did note several things that struck me as unfortunate, especially in the current U.S. climate of judicial activism.

  1. The original suit* for an injunction appears** to argue that because Congress had not authorized this use of money, Trump should not be allowed to order this use. This is, in it self, a potentially valid objection and such challenges must be allowed in order to ensure that the “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” work as intended.

    *With reservations for terminology. Possibly, e.g. “filing” or “petition” would be better.

    **Going by [1]. I have not myself studied the details, and note that such study might give a different view.

    However, the suit was not filed by Congress as the primarily (allegedly) injured party or by individual members feeling overruled. Neither was it filed by the Pentagon or someone with a high standing in the Pentagon, who might have (metaphorically speaking) chain-of-command concerns or seen an injury through other uses of the money no longer being possible. Neither was it filed by an entity that could be considered as having a strong standing in terms of e.g. protecting Congressional rights. No—it was filed by the ACLU… (Additionally, raising the suspicion that the suit was never intended to protect the division of power or whatnot, but rather followed the ACLU’s pro-immigrant and anti-Trump stance.)

    I could see a line of reasoning that a violation of e.g. “separation of powers” would infringe upon the rights of the individual citizens, making a civil liberties union a reasonable champion. However, in a situation when none of the more immediately involved parties have taken action, this strikes me as far-fetched. This especially, because the suit was filed “on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition” (cf. [1]). I am not aware of either entity, but the names do not point to a citizen’s rights connection (nor e.g. a “protect Congress” connection).

    There would be more reasonable other champions, e.g. the states* or the Congressmen representing the complaining citizens. (Especially, as the former might argue an own injury similar to the citizens’.)

    *There appears to be another suit that was launched by some states, which might or might not make the ACLU suit redundant in the first place. (I have not looked into the details.)

    I would raise doubts as to whether a system that allows e.g. the ACLU to file suits in cases like this* is sensible, or whether there should** be a restriction to more central parties (notably, but not exclusively, Congress and its individual members).

    *However, there might be a wide range of other cases where such a restriction is less sensible, e.g. to prevent various branches of government from colluding to violate constitutional rights. This is not the case here, because if Congress was colluding with Trump, it would have a perfectly constitutional, ethical, whatnot way of doing so—by authorizing the use.

    **Note, here and elsewhere, that I do not speak of what current law, practice, whatnot is in the U.S., nor necessarily of how it should be interpreted. Some “shoulds” in this text might very well involve non-trivial changes.

  2. The original suit was placed before District Judge Haywood Gilliam—a black Obama-appointee.

    By allowing such important matters to be treated on such a low level as the District Courts, there is a considerable risk of “court shopping”, that the plaintiffs file where there is a large chance of finding a sympathetic judge.

    Here it would make great sense to have a higher and/or a more specialized court available to handle such high-level matters, both to ensure a high relevant competence and to avoid the court-shopping issue. This especially in cases, like here, where there was a great a priori likelihood that any injunction would be challenged through all instances.

    Disclaimer: I cast no aspersions on Gilliam’s expertise—I have no other knowledge of him than what is present in the linked-to texts. Similarly, while “black Obama-appointee” fits what a court-shopping ACLU might look for, I have no way of knowing that he actually was partial or biased. However, neither matters, because the risk is the problem.

  3. The over-turning Supreme Court was again divided “on party lines”, making it highly likely that at least one, possibly both, side[s] again looked less to the law and more to what fit an agenda. (I have already expressed opinions on which side is more likely to be at fault in [2]—and how to do it better.)

Excursion on me and the wall:
Being neither USanian nor Mexican, the issue of the wall is fairly academic to me. However, I note in favor that: (a) Illegal* immigration is a major U.S. problem. (b) There is a very, very large difference between walls keeping people out (China) and walls keeping people in (Berlin)—garden hedge versus prison wall. Further, against that: (a) It is enormously expensive. (b) It has not convinced me of its effectiveness and efficiency. (c) It comes with negative side-effects at least with regard to the environment and the potential need to expropriate private land.

*I am willing to discuss exactly what types of immigration should be deemed illegal. However, until and unless a law change is affected, the current illegal immigration remains illegal, and this is not one of the laws that people have a plausible right to ignore or subvert. (Unlike e.g. a law preventing emigration. I have vague plans for a text on types of laws and rules where this would be addressed more in detail.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 27, 2019 at 3:27 pm

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Problems with German health insurance

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I am currently looking into switching my (German) health insurance, specifically moving from a “private” (“private”) to a “gesetzliche” (“legal”) one. Here I re-encounter some idiocies in detail that I have previously discussed in a bigger picture ([1]; also note many related discussions, e.g. [2]).

The “gesetzliche” insurance is a public scheme, with at least the partial purpose that those who earn more should pay for those who earn less. (While a proper insurance would have those with luck in health pay for those unlucky.) It is the default and is hard to get out of—by design, because the more people leave, the less money is left for the rest, and because those who earn more have more to gain by leaving. The monthly fees are a proportion of the income at an outrageous 14.6 % “kranken” (“sick”) insurance and another 3.05 or 3.3 “pflege” (“care”) insurance—to which is added a “Zusatzbeitrag” (“additional fee”) averaging* another 1 %. Typically, then, about 19 % of income is paid for health insurance alone**.

*Unlike the other percentages, the individual insurer may chose it as it sees fit.

**Another 18 (?) percent goes to mandatory pension schemes. Then there is income tax, VAT on purchases, and whatnot…

Some of the detail issues:

  1. Because the fees are (almost) unchangeable by the insurers, and a certain basic cover must not be reduced, the insurers mostly compete through offering services beyond the basic cover. The result is an increase in costs, which puts an unnecessary upwards pressure on the percentages. These additional services usually include the quackery that is homeopathy… (Something that does not just cause entirely unnecessary costs, but also allows this quackery to remain profitable.)
  2. The use of percentages give negative incentives towards earning more (e.g. through harder work, more responsibility, or a switch from part- to full-time or to working more over-time), because that much more of any pay increase is swallowed. (Up to a certain maximum amount, which is beyond the reach of most of the population. Also note, again, that it is not just the insurance fees that cause problems—we also have pension fees, income tax, lost or reduced government support for low earners, …)
  3. Because the percentages are independent of actual use of services, the customers do not have a reason to be restrictive in their use, implying that the overall costs are unnecessarily high. Moreover, this does not just lead to those lucky in health paying for the unlucky, but also to the fit paying for the obese, the non-smoker for the smoker, the reluctant hospital visitor for the hypochondriac, the skeptic for the superstitious (cf. homeopathy above), …
  4. The insurance includes children and spouses with no (or only minor) own income, implying that those who are unmarried or lack children have to pay that much more to cover other peoples expenses.* Moreover, it can give spouses (pre-dominantly women) additional incentives to not find own work.

    *This type of undue, unethical, and absurd discrimination against the unmarried and childless is quite common in Germany. The next item is another example—as are different tax rates to the disadvantage of the unmarried; that the childless pay taxes to cover school costs; and the government provided “Kindergeld” (“child money”), which amounts to more than 200 Euro per child and month!

  5. People with children pay the 3.05 % “care insurance” (cf. above), while those without pay the 3.30 %. Imagine this: Someone causes less strain on the system and has to pay more!

On the other hand, the “private” insurers are equally bad. In theory, these work according to the principle that everyone pays an income independent fee, which does vary depending on how services are used, what age someone is, and (possibly) other factors relating to the likelihood to cause costs. Moreover, the choice of scope of insurance is larger, allowing a choice between paying more for better service and paying less for a lesser service. Children and spouses are not automatically included. On paper, this is a fair system—this is how it should be.

In reality there are a number of problems, some caused by the politicians, some by the insurers, including:

  1. Even the buyers of private insurance has to pay a supportive fee to the gesetzliche system. (Unfortunately, my brief search for details on this was not successful, and I do not want to spend too much time on this text. Going by memory, it might have been a few tens of Euros per month, starting a few years ago.)
  2. Sex is not included in the risk/fee assessment, implying that there is a transfer from men to women, the latter being much more cost-intensive when it comes to health insurance. Apart from the dubious ethics of this, it reduces the possibility of giving women incentives to not over-use medical services, which keeps the cost level up.
  3. A significant portion of the monthly fees are used for “Altersrückstellungen” (possibly, “old-age savings”), which are nominally intended to make the insured party pay a little more today so that he can pay a little less during his old age (compared to what would otherwise have been the case). In reality, these fees are intended to lock him in, because if he switches insurer, the old insurer keeps the “saved” money… However, if they truly were gathered for his future benefit, it would be obvious that he would either take them with him to the new insurer or receive the money as a payout.

    Moreover, whether someone wants to have Altersrückstellungen should be up to him—it should not be decided over his head by others. (Note arguments made in [1] on similar issues, including that the money might be more profitably spent paying off a mortgage.)

  4. At least* with my insurer, HUK, the increase of fees with age is not based on a fair risk assessment. Instead, fees are continually hiked up and up and up, year by year by year, in a disproportionate manner. Even when discounting inflation, my own rates are entirely disproportionate to my (low) use, age increase**, health, whatnot. The scheme is simple: Because it is hard*** to leave the private insurance (and because of Altersrückstellungen), chances are that most people will remain with the same insurer even with the disproportionate increases—as long as no individual increase becomes too painful individually. (Boiling frogs…) Switching to another private insurer is an option, but would not necessarily lead to lower fees…

    *Going by media, it is the same everywhere.

    **How they relate to my absolute age, I leave unstated, because that is much harder to judge. However, even if they were in order today, they would be out of order in ten years, assuming the same upwards trend.

    ***Yes, it is hard to switch in this direction too: The politicians want to actively prevent even high-earners from returning to the gesetzliche insurance, because they would usually do so in their old age, when they (a) cause more costs, (b) eventually will not earn that much (at the latest after retirement).

    Indeed, I have heard the claim (but do not vouch for its correctness) that many private insurers deliberately offer young people artificially reduced fees to lure them in—and the money lost there must then be recovered through higher fees later in life. This is not only unethical but contrary to the principles behind an insurance. (Interestingly, a mechanism that is the reverse of the Altersrückstellungen—how about just skipping them both?)

    On the positive side, the law has at least partially made this scheme less profitable through mandating a “Basistarif” (“base [scheme, rate, fee, plan, whatnot]”), which roughly matches the gesetzliche insurance and is capped in terms of fees. Should the fees grow too high, the aging can move to the Basistarif and avoid a complete disaster.

Excursion on how to do it better:
How to do it better is tricky, and the answer depends on what compromises are acceptable to the individual. (For instance, most Leftist politicians take the line that the private insurance should be abolished, so that everyone must be in the gesetzliche system, which I would rule out as unethical and increasing problems.) Moreover, a complete answer might require a full Ph.D. thesis… I would make the incomplete suggestions, however, that:

If both schemes are kept, then everyone should have the ability to switch from the one to the other and back again at will. This would make the tricks of the private side hard to pull and force the gesetzliche to be more responsible and cost competitive.

The gesetzliche be remodeled to be more like the (on-paper version) of the private.

The gesetzliche should not include family members without additional fees.

All insurances should work with a very large deductible, to give incentives for the insured to be responsible, to put downward pressure on costs, and to reduce the overall fee level. Failing this, the requirement of being insured at all must be reduced for groups like free-lancers.

The Altersrückstellungen are abolished and existing amounts paid out to the rightful owner.

Excursion on my switch:
My attempts to switch have three reasons: Firstly, cf. above, the private insurance is not what it portrayed it self to be when I originally* switched. Secondly, with my move from IT consulting to writing, a percentage is much less costly. Thirdly, my insurer, HUK, has not only again and again and again proved to be extraordinarily incompetent (to the point that even a change of address is beyond what it can handle), but has also left me serious doubts as to its honesty—even if I were to remain with a private insurer, it would not be with HUK.

*I was aware of the increasing costs with age, but not of the disproportionate increase and Altersrückstellungen were not actively mentioned—obviously, these are aspects that the insurers try to keep on the down-low and the amount of information on the Internet was much smaller than today. Items 1 and 2 above, in turn, did not yet apply.

Excursion on “Arbeitgeberanteil” (“employer’s portion”):
A common portrayal by politicians and insurers is that “the employer pays half”, in that the percentages above are partially deducted from pay (like income tax), partially paid on-top of pay by the employer. This is, obviously, a complete fiction, because the Arbeitgeberanteil does not grow on trees—it is an additional cost of employment that implies a downward pressure on salaries. This pressure might not amount to exactly the Arbeitgeberanteil, but it should at least be similar, implying that the situation is the same as if the employee received a larger pay-check and paid the full percentage—and that is the correct view. A minor side-effect, however, is that the exact percentages are slightly exaggerated: Someone who nominally earns 40,000 Euro/year, assuming 19 % overall, would pay roughly 7600 Euro. His “true” salary, after adjusting for the Arbeitgeberanteil, would then be roughly 43,800 Euro/year, and the “true” percentage 16.4 (give or take).

Written by michaeleriksson

July 27, 2019 at 1:39 am

A discussion of some recent news

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Recently, there has been a lot of interesting news, especially with an eye on topics in the PC-area, including restrictions on “allowed” opinions. Below, I will look into some of it in an eclectic manner:

  1. German* news-sources (e.g. Tagesschau) state that Brazil has declared homophobia (“homophobie”) illegal.

    *I have not investigated whether the same partial misreporting (cf. below) has taken place in other countries.

    Looking at the details of the texts, a confusing image appears. Apparently, the illegality is two-pronged: Discrimination based on homosexuality is now illegal and violence against homosexuals has the status of a hate-crime (whereas it was “just” a crime in the past).

    As is clear, either “homophobia” or “discrimination” is abused in a sense that is not compatible with correct use and which causes considerable confusion: Homophobia is a matter of opinion or feeling, and is not action. A ban on homophobia implies a ban on opinion (something utterly, utterly evil; something much, much worse than homophobia), implying that the use can only be correct if discrimination is abused in an absurd sense, e.g. to include attitudes rather than e.g. decision making.

    Barring further research*, I would put my money on abuse of “homophobia”**. This still, however, shows a lack of awareness of the difference between thought and action, and continues the Orwellian tendency of condemning things as evil based on thought/opinion/feeling/character and to see action as an inevitable result. (Something that might say more about the proponents’ self-control and morals than about their opponents’…) To re-iterate for the umpteenth time: When judging evil, actions count—opinions do not.

    *Note that this discussion is not about Brazilian law, it is merely triggered by it. The exact details of the Brazilian situation have no major impact on the big-picture discussion.

    **Or possibly a combination that limits the expression of opinion—something at least potentially very evil. (This would ultimately depend on the details of the law. I note that e.g. my native Sweden and adopted Germany have “hate-speech” laws that risk a too large infringement on freedom of speech. Also see the election-poster discussion below)

    To this might be added that the use of “-phobia” to imply e.g. hatred, rather than fear, is highly unfortunate. While I strongly discourage use of e.g. “homophobia”, “Islamophobia”, …, in a non-fear sense, that train is probably long gone.

    Looking at the hate-crime side, it might be partially welcomed that the treatment is now consistent with (as claimed in reporting) that of racism. However, this also demonstrates a flawed legislation in principle: legislation should be sufficiently generic that such aspects should only rarely need to be regulated on a case-by-case basis.* A quality law concerning hate-crimes would then speak not of crimes directed at an individual due to e.g. “race, color, and creed” but of e.g. “group membership”—where group also could include e.g. being a fan of the wrong soccer-team. (I have not investigated the details of the Brazilian law and law interpretation, but it is clear that one or both was not been generic enough in the past.)

    *A horrifying example of such lack of generic thinking is Swedish laws relating to group protection that explicitly include women but fail to include men. Even if we assume that women were in need of more protection (highly disputable in Sweden, but a staple of Feminist propaganda), there is no legitimate reason to exclude men or to be non-generic: If a man is never victim of a relevant crime, there is no negative effect of a more generic law—but if he is, the more generic law guarantees him equal protection. This especially because the situation can change: if men (or members of another group) were not in need of protection at the time the law was made, they might be a few decades later. The omission simply does not make sense (but it does follow a consistent pattern of one-sided pro-women regulation in Sweden, matched e.g. by demands for quotas to ensure a minimum percentage of women rather than of each sex).

    Of course, even “hate-crime” is an unfortunate term (arguably, one of the first abuses of “hate” by the PC movement), as it takes a term that should include any crime committed out of hate (e.g. the murder of a personal enemy) and reduces it to hate against groups and includes crimes committed against these groups for reasons short of actual hate. I suggest avoiding “hate-crime” in favour of e.g. “crimes based on group”. (I continue to use “hate-crime” in this text for consistency with reporting and because I only reflected on the inappropriateness of the term during writing. I am likely to proceed differently in later texts.)

    From another perspective, I have never been convinced that hate-crimes deserve special treatment in terms of punishment. Actions, not opinion, should count and there is no obvious reason why it should matter whether e.g. a gang beats up a passer-by because of skin color or because they want “a bit of fun”. If anything, I would see the latter as the marginally greater evil… Notably, any reasoning around the potential scope of the problem is flawed, because a greater scope would automatically* (assuming reasonable law) imply more punishable events and/or greater punishment per event—-even without a hate-crime modification. For instance, if the same group of people vandalize a small business (with or without a particular group belonging) repeatedly, the members stand to face worse punishment than if they do so once (and a greater risk that the police will bother to involve it self, and a greater risk of being caught, and a greater risk of sufficient proof being available).

    *If the criminals are caught and enough evidence is present, which will often be a problem for any crime. Here there is room for special treatment, however: it could be legitimate to give suspected hate-crimes preferential treatment in terms of e.g. investigative resources.

    Moreover, the presence of hate-crime laws and a focus on hate-crimes can easily lead to preconceived opinions about motivations—and I note that I have often seen claims like “the police assumes a hate-crime” attached to crimes against minority groups in a blanket manner. The simple truth is that immigrants (homosexuals, whatnot) are not magically exempt from regular crimes. Assuming “hate-crime” in a blanket manner does no-one a favour.

  2. As has been hinted for some time, the Tubman twenty-dollar bill will be delayed, or even eventually be lost in time. Good: As I wrote more than two years ago, the Tubman decision was fundamentally flawed—not because Tubman, herself, would be unworthy, but because the process was rigged to find as politically correct a candidate as possible and demonstrated several problems with distortions of democracy.

    Further, in light of newer realizations about U.S. trends, I strongly suspect that there is an element of Orwellian* revisionism involved, e.g. that the character of Andrew Jackson, based on flawed reasoning, has been cast as “evil” in the PC narrative and most now see all honors rescinded.

    *The term applies disturbingly often when it comes to certain areas of discourse, but I will try to avoid a third mention in this text.

  3. Lars Aduktusson, a Swedish politician and member of the EU Parliament for the Christian-values KDU party, has been attacked from more or less every direction, including press, political opponents, and even his own party members for … voting against abortion. (Cf. e.g. a Swedish source.)

    In effect, in his role as someone elected by the people, he is not allowed to vote by his conscience and convictions. I note in particular that the criticism does not appear to have been directed against a violation of the party line.* Instead, there seems to be a general opinion that anything but a pro-abortion stance is morally deficient. For instance, the given source quotes one complainant speaking of “okänslighet” (“lack of sensitivity”) regarding the voting and another who speaks of abortion in terms of “grundläggande rättigheter för kvinnor” (“basic rights for women”). Moreover, the reasoning used to support an abortion stance (at least, in the sources that I saw) followed the naive and simplistic “it’s my body” line… To re-iterate my take on the abortion issue: “The main issue is the body of the fetus, and involves sub-issues like when this body should be considered a human and when a disposable something else—which in turn involves medical, philosophical, and (for non-atheists) religious considerations.” While I have nothing against the pro-abortion stance, per se, and do not have a strong own opinion, I have nothing but contempt for those who reduce it to such a mindless and flawed slogan as “it’s my body”—or reduce it to a women’s right issue, or mindlessly condemn a “pro-life” stance.

    *Which might be bad enough as is: I disapprove of the whip and party-line mentality in favour of the own judgment of the individual.

    Worse: It appears that Aduktusson, himself, was not necessarily opposed to abortion, being more motivated by the question of what issues should be decided on what level within the EU. However, not even this is enough of a justification for his “immoral” voting—on the outside, he is admitted the right to abstain from voting… This even though an abstained vote is unlikely to be recognized as a rejection, and is more likely to imply e.g. the lack of a strong opinion or a negotiated* non-vote to compensate for someone else being absent.

    *Such trickery appears to be fairly common, e.g. in that a member of party A is taken ill and the need to bring the him in to vote is avoided by a member of party B voluntarily abstaining.

    This type of intolerance of opinion is extremely dangerous, especially because there appear to be many areas where an opinion becomes universally programmatic once sufficiently many voters believe it or a sufficiently large group is likely to protest against non-adherence. For instance, I recently had a look at the 2018 party program of Moderaterna, who were the most reasoned, reasonable, and informed Swedish party during my youth, only to find various nonsense about women still being unequal, a weak version of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud, claims of violence against women, … This nonsense is, at best, heavily outdated in Sweden, but we have reached an unfortunate point where those who object to it are run over with accusations of sexism and whatnot, and where far too few politicians have the courage to take a stand for the truth. (To which can be added that the lesser some problems are, the more complaints they appear to attract. For instance, as women’s disadvantages of old have disappeared, the complaints about disadvantages have grown louder and the conviction that they are present has grown stronger—never mind the facts at hand. Also consider e.g. U.S. phenomena like the micro-aggression issue, which are used to “prove” that the fight against this-or-that is as urgent and important as ever.)

  4. In Germany, election posters have been removed by the authorities for allegedly being Volksverhetzung—actions at least temporarily seen as legal by a court*. In the source, two examples are given: “Stoppt die Invasion: Migration tötet!” (“Stop the invasion: Migration kills!”) and “Widerstand – jetzt” (“Resistance – now”).

    *A preliminary court proceeding, possibly comparable to a motion for a temporary restraining order, has declined to put a stop to the removals.

    The latter appears beyond reproach by any reasonable* standard of free speech, and must be seen in the light of more extreme claims by Leftist extremists—including the Marxist-Leninist MLPD calling for revolution… Indeed, it is border-line obvious that the problem here is not the message, because a similar reaction to the exact same message by MLPD would not take place. The problem is the “who”—NPD, a strongly nationalist party with (at least historically) some Neo-Nazi contacts.

    *Note that it is not a given that local legislation has a reasonable standard. Germany definitely goes too far in its restrictions—however, even here I have great problems with seeing how the poster could be illegal (in general) or Volksverhetzung (in particular).

    The second, I could conceivably see as violation of the Volksverhetzung law, but it is truly a stretch. Moreover, even if it is technically illegal, it is hard to condemn it from an ethical point of view. The main point of criticism would be its factual correctness, with the “Migration kills!” part seeming far-fetched to me (I have not seen their reasoning)—but factual correctness has not been the deciding issue! To boot, other parties definitely make incorrect statements. For instance, the major parties SPD (Social-Democrat) and Die Grüne (“green” party) both repeated variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud during the last parliamentary election—the SPD even admitted to knowing that it was a fraud upon my contact (Die Grüne never answered). Now, if there was a crack-down against incorrect claims, extending to all parties, I might* not object at all; however, again, this is not part of such a crack-down and it is clear that different parties are given different treatments based who they are—not on what they do.

    *In principle, I would not object at all; in a practical situation, great care must be taken to avoid undue censorship due to e.g. poorly informed or too partial checkers. In countries like Sweden, it is so bad that the truth might regularly be condemned as lie, while the lie be tolerated as truth.

    Looking at the actual law, it seems to be restricted to “national, racial, religious group or a group defined by their ethnic origins” (using the translation present in the linked-to Wikipedia article).* Firstly, the topic is immigration**, not immigrants, and it is conceivable that no ill-will is intended towards the actual immigrants—at blame might be e.g. a too lax German immigration policy, too generous social systems, unconscionable situations in the countries of origin, whatnot. Secondly, even if we do assume that immigrants are targeted, these categories do not apply here, in my eyes, because including immigrants in general as a group would be contrary to a reasonable interpretation. Note that immigrants include Swedes, e.g. yours truly, U.S. citizens, and Dutch people, as well as Somalis, Japanese, and Indians—even Hitler, himself, was an immigrant! The group would simply be too heterogeneous to be defined by more specific criteria than e.g. immigrant or not-German. In contrast, “Swedes out!” would have been directed at sufficiently specific group.

    *Here we have a good example of the poor laws discussed above: Men/women, homo-/heterosexuals, members of particular parties, adherents to particular ideologies, members of specific professions, …, are all implicitly excluded from protection. For instance, if someone were to apply a caste-mentality and declare garbage men to be “impure” or “untouchable”, the law would not be helpful.

    **Proof-reading, I see that the quotes do not even speak of “immigration”—they speak of “migration”. While it seems quite reasonable to assume that immigration is intended, a court proceeding would need to be very careful with interpretation, and only judge the statements in a bigger context of statements, e.g. a party program. At an extreme, an interpretation like “emigration kills Germany, because the brain-drain is so severe” would still be within the realms of possibility (but not likelihood) for a nationalist party.

    Moreover, the law gives several types of specific violations, none of which is strongly convincing and some of which are obviously not applicable:*

    *The Wikipedia translation strikes me as poor, and I partially give my own translation here. Beware that I might get the “legalese” wrong.

    zum Hass aufstachelt (incites hatred): Would require a generous interpretation of intent behind and/or effect of the statements, at least when applying reasonable doubt. By comparison, “smoking kills” does not imply that the speaker hates smoking, smokers, or the tabacco industry. The claim could be a perfectly unemotional warning by a public agency. (Indeed, as occurs to me right now, it is conceivable that the posters were written as a deliberate parallel. In that case, the “kills” part might even be seen as a metaphor or something “snow-cloney”.)

    zu Gewalt- oder Willkürmaßnahmen auffordert (demands/requests violent or arbitrary measures): No demand is made, or necessarily implied. In as far as a demand is implied, there is no sign of violence, and no arbitrariness that goes beyond what other parties get away with.

    die Menschenwürde anderer dadurch angreift, dass er […] beschimpft, böswillig verächtlich macht oder verleumdet (attacks the human dignity of others, through insults, malicious malignment,* or defamation): The first two do not apply, the third is a stretch (and tricky with regard to reasonable doubt), and only the fourth gives a non-trivial opening—if the claim can be proved to be sufficiently inappropriate** in context.

    *I am at loss for a good idiomatic translation, “verächtlich mach[t/en]” being an extremely rare expression, and draw on the Wikipedia translation, but have some doubts there too. A more literal translation would be “make despised” or, possibly, “[…] despicable”, which does not work at all in English.

    **Going by memory, German defamation laws sometimes apply even when a claim is factually correct. Depending on the details, it might not be strictly necessary to prove the claim wrong (and the burden of proof of correctness might lie on the alleged perpetrator to begin with). Then again, such crimes are normally directed at the individual, which might make the angle irrelevant. (I would need too much research to clarify this.)

    (The last part does contain a “Teile der Bevölkerung” (“parts of the population”), which might be seen as going beyond the listed groups.)

    In addition, the law specifically gives a prerequisite of a risk “den öffentlichen Frieden zu stören” (“to disturb the public peace”), which does not obviously apply either. Does it risk the peace? Is a specific enough group targeted? Is a sufficiently specific violation applicable? Is there sufficient proof? Whatnot. With the usual “not a lawyer” reservations, I find it hard to believe that an impartial and competent judge would actually deem this Volksverhetzung in a full trial.

Excursion on other parts of the Volksverhetzung law:
The part quoted by Wikipedia does not cover the entire law. (Cf. e.g. gesetze-im-internet.) Skimming the rest, I see nothing that influences the above analyses; however, I do see further concern in other regards. For instance, in my reading, giving a text deemed as Volksverhetzung to a minor would it self constitute Volksverhetzung and be punishable by up to three years in prison. There does not appear to be any restriction on the reason, e.g. due to a historical importance, as part of a comparison, as discouragement, … For instance, handing a minor a copy of “Mein Kampf” for a common critical analysis, e.g. with an eye on determining what information was available to the German people prior to 1932, would be illegal in my reading…

Extrapolating current (and absurd) trends and attitudes towards children’s literature, such laws might one day make it illegal to hand out the original text of e.g. “Tom Sawyer” to a minor, because it uses the word “nigger”, stereotypes black people, glorifies* slavery, or similar. I do not consider this scenario overly likely, but the risk is sufficiently large to prove such laws problematic—and there are people who would welcome such a ban.

*I have not read it in decades and cannot guarantee that this word would hold. If it does not, something like “does not sufficiently reject” might apply.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 26, 2019 at 8:37 pm

The environment vs. the climate

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Looking back over the last few decades, I have the impression that the sub-topic of climate and climate change (in particular, global warming) has gone from being a marginal issue to dominating the environmental debate, e.g. in that the damage done by a certain technology, behavior, whatnot is primarily measured in terms of effect on global warming, “green house” gases, and similar, while more direct environmental effects are given less and less weight. My recollections of the 1980s include extensive debate around forest death, thinning of egg shells due to DDT, acid rain, local city pollution, and similar. Today, it is quite often just global warming this and global warming that… For instance, reading up a little on means of transportation for an example in a text on shallow knowledge, I found comparisons that focused almost exclusively on C02 emissions and other ways* that the different means might affect global warming—but aspects like local pollution, use of heavy metals, and whatnot were not or only tangentially mentioned.

*E.g. whether it was better or worse to have emissions high in the air, specifically with an eye on global warming.

I find this highly unfortunate for at least two reasons:

Firstly, there are many valuable environmental-but-non-climate topics that are not given their due weight in terms of political debate, public awareness, and actual counter-measures.

Secondly, considerable doubts has to be raised as to whether global warming is that bad a thing. This even under the assumptions that it does exist and is man-made.*

*I believe both assumptions to be true, but I have not personally looked into the research sufficiently deeply to have a definite opinion—in part because I consider the question secondary for the very reasons discussed here. (As for “personally”: I have learned the hard way that what politicians, journalists, and the like claim is not always correct—and very, very often simplistic or exaggerated. Correspondingly, I postpone final judgment until I have “seen for myself”.)

Reading this second point, half the readers and almost all the environmentalist readers might not believe their eyes, but there are (again) at least two reasons for this statement:

Firstly, we are in an era of the Earth’s history which is quite cold. In fact, we are in (an inter-glacial* phase of) an ice age… Looking at most of the known record, it has been warmer or considerably warmer.** If the temperature rises further, we will only be leaving an atypical cold period—not entering an atypical warm period. (Unless the trends get entirely out of hand.) We might bring the Earth to a certain new temperature range earlier or faster*** than what the non-human processes would have managed, but it would have gotten there anyway, sooner or later.**** Moreover, it is conceivable that the global warming is counter-acting a further fall of temperature that might otherwise already have started (or, if not, would likely start within some thousands of years). Such a fall of temperature, leading into a glacial phase, would be as bad or worse as a rise for non-human species—and almost certainly much worse for us humans.

*Ice ages are divided into glacial and inter-glacial phases, depending on the spread of ice. Sloppy language often misuses “ice age” to refer specifically to a glacial phase.

**Cf. e.g. Wikipedia’s Timeline of glaciation article. Note that common journalist claims like “the hottest July of all times” are outrageously wrong, and might well contribute to the common misconceptions discussed below. In reality, it is merely the hottest July since the beginning of measurements—with measurements usually going back to some point in the 19th century. (The exact time depends on the country in question.)

***A faster change, obviously, increases the risk that some species will be unable to adapt in time. This aspect should not be neglected (but also see below).

****And continued to alternately grow warmer and colder again and again and again, long after humanity has become extinct.

Secondly, of the human made changes that occur, such a warming would be a comparatively small issue in a longer perspective. While even the sum of all human activities are dwarfed by various mass extinctions, specifically global warming is almost negligible in destructive* impact on a geological scale. (In contrast, a further-going destruction of the ozone layer could have had far worse consequences before sufficient adaptions occurred. Or consider the many extinctions that humanity has caused or could in the future cause through over-hunting/fishing, farming, introduction of foreign species, …—all on a time-scale that makes adaption hard.)

*This restriction is important, because it could lead to extensive changes that are not destructive, e.g. because they allow for various species to relocate or adapt.

The hitch is that too many fail to realize that the world we live in is ever-changing, was so before humans arose, and will continue to be so after we are gone. Temperatures change, coast-lines change, the positions of land-masses change, ocean streams change, … Even the position of the Earth’s magnetic poles change. If someone takes a human life-span, or even the life-span of some nations, as the scale of comparison, it might seem that higher temperatures, less ice, a higher sea-level, whatnot, are drastic changes. Using time-scales of a few thousand, often even few hundred, years, gives a very different perspective—and applying a time scale of millions of years makes it seem almost ridiculous. As a variation of the same theme, assume that most of New York were to be lost due to rising water—cataclysmic, disastrous, uprooting millions of people, causing billions upon billions of dollars of damage, … Or? Another perspective is that most of the current buildings and almost all of the population have been there for less than a hundred years. On a scale of two hundred years, the citizens of today and of yore would be hard-pressed to even recognize the respective other version of the city as New York—starting with the population of yore being a fraction of what it is today. A “New New York”, further inland, might exceed the old New York within decades, and certainly* within a hundred years. Moreover: if the change was slow enough, the negative effects might be largely counter-acted by minor changes to independent events, e.g. that people have a decreased tendency to move there and an increased tendency to move away, that newly founded companies are less likely to head-quarter there, and similar.

*Barring other developments and complications, many of which would have impacted New York too, and assuming that a corresponding re-founding took place (other choices are possible).

Realistically speaking, the destructive effects of climate changes (of the currently projected size) could hit current human society hard, but when we look at the long-term prospects of humanity, human society, or most non-human species, the effects will be smaller and/or transient. Of course, such threats to current human society are of great importance, but not for “environmental” reasons and it is dubious to frame the debate mainly as an environmental or a “save nature from humans” one.

Excursion on reasons for the shift in focus:
Apart from the use of inappropriate time scales, I suspect three factors behind the shift in focus: Firstly, many of the “old” threats have been averted, turned out to have been exaggerated (notably, forest death), or have lost their appeal to the masses (e.g. because a threat of extinction has been present for decades without the point of extinction actually being reached). This has lead both to these specific threats fading from the discussion and to similar other threats appearing less dire. Secondly, the scope of climate changes make them a very useful noble cause for politicians looking for voters, movements looking for followers, and similar. Thirdly, climate issues might well have been under-discussed at earlier times, because the awareness of their existence was not there. (More generally, the history of environmental protection contains a long series of discoveries that what-we-thought-was-harmless-might-actually-be-harmful, e.g. with CFCs and the ozone layer.)

Excursion on other damage vs. natural changes:
To some degree, other types of environmental damage, extinctions, whatnot, can be vulnerable to similar counter-arguments. For instance, sooner or later any given species will either go extinct or develop into another species—if humans do not exterminate the black rhino it will still go disappear at some later time, following the footsteps of e.g. the triceratops. I would, however, not use this type of reasoning to declare human-caused extinctions harmless: human intervention reduces species diversity, intra-species genetic diversity, and causes “unnatural selection”, all with a much deeper impact than global warming. If it had been “just” the black rhino, I might have let the argument hold—but the number of species concerned is much larger. Indeed, if we look at e.g. mammals in Europe, there are few, if any, species that have not been impacted by humans, be it through hunting of the species, hunting of the species’ predators or prey, shrinking biotopes, pollution, commensualism with humans, … True, if humans were to go extinct today, nature would ultimately bounce back; and true, the impact is still much smaller than that of the presumed dinosaur-killing asteroid. However, it is also much larger than impact from gradual global warming.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 26, 2019 at 2:57 am

“The Crimes of Grindelwald” and recognizing evil

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“The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a very disappointing* movie, but it does point to a few issues that I have addressed repeatedly in the past.

*My main criticisms: The otherwise weakish predecessor was carried by streaks of comedy and the dynamics between/charm of the four main protagonists, especially regarding wizard–muggle interaction. These aspects were largely lost. (The comedy aspect is even replaced by dread and dire and a too depressing visual tone.) The plot is unengaging, seems poorly though-through, and is confusing to boot. New characters and relationships are mostly too bland, boring, and/or unsympathetic to warrant interest and emotional investment, which is a particular negative for several “tragic characters”.

This includes the fact that there will be persons, usually very many, on both sides of a conflict who are convinced that they are “the good guys” and that their opponents are “the bad guys”—implying that even the strongest conviction of being right (that the opposing party is evil, whatnot) does not, in it self, justify extreme means. Indeed, looking at e.g. party programs from more-or-less any party, I can find a lot that makes sense in principle or, at least, is sufficiently plausible that I can understand that weak thinkers are swayed—thought, a knowledge/understanding of the issues, and/or insight into other positions is often needed to see why the program is flawed or would make a poor policy.* Calls for evil actions for “the greater good” tend to be particularly dangerous—it is no coincidence that this phrase is often used by madmen, terrorists, dictators, dystopian societies, whatnot in fiction. (But note that those who call for the greater good in real life rarely do so using the explicit phrase.)

*Consider e.g. a simplistic “women earn 77 cents on the dollar; ergo, the government must intervene to create justice”, which collapses on closer inspection. (See several older texts, including [1].)

It also includes that opinions (goals, ideals, …; I will use just “opinion[s]” below) must not be a primary factor when judging who is more or less evil in most* conflicts.** Instead, we have to consider the following (overlapping) issues:

*Exceptions are sufficiently rare that I cannot give a strong example of the top of my head. They are likely to exist, however. (Possibly, relating to a legally clear situation.)

**With the corollary that condemning an opinion as evil, because of evil methods used to enforce that opinion, is equally as bad as (cf. above) using an opinion perceived as good to justify evil methods.

  1. What methods are used? Do the methods include e.g. unprovoked violence, censorship of dissent, character assassination, …?

    Overlapping with the above, I would even replace the common, misguided, claim that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” with “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to use evil means”. (Where, at least, my “good” refers to self-perception, as demonstrated by many Soviet/Chinese/whatnot Communists and the Nazis.) Very many evils in this world go back to the use of evil means for purposes seen as good; and by refraining from evil means, such evils are considerably reduced or avoided altogether. Vice versa, a believer in the naive original might well take it as a reason to cause, not oppose, evil in the name of good.

  2. How do the counter-parts interact with opposing opinions? Are the opinions evaluated neutrally and with an open mind or are they rejected as wrong, or even evil, in a blanket manner? Are the counter-parts willing to adjust their own opinions, should the evidence call for it? Are arguments engaged with counter-arguments or with insults? Etc.

    I note that this is not just a matter of fairness. Two other important implications is that (a) those who are more open-minded tend to be right more often, (b) a destructive attitude threatens the right of others to develop their own opinions and can limit both societal and scientific progress.*

    *Note e.g. the destructive effects of how parts of the PC movement denounce scientifically supported claims around I.Q., the influence of “nature”, whatnot—to the point that some scientists avoid certain research topics for fear of repercussions. The problems are so large that a pseudonymous journal is in planning to alleviate it (the linked-to article also contains several good illustrations of the problem).

  3. What basis do the opinions originally have? Are they based in reason or wishful thinking, factual arguments or uncritical belief in what one is told, correct or incorrect interpretation of statistics, …?

    Again, those with a good reason tend to be right more often. I note that e.g. pushing policies based on faulty ideas or premises can do an enormous amount of harm to society, as with e.g. how an unduly positive belief in the benefits of school* and a wish for more school (to solve any number of problems) wastes enormous amounts of resources, takes large chunks out of the lives of the students, and often leads to only marginal improvements—or even has negative effects (e.g. through taking time away from self-studies among the bright or frustrating and over-taxing the dim).

    *As opposed to education—a very important differentiation. However, even more education is not always sensible, being dependent on the individuals interests, abilities, and goals in life.

  4. With what degree of honesty do the counter-parts push their opinions and agendas? Do they believe what they say and say what they believe, or do they e.g. have a hidden agenda or do they use arguments that they do not hold-up to scrutiny?

    As a specific example: Was Grindelwald a true believer—or did he rather create and manipulate true believers for his own personal gain? (I strongly suspect the latter to hold.)

(Additional issues might be worthy of consideration, e.g. whether an agenda is driven by partisan benefit* vs. ethical principles or the good of society as a whole.)

*Not to be confused with the above case of e.g. having a hidden agenda of personal power: Here the issue is e.g. wanting to benefit a certain partisan group (say with a laborers’ party, a farmers’ party, a make-our-region-independent party, whatnot).

A particular interesting overlap between the movie and some texts is that the use of evil or disproportionate methods can drive people into the enemy camp, cause radicalization, or similar. This through at least two mechanisms, (a) that “mild” opponents might be left with no where to go but the camp of the “rabid” opponents, (b) that the use of evil methods causes a negative reaction. This, incidentally, appears to have some parallels in other areas, e.g. in that anti-drug legislation often does more to cause crime and worsen the life of the drug-users than to improve matters, or ditto for anti-prostitution* laws. Particularly the (b) case appears to have been working to Grindelwald’s advantage, when the government(s) used evil methods of its own.

*As claimed in an article I encountered a few days ago (note several links to further discussion).

Excursion on necessary evil means:
There might be situations where the use of evil means can be necessary even in a good cause. (A widely accepted example is using reasonable amounts of violence in self-defense against an unprovoked attacker.) However, here great care must be taken to not overstep a reasonable minimum, to minimize the effect on third-parties, etc. A more thorough discussion would be well outside the scope of this text, might be impossible without stipulating a number of ethical principles, and might have to include considerable analysis of individual examples. Consider e.g. questions like when and to what degree it might be allowable to interfere with civic rights for fear of terrorism or to accept civilian casualties during warfare.

Excursion on Grindelwald:
Is Grindelwald evil? In my opinion, “yes”—because I have the impression that he does let the end justify the means, is callous of the rights of others, has hidden agendas, … (Then again, my impression might be incorrect, seeing that the movie was not always explicit, that I might misremember previous information, and that earlier books, which mention him as evil, might have predisposed me towards this interpretation.)

Note that my reasons do not (at least consciously) include that he “looked evil”, that the main protagonists opposed him, that he was condemned as evil by officials, … Consider Professor Snape (from earlier books/movies) for someone who gave many superficial signs of being evil, but who was actually* a great hero and an important ally—and contrast him with several good-seeming-but-evil other teachers.

*Notwithstanding that an accusation of “being a mean bastard”, “having an unfair personal dislike of Harry”, or similar might have been true.

Here, as elsewhere, it is important not just to draw the right conclusion (X is evil; Y is good; …), but to do so for the right reasons. Evil in the real world often has a friendly face; good often does not—much unlike in children’s cartoons.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 21, 2019 at 10:41 am

Hypocritical treatment of the Right and the Left / Yellow vests

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I have often touched on issues like the hypocritical treatment of the Right* compared to the Left, the uselessness of the Left–Right scale, and how often various derogatory and debate killing labels** are thrown around by the Left (the PC crowd, whatnot).

*One of the aspects of the uselessness of the Left–Right scale is that the “Right” is too heterogeneous to be a truly useful term (unlike “Left”). I use it here for consistency with typical discussions.

**For instance, (more often than not) unfounded accusations of someone or something being “Fascist”, “sexist”, “racist”, … I note e.g. the use of “Fascist” by Soviet Communists to refer to other Communists or the condemnation of the entire West-Germany and/or the “Western Bloc” as such by the East-German leaders (e.g. by referring to the Berlin Wall as “antifaschistischer Schutzwall”—“Anti-Fascist rampart”).

The treatment of the Yellow-Vest movement (in at least German and Swedish) media is a good example:

The movement is based on a mixture of general or politically neutral dissatisfaction with dissatisfaction of a Leftist type. It has a strong analog in preceding German movements that were built around general or politically neutral dissatisfaction with dissatisfaction (dubiously) considered “Rightist”.*

*Notably, regarding e.g. immigration, which I consider narrow-minded to not view as neutral on the Left–Right scale (and/or as further proof of its uselessness).

The latter have often been strongly condemned as “Rightist extremists” or “Rightist populist” (“rechtsextremistisch” resp. “rechtspopulistisch”), despite having comparatively little overlap with most Right-wing opinions. They are first (misleadingly) classified as “Right-wing” based almost solely on issues like migration—and then the debate focuses strongly on their being “Right-wing” and “populist” or “extremist”.

Not so with the Yellow Vests, however: I cannot recall seeing a single instance of them being labeled as “Left-wing” (let alone ‘Leftist extremist” or “Leftist populist”). Instead they are discussed in terms of their more specific complaints, issues, and behaviors. In it self, this is good—this is how it should be. But: Why is the same courtesy of issue-based description not extended to movements considered on the “Right”? Why are they blanketed away as “Right-this” and “Right-that” without looking at what they actually believe in detail? Why are they blanketed away as “dissatisfaction movements”* without taking their concerns seriously?

*I am unaware of a corresponding English family of words, but e.g. the Swedish “Missnöjesparti” (“dissatisfaction party”) is long established as a derogatory way of dismissing concerns by the implication that the party just populistically rides dissatisfaction without anything to offer, that its adherents complain about things that are no big deal, that the adherents project their own dissatisfaction in life onto external issues, or similar. Label something as “Missnöjes[something]” and it can be ignored in a blanket manner.

This is the odder as the Yellow Vests have been more prone to e.g. violent behavior than their German counter-parts and do not trail in terms of dissatisfaction mentality and whatnot.

I actually have some fear that the Yellow Vests will be paradoxically condemned as “Rightist” (!) whatnots at some future time, because someone will eventually make statements that are or can be misconstrued to sound e.g. nationalist, xenophobe, or anti-Islam during a major protest—which will allow a pseudo-classification as “Right”…

Written by michaeleriksson

February 9, 2019 at 5:08 pm