New Zealand fails the Goethe test

“Of freedom and of life he only is deserving who every day must conquer them anew,” goes the line in Faust.

On that criterion New Zealand deserves neither freedom nor life. Alas, she isn’t the only one.

Modernity encourages, nay demands, uniformity. Hence one can confidently expect that, mutatis mutandis, the same perversions that pervade politics in one Western country will also be prevalent in any other.

Thus, even though I haven’t been following New Zealand politics closely, I know what it’s like just by reading the accounts of yesterday’s mayhem in an Auckland supermarket.

I’ll leave you to decide which was worse, the action or the reaction. Both were appalling, yet neither was new.

A Sri Lankan immigrant grabbed a knife off a supermarket shelf and started lunging at everyone he could reach. Six people were wounded, three of them critically, before police shot the terrorist dead 60 seconds later.

How come armed police reacted so swiftly? I’ve heard of rapid response, but this was extraordinary. Less than a minute to arrive at the scene? Incredible.

Well, you see, they didn’t exactly arrive at the scene. They already were at the scene because they were tracking the murderer’s every move.

The man, who for some inconceivable legal reasons is identified only by the initial S, was a known ISIS sympathiser who was especially partial to hunting knives. He had bought two of them, leaving the readers of his tweets in no doubt about the kind of game he was after.

S stated his intention to kill “Kiwi scum” so credibly that he was put on terror watchlists, arrested and sentenced to a year’s supervision. “There are very few people that fall into this category,” explained Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the fact.

Yet even those chosen few couldn’t be stopped before they actually killed someone. According to the NZ judges, the intention to commit murder isn’t “equitable” to actually committing it. Do they mean ‘equal’? One never knows with lawyers.

Perhaps I spoke too soon when singling out uniformity as a distinguishing feature of modernity. In every country I’m familiar with, conspiracy to murder is a statutory offence by itself, punishable by long prison terms (in England, up to life). New Zealand is evidently different.

Yet Miss Ardern’s reaction to the heinous act shows her country isn’t different in every respect. First, she said she was “gutted”, which, considering the nature of the crime, was an unfortunate choice of phrase.   

But then she did acknowledge that: “What happened today was despicable, hateful and wrong.” But, and it’s an all-caps BUT, “It was carried out by an individual, not a faith or religion. He was gripped by violent and ISIS-inspired ideology that is not supported here.”

It’s comforting to know that Islamic terrorism doesn’t yet enjoy broad popular support in New Zealand. And it’s hard to argue that S wasn’t stabbing all and sundry by himself – after all, it would have been awkward for many people to wield the same knife at the same time.

But, if S was indeed primed by “violent and ISIS-inspired ideology”, then surely that ideology is complicit in the act, if only tangentially? Also, some clarification wouldn’t have gone amiss.

For ISIS doesn’t have exclusive rights to that ideology. Similarly inspired are any number of other Muslim groups, all those Talibans, PLOs, Muslim Brotherhoods, Al-Qaedas and so on, whose name is legion.

Judging by the battle cry they all scream, Allahu Akbar!, they believe they are doing God’s work, as prescribed in the Koran. And they take nothing out of that book that isn’t there.

Granted, the verses that explicitly call for violence towards Christians, Jews and any other infidels aren’t the only ones. But if there ever was any doubt that these verses directly inspire mass violence, it ought to have been dispelled over the past 1,400 years.

Yet each time a shooter, stabber or suicide bomber screams “Allahu Akbar” before killing, Western politicians fall over themselves to shout just as loudly that Islam has nothing to do with it.

Typically, they add that the murderer has “mental health problems”, making one wonder how deranged loners managed to conquer most of southern Europe just a few decades after their creed graced the world.

In this sense I feel let down by Miss Ardern. She did follow the pattern by exculpating “faith or religion” with that delicious taste for redundancy. But she inexplicably left out insanity as an explanation. I trust she’ll soon correct that oversight.

In addition to stating murderous intent, S got on those watchlists because he had downloaded numerous ISIS propaganda leaflets. That was sufficient for the police to keep a watchful eye on him, but not to send him to prison.

Just perusing calls to mass murder doesn’t seem to become an imprisonable offence in New Zealand unless those instructions are actually followed. However, downloading child porn does constitute an imprisonable offence even if the perversion remains nothing but a cherished fantasy.

I don’t get the logic of it. The justification for sending down child-porn downloaders is that they thereby encourage the crime to be committed by the uploaders. Such a proclivity is indeed despicable, but how is it any worse than downloading murderous instructions?

It isn’t, quite the reverse. But there exists a seminal difference between child pornography and Muslim terrorism. The former isn’t protected by wokery, but the latter is, to some extent.

Even the wokiest of individuals won’t admit solidarity with suicide bombers or serial stabbers. But neither will they have the courage to acknowledge what motivates such crimes, what causes them.

The causes are all coloured in the rosy hues of Third World virtue, which means they can’t be castigated unreservedly. And they are definitely off-limits for any preventive action, other than slipshod surveillance.

Goethe was right: those who deserve freedom and life must fight for them every day. The likes of Miss Ardern refuse to do so, leaving both freedom and life at peril.

Jumping from one classic to another, she should do a Macbeth and look at her hands. They’ll be bright red with the blood of those Auckland shoppers.

Abortion to be punished in a heartbeat

Ever since 1973, when the US Supreme Court issued its pro-abortion ruling in a Roe v Wade case, that topic has been in the forefront of public debate.

The debate ought to be moral and logical, but instead it always veers into politics, which nowadays has nothing to do with either morality or logic. By and large, conservatives argue against Roe v Wade, while liberals support it wholeheartedly.

Since most US conservatives tend to be Republican, it’s Republican-led states that take the fight to Roe v Wade. This year alone they’ve passed 94 restrictions on abortions. However, none has gone as far as my former home state, Texas.

It has passed the so-called Heartbeat Act, banning abortions past the point when a foetal heartbeat is detected, typically as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Any individual, including those not directly involved, can now sue any doctor, nurse or anyone else performing or assisting an abortion. Damages to be awarded start from $10,000. Exceptions can be made only in medical emergencies, but not in cases of rape or incest.

Pro-abortionists screamed bloody murder, as it were, all the way to the Supreme Court, demanding that it block the new law. However, the Supreme Court refused, by a 5-4 vote.

Now the screams have reached a hysterical pitch, with the good Catholic Joe Biden leading the way as a sort of choir master. The new law, fumed the good Catholic, is “extreme”. It “significantly impairs” women’s access to healthcare. Right. So abortion is healthcare, a bit like appendectomy.

I stress Biden’s religious credentials only to show his hypocrisy. For one can be either a pro-abortionist or a good Christian, never both. Catholic doctrine in particular is adamant on the subject: since life begins at conception, abortion violates one of the Commandments, and not a misdemeanour one either.

The point I usually make when this subject comes up is that one doesn’t have to fall back on Christian doctrine to make a case against abortion. A simple logical process should suffice.

Sanctity of life is a concept that might have originated within the Church, but then so did all of our most fundamental laws. Since then, however, they have shed any visible tethers tying them to religion and entered the secular jurisprudence of all civilised countries.

Hence the issue of abortion boils down to a simple question. Is a foetus a human being, autonomous in potentiality, or merely a part of a woman’s body, like the appendix?

If it’s the latter, then it can be treated like the appendix: allowed to exist if it gives no trouble, cut out if it causes discomfort. If, however, it’s human, then the distinction between abortion and infanticide becomes blurred, not to say non-existent.

Given the normal gestation period of about nine months, the issue is further reduced to another question. At what point along this timeline does a human life start?

What about at nine months minus one day? No, that’s not it. No difference between pre-natal and post-natal abortions would be noticeable, and the latter is unequivocal murder.

How about, say, 24 weeks into pregnancy, which most abortion laws specify as the cut-off point, as it were? This limit is based on the antediluvian proposition that at that time a foetus becomes viable, that is able to survive outside the womb.

Yet recent scientific advances, of which modernity is so proud, can enable a foetus to survive at a much earlier stage. Fair enough, it can’t survive on its own, but then neither can a post-natal baby. Using the same logic, we ought to condone infanticide up until at least school age.

I’d suggest that the 24-week limit is arbitrary to a point of being unsustainable. Are we to believe that a human life starts at exactly 24 weeks and not, say, at a mere 23 weeks and six days?

Clearly there is no scientific basis for this belief. In fact, any ironclad limit on the presumptive life-giving point would be arbitrary, refutable by the same process of reductio ad absurdum. Any, that is, except one: the moment of conception.

Only this moment is irreducible and unarguable. Any other point is open to question, and surely decent concern for elementary (secular!) morality should treat any reasonable doubt in favour of preserving life? Even a petty criminal can only be convicted when no reasonable doubt exists. Surely life deserves a similar consideration?

Thus the new Texas law is in no way extreme. It too sets an arbitrary point, that when a foetus begins to show a heartbeat.

Yet equating life with cardiac activity doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. After all, people have been known to survive for up to 45 minutes after their heart stopped beating. Should they have been buried directly that line on the oscillograph went straight?

The Heartbeat Act is yet another palliative. Yet it’s a better one than any other so far. After all, “Half a loaf is better than none,” as Thomas Jefferson once said in a different context.  

As you might have gathered, I’m opposed to abortion both on religious and rational grounds. Yet I’m man enough to admit that I sometimes make knee-jerk decisions for purely emotional or, if you will, intuitive reasons. Not often, but sometimes.

In this case too I’d support the new Texas law simply because of those who oppose it. Joe Biden is one. This good Catholic defends abortion with considerably more passion than he displayed when leaving many Americans at the mercy of Taliban savages.

He has sworn an oath to “protect and defend” Roe v Wade as a constitutional right “upheld as a precedent for nearly half a century”. In fact, as his press secretary Jen Psaki explained, Biden has always laboured manfully to turn that precedent into federal law – a noble cause those Texan hillbillies are thwarting.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose politics put her somewhere between Leonid Brezhnev and Che Guevara, described the Act as “catastrophe to women in Texas”. And New York Mayor de Blasio took time from his day job of running the city into the ground to call for a “national mobilisation” to fight for abortion.

Also, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whose politics puts it to the left of either Brezhnev or Che Guevara, promised to stick to its guns, or rather abortion tools. The Act, say its spokesmen, opens the door to “vigilante lawsuits”. Surprisingly they didn’t use the term ‘McCarthyism’ they typically reserve for any conservative measure.

Anyway, well-done, Texas. Though the Act isn’t quite the destination, at least it’s a step in the right direction. These days, one can’t ask for more.

P.S. According to newspaper reports, Geronimo the alpaca has finally been “executed”. Chaps, people are executed; animals are put down. Those who don’t know the difference probably can’t distinguish betweeen a foetus and an appendix either.

Educated electorate is easier said than done

Progress at work

The other day I quoted Plato and Aristotle to the effect that an educated electorate is essential if democracy is to have a sporting chance of success.

The same thought can be expressed differently: democracy, in its present, unchecked form, is bound to fail. For an educated electorate is a pie in the sky.

What exactly is education anyway? In the sense in which it’s relevant to the subject in hand?

The word didn’t really allow for much interpretation in the past. Everyone knew what education meant: an accumulation of knowledge whose desired outcome was a more intelligent and moral person. One best equipped to seek truth, and recognise it once found.

However, when modernity barged in, it brought along a full bag of semantic tricks, ranging from larceny to ambiguity. Hence nowadays education means something – or rather some things – entirely different.

For example, Thomas Sowell, one of today’s best thinkers on such subjects, talks about education in mostly utilitarian terms, as obtaining the useful skills required for survival in the rough-and-tumble of commercial life. He acknowledges that this isn’t all that education is about, just the most important thing.

Developing his thought logically, we’d have to see no difference between a university and, say, a plumbing school. If anything, the latter may even be more conducive to making a stable living.

However, if we accept my definition of education as a process by which a person becomes better at pursuing truth, it’s not immediately obvious how a degree in structural engineering or computer science can achieve that purpose. More employable, yes. Better, not necessarily.

Others equate education with a certificate of academic attainment, usually a university degree of some kind, any kind. This notion has never been sustainable, and now less than ever, even though such certificates make useful wall art.

To begin with, it’s now possible to obtain a university degree without ever tackling disciplines traditionally recognised as academic. Practically every university these days offers credit courses in subjects that, rather than making a person better, are guaranteed to make him worse.

The usual complement of black studies, women’s studies and gender studies is in the forefront, backed up by a wide selection of courses that must have been thought up by inmates of lunatic asylums.  

The US leads the way with such programmes as ‘The Lesbian Phallus’ (The Occidental College, LA), ‘Philosophy and Star Trek’ (Georgetown University) and ‘Maple Syrup Making’ (Alfred University, NYC).

But British universities manfully hold their own, with such courses as ‘How to Train in the Jedi Way’ (Queen’s, Belfast), ‘Harry Potter Studies’ (Durham), ‘The History of Lace Knitting in Shetland’ (Glasgow) or ‘The Life and Times of Robin Hood’ (predictably, Nottingham University).

A youngster emerging with a degree awarded for stellar performance in such studies is no better equipped to face up to his civic responsibilities than an average Dachshund. At an unkind moment, I’d even suggest that the dog, if trained to bark at the sound of some key words, stands a better chance of voting intelligently.

However, even discounting such, shall we say, esoteric courses, and agreeing that the mere acquisition of marketable skills, commendable though it is, is irrelevant to acting as a responsible voter, a degree in the humanities is these days more of a hindrance than an asset.

To be prepared for participating in governance, which is what every voter does, a person must have at least some rudimentary grounding in such disciplines as theology, philosophy, history, law, logic, rhetoric, political science and so forth.

However, the teaching of such disciplines, if they are taught at all, is more or less monopolised by people hostile to our civilisation. They see it as nothing but a shameful hodgepodge of superstition, oppression, racism, colonialism, misogyny, homophobia and other irredeemable sins.

Rather than helping youngsters to overcome their youthful prejudices, such professors reinforce them – and then inculcate new ones, worse than the early lot. The results are catastrophic. In fact, I’d venture a guess that, should the franchise be limited to holders of university degrees in the humanities, every Western country would have a communist government, or as near as damn.

Having myself gone to a Soviet university, I shudder to see how similar Western universities have become. But there is an important difference, and not in favour of the latter.

We had to take a whole raft of compulsory subjects designed to brainwash us in the delights of communism. As I remember, the curriculum included year-long courses in the History of the Communist Party, Dialectical Materialism, Historical Materialism, Scientific Communism, Marxist Political Economy, Marxist Aesthetics, Scientific Atheism – and I’m sure I must have left some out.

However, we, most of us, recognised those courses for the mind-numbing propaganda they were and never took them seriously. Our real education came from forbidden texts, usually typewritten, mimeographed and disseminated by intrepid individuals risking their freedom.

Western students, on the other hand, hungrily gobble up the fetid refuse they are fed. And what do you know, the same texts that were forbidden in the Soviet Union are now ‘cancelled’ in Western universities, and for the same reason. A concerted effort is under way to protect young brains from contamination with truth. Courses in the humanities have become exercises in subversive propaganda.

Such is the situation. And I can see no realistic possibility for changing it (for the better, that is).

Before youngsters become students, they spend a decade or longer as pupils. The majority, a dwindling one, will never advance to higher education.

Schoolmasters get to work on young brains still in the embryonic state and, by the time they are finished, their charges are deemed ready to decide who will govern the country, and how. On what basis are they qualified to make such decisions?

They are taught at most schools by graduates of teachers’ training colleges, who are themselves functionally illiterate Marxists almost to a man. That doesn’t prevent them from having firm convictions based on wholesale rejection (and ignorance) of Western civilisation.

Many of their pupils complete their secondary education without learning to read and write properly. But so much stronger is their belief that only political candidates swimming on the wave of putrid biases are fit to govern. And they vote accordingly.

Those who go on to university then fall into the hands of graduates of better establishments, often Oxbridge in Britain or the Ivy League in the US. Most of them are acutely resentful of their lowly lot in life, as compared with that of financial wizards or successful businessmen.

American academics envy Wall Street mavens, and British academics envy American ones because they get higher salaries. Both groups feel, correctly, that they are at the margins of society, extraneous to the philistine dreams that their medieval colleagues would have seen as nightmares.

They see themselves as pariahs, a self-perception that feeds on itself.  ‘Progressive’ ideas are their way to explain what they bemoan as their life away from the mainstream.

Notable exceptions exist, they always do. But exceptional academics don’t set the tone at humanities departments. They are sometimes tolerated for the sake of scoring diversity points, but such tolerance runs out sooner or later.

You can see that no reform of education can solve the problem, none can reverse the trend of releasing into political life swarms of people manifestly unfit for the purpose. For education doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

As the popular ditty goes, “The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…” – and education is welded unbreakably to the whole ethos of society.

For education to produce responsible voters in sufficient numbers, a tectonic shift must occur, creating a fissure between the West and the past several centuries of its development. By way of a palliative, perhaps one could agree on just a single century – but even that is impossible even to imagine.

History ticks on, and there is no going back. Darwin was right when saying that everything changes. Where he was calamitously wrong is in believing that every evolutionary change is for the better.

That wrong idea has left its original biological domain and drifted into social and political life as the doctrine of unstoppable progress. The same two words I offered the other day as a refutation of democracy disprove this doctrine as well: Joe Biden.