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.
Why Education? How education changed my life
I have a story to tell the world about the importance of education. I was born in a remote village in Madhupurupazilla, under Tangail district, Bangladesh. My parents were illiterate. Unfortunately due to some maternal related complexities, my mother died in 1988 when I was one and half or two hears old. I don’t know exactly. Even, I don’t know my actual birth of date and year. And that’s a common picture for us who born in an illiterate family. Since my mother died at an early age, I had to see the pains of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, health challenges and so forth. I still remember that almost every night, I had to sleep without any food. Sometimes, whole day, I had no food. I still remember that, one day, I and my sister were begging for some food to eat in 1993 or 94. So, that was my life story.
I had no shelter to go except my grandmother’s house. And they were also poor. So, it was really a tragic life for me. I never thought that I will ever have the privilege to have access to education. Who even do not know about from where his next meal will come, where he will go for shelter, access to education is really a dream to him. So, education was a luxury to me. After moving here and there for food and shelter almost five or six years, at last, my grandmother’s house became my shelter. I started to going to school. My life started changing because of the touch of education. I started to teach when I was in Grade five student. My first salary was BDT 20. I continued teaching as house tutor till 2012.
In October 2000, another tragic incident happened in my life. My father committed suicide. I became a full orphan. I was in Grade IX then, was studying in science group at Pakutia Public High School, Ghatail. My father’s suicide shocked me very much. I did not continue study that year. Then, I dropped one year. Next year, in 2001, I changed my school, and got admitted in Class Nine at Madhupur Shahid Smrity High School to have better education. Since the school was far away from my grandmother’s house, I had to shift to Madhupur. But where will I go? Fortunately, I got a lodging opportunity there. I had to teach two children of my lodging master, I had to go for bazar regularly, and to do other household chores on a regular basis. In return, they provided me a room to stay and three time meals. In addition, to pay my tuition fees, I had to go for other tuitions. Life goes on.
In fact, at any cost, I wanted to continue study. But, I don’t know, why? Indeed, I had no guardian who can realize me the importance of education. From my inner side, education touched me and I wanted to study at anyhow. Sometimes, I worked as a day labourer to continue my studies. Even, I remember, in 2004, after appearing my S.S.C. exam, I went to pull rickshaw in Dhaka city because I had extreme zeal to continue my education. And for the grace of Almighty ALLAH, I continued my studies.
In 2006, after appearing HSC exam, I came Dhaka with BDT 1000. When, I was not able to pay my food charge at mess, I decided to sell one of my kidneys. Then, I found tuition at Shahbagh. I was residing in Dhaka Sukrabad. Very often, I went for tuition by walking since I had no bus fare. I still remember those days.
Then, for the grace of ALLAH, I got admitted in Dhaka University in International Relations Department in 2006-2007 academic sessions. Since it’s a public university, I had to pay very poor fees to continue my studies at University. I passed honour’s in 2011 and Masters in 2012 in International Relations from the University of Dhaka. I am sincerely grateful to the people of my country who bearded my all educational expenses. I am deeply thankful to all of my teachers who taught me to shape myself. Especially, I am sincerely grateful to Professor Dr.Delwar Hossain at the Department of International Relations at Dhaka University who extended his generous hand during my difficulties, who showed me new ways to life, facilitated to increase my thirst for knowledge through showing the path of knowledge.
After appearing my Masters exam, I secured the first position from Bangladesh in the MA admission entrance test examination of South Asian University, New Delhi in 2012. Then, I moved to Delhi in 14 August in 2012 to pursue my second Master’s in International Relations at South Asian University. I continued my search for knowledge. The SAARC-India Silver Jubilee Scholarship was imperative to continue my education at SAU. My teachers at SAU helped me to create a new horizon of knowledge. After successfully completing second Masters in 2014, I joined at the University of Rajshahi in 30 November, 2014 as a founder lecturer in International Relations. That opened a new chapter in my life. I learned lots of things from the founder chairman of the Department, Professor Dr. Md. Abul Kashem and from my colleagues and students.
During teaching at Rajshahi University, I was selected as one of the 18 scholars around the world at Study of the US Institute for Scholars on US Foreign Policy Program, funded by the US State Department, hosted by the Bard College, New York for 44 days. It was a great learning opportunity for me. It provided me an international exposure and opened my eyes for the vast world of knowledge.
I continued to read, teach, and write. I even taught 8 courses at undergraduate level in 2017. Then, I moved to Delhi again at SAU, my intellectual home to pursue PhD in International Relations in July 2018. Since my childhood, I just wanted to study irrespective of challenges, and my ALLAH has fulfilled my dream. Now, I am a doctoral student. Sometimes, I even, cannot believe myself that I am a PhD scholar today.
Why am I telling all of these? The point is that it’s all about education. Education changed my life. But still coming in this 21st century, tens of thousands are out of access to education. It is quite ironic that the states of the world spend billions of dollars or armaments than education. This world politics do not work for the tens of thousands voiceless, marginal people in the world. Thus, it’s time to change the world politics for the benefits of people in the world than the state.
In fact, to change the world, we need education. To interpret the world, we need education. So, access to education is a basic human right which needs to be ensured. In this case, only our state cannot do that. Today, non-state actors’ play important role in every dimension in our society from politics to economics. Thus, alongside the government, individuals, groups, academics, scholars, writers, organizations, all need to come forward to ensure access to quality education to everyone to make a better, peaceful world. Can’t we make it?
Hunger and obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean compounded by inequality
For the third consecutive year, the number of those chronically hungry has increased in Latin America and the Caribbean, while 250 million – 60 percent of the regional population – are obese or overweight, representing the biggest threat to nutritional health, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Wednesday.
Speaking at the launch of the 2018 Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security report in Santiago, Chile, FAO’s Regional Representative, Julio Berdegue said it was an “appalling” threat to health overall, affecting women and indigenous groups the most.
The Panorama, published annually by FAO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Programme (WFP), explores strategies to halt the health threats posed by hunger and malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to the report, hunger, malnutrition, lack of micronutrients, and obesity largely affect lower income families, women, indigenous communities, Afro-descendants and rural families.
Principle causes of malnutrition amongst the most vulnerable, can be traced back to changes the food systems have experienced in the region, from production to consumption. With a greater strain on the demand for nutrient-rich food like milk and meats, many resort to less costly options which are often higher in fat, sugar and salt.
“Obesity is growing uncontrollably,” Mr. Berdegue said.
Maria Cristina Perceval, who serves at the regional director for UNICEF in the region, said stunting correlates closely to inequality and poverty levels, and being chronically overweight “is also increasingly affecting the poorest children,” highlighting that lower income families have unequal access to healthy diets.
Obesity has become the greatest threat to Latin America and the Caribbean when it comes to nutritional health conditions. Nearly one in four adults are obese and more than seven percent of children below the age of five are overweight—higher than the global average of 5.6 percent.
To address the exacerbation of hunger and obesity, a “multispectoral approach is needed,” Director of PAHO/WHO, Carissa Etienne said, adding that the solution requires addressing social factors just as well as water quality and access to health services.
In response to growing malnutrition, partner authors on the report call on countries to implement public policies that combat inequality while promoting health and sustainable food systems.
Mind-Reading, Mood Manipulation: Grounds for Caution and Optimism at the Frontiers of Science
Eight areas of scientific research with the potential to have the greatest impact on life on earth are today highlighted with the publication of the World Economic Forum’s inaugural Future Frontiers 2018 survey.
The list is an attempt to show how the simultaneous coming of age of a range of technologies is already affecting our future in ways beyond their original premise. By focusing on frontiers with negative as well as positive implications for life on earth, the survey’s findings are also an attempt to galvanize efforts to put in place safeguards to prevent future misuse.
The inspiration for the list comes from a survey of 660 global experts from the Forum’s Global Future Councils and Young Scientists community as well as users of its Transformation Maps. Tellingly, many of the technologies that caused respondents most concern stem from breakthroughs designed to solve problems. The question of how to regulate the “dual use” of technology without stifling research that could lead to sizeable societal benefits is becoming one of the greatest challenges for leaders in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“The frontiers of science should not be seen as barriers, but rather opportunities to enable collective action in pursuit of solutions to the challenges facing our world today,” said Lee Howell, Head of Global Programming at the World Economic Forum.
The Future Frontiers of 2018 are:
Cause for hope
- Quantum biology: Birds’ ability to navigate thousands of miles or DNA’s propensity to mutate are examples of how biology has evolved to take advantage of quantum behaviours. Nascent research into the role quantum physics plays in the human brain could unlock some of science’s greatest mysteries.
- Machine learning through small data:Artificial intelligence (AI) currently requires huge amounts of data to make relatively small advances in functionality. Conversely, the human brain can typically achieve excellent outcomes through its ability to generalize using very little data. Machines gaining the agility of the human mind would be a game changer.
- Room temperature conductivity:The ability to transmit and store electricity without loss or degradation could herald a clean energy revolution and enable new technologies. Currently, superconductivity is difficult to achieve and prohibitively expensive, a situation that scientists are working to change.
- Venomics: If only the medicines we use today were as effective as natural toxins and venom in binding themselves to specific targets in the human body. With more than 220,000 individual species producing nature’s perfect “super drugs”, the race is on to harness this potential for good.
Cause for concern
- Lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS): Drones and robots have a huge role to play in building prosperous, peaceful societies. Unfortunately, they can also be used in warfare. More worrying still, once deployed they could make their own decisions about the use of lethal force.
- Digital phenotyping: The ability to use technology to predict illness or ailments that are invisible to the human eye is rapidly becoming a reality. The implications for privacy and digital rights are profound if government, companies or third parties discovered a means by which to use the same techniques to secretly capture changes in our mental health.
- Non-invasive neuromodulation: The ability to stimulate the brain using electrical currents is opening up a world of new treatment for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or depression. Without clear regulation, the same techniques could be used to deliver unfair advantages, reinforcing inequalities. Worse still, there is the potential for government to use it to manipulate the mental states of specific groups, such as soldiers.
- Predictive Justice: AI, neuroimaging and big data has opened up a world of possibilities when it comes to identifying individuals and scenarios where a crime is likely to occur. The downside is the risk that the same techniques are used to produce fake evidence and protect the guilty.
Discussion about how to optimize the positive aspects of these future frontiers while mitigating their negative effects will be the focus of a number of workshops and action-oriented sessions at the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils which will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 11-12 November.
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