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The Tyranny of Opinion: Book Review

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Russell Blackford has written The tyranny of opinion: Conformity and the future of liberalism, which explores the conflicts between freedom of expression and political correctness (P.C.).  Much has been made of the P.C. phenomenon by commentators on both the political left and right.  Steering clear of blind partisanship, Blackford is careful to explain the many nuances of such complex issues as Internet privacy, the 1st Amendment and hate speech.

Blackford starts with an in-depth analysis of John Stuart Mill’s classic ON LIBERTY.  Mill fiercely wrote about freedom of speech, expression and thought, arguing that these liberties should be respected by not only the government, but society as a whole.  The main reason to curtail these rights, argues Mill, is the harm principle.  People should be shielded from threats and libel.

How exactly the law should define threats and libel can be a tricky process, however.  People have argued that slurs, especially racial slurs, threaten the mental wellbeing of their victims.  Certain ultraliberals argue that even academic discussion of controversial topics, such as sexual orientation, can be threatening.  Libel, if anything, has, as a definable term, experienced the opposite problem.  In the West and especially the US, libel is notoriously hard to prove in court.  Since the authoritarian Sedition Act expired in 1801, the American press and private citizens have had almost absolute power to make unflattering and even unsubstantiated statements about individuals and institutions, under the protection of the 1st Amendment.

Blackford is generally supportive of the harm-principle standard for censorship, but stresses that harmful statements must be defined under very narrow criteria.  In terms of threats, Blackford seems to find only direct threats of violence, doxxing, revenge porn and explicit epithets (which he write de-humanize whole groups of people and thus pave the way for persecution and violence) as necessitating censorship in the name of protecting citizens’ wellbeing.  On the issue of libel, Blackford agrees with the legal standard that a statement must be found to be both false and malicious in order to be found libelous.  A newspaper can’t be shut down for publishing an honest mistake, since that would create a chilling effect that would neuter a lot of bold reporting.

Such caution with regards to censorship is warranted by Blackford’s citations of history.  When people and journalists don’t feel safe to speak their mind, this can stifle social and scientific progress.  Blackford cites a Victorian Englishman who knows of many individuals who privately support gay rights, but are too afraid to speak up.  When well-intentioned people are muzzled by the status quo, Blackford concludes, injustices can continue and erroneous beliefs can continue to be treated as fact.

For this reason, Blackford argues that religious fundamentalism may be fundamentally at odds with not just free expression, but free society as a whole.  Theocratic societies have traditionally cracked down on any perceived dissenters, from the Spanish Inquisition to the imprisonment of the revolutionary scientist Galileo.  If eternal salvation through observing divine law is the ultimate goal of life, then civil law would appear inconsequential by comparison, points out Blackford.  Small wonder then that evangelical groups devote decades and countless of millions of dollars trying to erode established legal protections for reproductive healthcare and gay rights.  Blackford writes extensively about the 1989 fatwa demanding the assassination of author Salman Rushdie, issued by the theocratic government of Iran, as being the logical endpoint of the conflict between faith and freedom.

Much of the book is devoted to how political correctness (P.C.) is used as a cudgel by people from both sides of the political spectrum.  This is an important point to make, since the mainstream media mostly focuses on the P.C. of the political left.  Countless news stories are devoted to ultraliberal P.C. culture on college campuses.  Meanwhile, the P.C. of people who refuse to bake cakes for gay couples or who demand that NFL players be fired for peacefully protesting institutional racism is never called out as being political correctness.

As previously mentioned, rightwing P.C. culture usually centers on forcing religious values onto corporate and law codes.  By contrast, leftwing P.C. culture generally revolves around enforcing cultural sensitivity in society.  Ultraliberals are obsessed with virtue signaling via exposing statements that in any way are insensitive to women, LGBT or ethnic minorities.  Frequently, liberal social justice warriors cannibalize their fellow liberals, such as Bret Weinstein.  The Evergreen State College professor was mobbed by hysterical college students after he (correctly, yet civilly) pointed out a case of hypocrisy by racial activists on campus and was eventually forced to resign.  The book also cites the case of Erika Christakis, a professor at Yale who was, like Weinstein, mercilessly harangued by students, to the point of resigning.  Her offense: writing a thoughtful email exploring the nuances of cultural appropriation and policing of controversial Halloween costumes.  Ironically, Christakis the whole point of the email was stick up for the students’ freedom of expression.

Modern P.C. culture largely seems to be facilitated by social media.  Every unflattering sound bite or allegation can immediately permeate across the Web.  Tweets and Facebook posts, which encourage spontaneity, can encourage people to post now and think about the repercussions later.  The nature of social media algorithms creates an echo chamber that only shows users content that agrees with their political sensibilities.  As Blackford warns, this leads to group polarization, wherein likeminded people amplify each other’s beliefs, causing everyone in the group to become more radical than they were before joining.  This psychological phenomenon is particular evident in the far-Left, where people constantly feel the need to publically pass ideological purity tests, which they then subject to other people.

I wish Blackford had written more about how P.C. affects academic research.  Many biologists, sex researchers and psychologists have spoken out about how studying contentious matters of race and sexuality can be major taboos in academia.  Blackford touches on Alice Dreger’s GALILEO’S MIDDLE FINGER, which is about several modern scientists who came under fire for producing controversial, yet scientifically sound research.  Dr. Sandra Soh and Dr. Brian Hanley, among many others, have spoken out about the intense culture of self-censorship in the life sciences when it comes to researching issues relating to human sexuality. Prof. Vernellia R. Randall is one of many who has risked being called a racist for pointing out documented medical disparities between people of different ethnicities, when it comes to maladies like heart disease and sickle-cell anemia.

In my own research, I’ve found cultural relativists who try to downplay the severe physical harms that female genital mutilation causes, in politically correct deference to non-Western cultures.

I also wish Blackford had conducted some research into the quantitative, as opposed to qualitative, reach of P.C. attitudes across society. Due to the media’s frenzy in reporting incidences of P.C. on (mostly elite, blue-state) college campuses, the problem may seem much larger than it really is.  According to The US Faculty Termination for Political Speech Database, only 45 professors were fired between 2015-2017 for political speech… out of the estimated 378,865 full-time professors currently teaching in American universities!  Multiple surveys conducted over several years by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation find that teenagers equal or even surpass adults in their support for the 1st Amendment.  I suspected that a silent majority of Americans are opposed to many, if not most, of the most extreme positions of social justice warriors.  Almost all of the coverage and analysis of P.C. by the media is negative, which would further suggest that P.C. is not a movement with widespread support in civil society.  Hopefully, Blackford will produce some clarification via quantitative data in future editions of the book or a whole separate book.

The tyranny of opinion is a very impartial book on the implications of political correctness in a free society.  Blackford outlines the framework of freedom of expression through analysis of philosophers such as John Stuart Mill and Frederick Schaeur.  He then explores many concepts of psychology and sociology, such as information cascades, group polarization and the research of psychologists like Solomon Asch and Stanley Milgram.  The book does a good job at exposing the liberalism of both liberal and conservative social justice warriors.  Through historical and empirical analysis, the book both prescribes the dangers of self-censorship in society and offers reasonable solutions.  Anyone who has felt chills after watching a news story about crazy SJWs on a college campus or witnessing a P.C. mob on Twitter should read this book for a more nuanced understanding of political correctness and the 1st Amendment, in general.

Russell Whitehouse is Executive Editor at IntPolicyDigest. He’s also a freelance social media manager/producer, 2016 Iowa Caucus volunteer and a policy essayist.

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New Social Compact

Educating Women in Pakistan: A Necessity For National Development

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Photo: UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

Education is fundamental to the success of any nation. Almost every developed nation recognizes its importance and lays great emphasis on its availability to every human being.

Education brings out the meaning of life and enables a person to make sense of the world around him. While on the other hand, an illiterate person fails to comprehend the essence of life and lives in ignorance.

Pakistan, the sixth most populous country in the world has grappled with the grave situation of illiteracy almost from the time of its existence and has one of the lowest literary rates on the continent. To put it narrowly, approximately 40% of its female population has not even received education at all. Thus, the major chunk of its population remains backward, which otherwise if educated could have proven to be a major source of social and economic development.

Women’s education is inextricably linked to the well-being of society. A society comprises of both male and female members, and equally needs the contribution of women nearly as much as of men in maintaining and regulating its functions. However, women in Pakistan face great challenges in accessing education and are confined to play domestic roles only. Also, certain societies consider the education of women as taboo. This results in gender inequality and social disparity which ultimately impedes the growth of a nation.

Women, as a child bearer, not only holds great responsibility of proper upbringing of the child but also of a whole generation. This aspect can be underscored by the African proverb which says,

“If you educate a man, you educate an individual but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.”

Therefore, an increase in the education of women can profoundly improve human development outcomes such as child survival, health, and schooling. Education can bring phenomenal change in women’s life as it increases their confidence and raises their status in family and society. It lends her voice which she can use to advocate her rights and also helps her to participate in political and social sciences. Pakistan cannot afford to neglect the education of women if it wants to modernize itself and until or unless its female population remains uneducated, it will continue to undermine the ideals of democracy that it so cherishes. There is no doubt that Pakistan is a country whose youth is imbued with great talents and if given adequate knowledge they can properly channel this talent to the country’s advantage. This can only be achieved if gender disparities in literacy and education attainment in rural and urban areas of Pakistan are removed.

Women are also regarded as the weaker segment of society but through education, they can change their weakness into strength. It is also seen that women’s education has a positive relationship with women’s labor force participation rate which can play a significant role in reducing poverty and can contribute to sustainable growth in a developing country like Pakistan itself. Therefore, the government should invest in the education sector and especially in women’s education. This should be on its priority list as it is necessary for national development and progress.

Hence, concrete steps should be taken to empower women by granting them equality and education so that Pakistan can set itself upon the path of success.

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New Social Compact

Reasons of societal disintegration in Pakistan’s society

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Societal disintegration also known as social disorganization can be described as the society’s inability to structure itself and determine the mutual values and norms that should be presiding in a society. Another approach sees is as a complex and interconnected system of communities, formal and informal associations in the socialization process.

There are many reasons that exist in a society giving rise to the societal disintegration, the main and the core cause is the disturbed and interrupted system of social communication and the structure that exist for the mutual assistance.  The society that is deprived of functional and far-sighted leadership without new ideas and strategies usually tend to fall in the process of social disintegration.  The society practicality and viability tends to falls with the existence of economic problems, dissolving formal and informal institutions, deteriorating interpersonal relationships and weakening of the values and norms. All these thus impact the mental and the physical wellbeing of the society and the people thoroughly involved in it. Thus putting the restrain on the growth, self-realization, self-reflection and acknowledgment.

The reason for this societal disintegration in Pakistani society can be various. These numerous reason might include some internal as well as external causes. For instance Democracy and the rule of law, judicial system and calculated and good governance which was the main building factor of the idea of new country after the partition went into oblivion as soon as the establishment of the country. The nexus that started between the military and the bureaucracy for power accumulation and the multiple Martial laws put constrain on the hope of Pakistanis to build a sustainable nation and it was reflected in the future engagements of the citizen of the state.

Another reason which triggers the societal disintegration was the history of disasters and violence that the citizens go through. For example the history of Pakistan is marked with a lot of resistance and sacrifices by the people and their forefathers. Even after the creation of Pakistan, it had to go through several wars to ensure its survival. The people of Pakistani society also faced this disturbed environment throughout the Great War on terror happening in the immediate neighborhood of Afghanistan. It was impacting Pakistan in several ways for instance military operation to combat terrorism in the region of FATA created an environment of hostility and chaos. Troubled neighborhood and the major inclusion of migrants from time to time and its sociological, economic and psychological impacts  is what Pakistan has faced since its establishment .So the environment in which the society exist and the history of disasters also increase the pace of societal disintegration.

Dysfunctional Education system can also contribute to be another major reason that is driving the societal disintegration. As the system lacks to provide the same and the equal opportunities for the children and women to seek the basic education in Pakistan.  The lack of uniform educational curriculum and the modes of education is building a stroke between the elites and the lower section of the societies. The disparities on the basis of different religion and social status is escalating the social disintegration in the societies. In terms of opportunities the presence of Nepotism instead of merit is also causing the lack of commitment to one’s own country.

Another reason that is contributing in the societal disintegration is the Cultural confusion also known as cultural dissonance reflecting the disharmony and the conflict and the confusion that people face due to the change in their cultural environment. In Pakistan it is seen in the province of Baluchistan, Gilgit Baluchistan and Pashtunistan. There still exist speculation for the ill treatment, less development and lack of opportunities for the Baloch’s and Gilgiti. This creates a difference among the people of different cultural and give rise to hostility towards one another thus leads to more and more societal disintegration to a point that they start to consider themselves alien to the society. The lack of tolerance and acceptance for other religions, ethnicities and culture will alienate people from one another and will limit them to certain boundaries thus making it difficult for them to grow sociological and psychological, consequently bounding them to only one sect, ethnicities or area. For societal integration one must be visionary and develop sense of acceptance and tolerance leaving a room to nurture and develop as an integrated society rather than fueling the societal disintegration.

As mention earlier about the migration it is important to study it is detail, the massive in and out migration also serves as a factor that lead Pakistan society to face societal disintegration. Many people in Pakistan still seek migration to the countries aboard for better job opportunities, living standards, better health and education and security level. In Pakistan the Pakistani diaspora that basically reflects the brain drain from the country are exceeding the numbers of more than 10 million, people residing in the countries other than their homeland for such luxuries reflect little to no commitment and responsibility to their culture and country. Similarly the great number of influx of migrants as a result  of GWOT also posed a challenge for national integration as they bought with them their culture, identity and problem thus making it difficult for citizens to actually achieve the sense of nationality thus leading to more culture confusion and disharmonization.

Those having power and other patrons in Pakistan who are living in their luxurious lifestyles and comfort zones they have this responsibility to observe and analyze and seek guidance from the other countries that how with the presence of diverse cultures, languages and religions, the process of national integration reached to its logical conclusion. But it is not possible in the absence of visionary leadership and the will to work honesty for the society and its harmonization, in absence of these values one cannot expect a country to remain united and integrated as a nation.

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New Social Compact

Global Health Security: The need for collective action

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Since the concept of nation-state has emerged, states’ primary goal is to ensure their survival and maximize their security in terms of wealth and power. But little attention has been paid to non-conventional issues specifically to public health. Health systems have always been neglected by states especially by those poor states that are already facing socio-economic issues.

In an era of globalization, where the world is more intact and interconnected, Global health has become a serious issue and an area of debate in contemporary world politics. If on one hand, globalization offers tremendous possibilities and opportunities then, on the other hand, it has made the transfer of disease quicker than ever. Therefore, keeping both negative and positive outcomes of globalization in mind, a special focus should be given to the health sector as well.

By special focus, I mean global solidarity for worldwide health security should be build where all states, irrespective of their self-interest, work together to combat global health issues including malnutrition,  communicable ( such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV, Covid-19), and non-communicable diseases (such as cancer, diabetes). In the past, all these infectious diseases specifically communicable diseases had a disturbing impact on humans and the overall economy of the global world. In the contemporary world, the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused the deaths of 3.74 million people since late 2019, has become an overwhelming threat to Global health. Not only has it affected the physical and mental health of individuals but the socio-economic conditions of states as well.

United Nations under Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goal is trying to tackle the problems of global health. World Health Organization is supervising the objectives that are set under this goal and is trying to work with states to readiness for pandemics and other health emergencies. Many other health projects have also been initiated to further the aim of the United Nations for global health. But still, the world needs more awareness programs especially in the third world countries where the situation of Covid-19 is much worst. Lack of awareness in such countries has given rise to many myths related to tackling the Covid-19 virus and its vaccination. People are reluctant to take the vaccine because they believe that either they will become infertile or die within weeks after getting vaccinated. Such people need education and for that, collective action is required. Not only world institutions but states, societies, leaders, the whole of their response are required to limit the spread of diseases.

Global health security should be considered as a shared responsibility of all states because in this interconnected world no one is safe until everyone is safe. This pandemic for which the world was unprepared, as the health sector was not prioritized, has shown us the real picture of the devastation of the global economy, global health, and human suffering. It has taught us how neglecting health systems could change the world upside down. So, to prevent any other future pandemics, we need to draw attention to the disparities that exist in different countries, try to solve them, bring awareness and make global health security a priority through collective action. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”

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