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When everyone is over 70

I attended a New Year’s eve concert of schmaltzy Viennese music (Strauss, Lehar) last night at the concert hall of the Univesite de Sherbrooke. You can imagine the audience. I was separated from my wife and hostess, who are distinguished by heads of lush grey hair. In trying to find them I realized that 85% of the people there had a grey hair, and half of them seemed older than 75. About 15% of the audience was under 40, and that is a generous estimate. Concerts of Viennese schmaltz attract geezers for sure, but these people used to be separatists in the 1970s. This was truly a monocultural monoethnic environment, with scarcely an exception.

 

Occasionally you see evidence of major demographic change – as when my wife and I got on the bus in Toronto a few years back and found ourselves the only white people among fifty passengers.

Canada has been trying to make up for its demographic collapse with massive immigration. Thus it was bracing, to say the least, to listen to Peter Zeihan’s latest on Canada’s problems of immigration, demographics, and whether we can sustain it for long.

 

Asabiya

Peter Turchin reintroduced me to the concept of asabiya in his War and Peace and War. 

Asabiya is a term borrowed from the Arabic philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406). Asabiya is the power of a society to accomplish things collectively, such as build an empire, a cathedral or a bridge, or fight a war. If you want to experience the power of asabiya, just consider how the entire British nation and its institutions buried their monarch. mourned her loss, televized the funerals, held complex ceremonies in centuries-old churches, organized 4000 soldiers, sailors and airmen and the the top ranks of the governing classes into parades, solemn processions, and ceremonies of the state church, as the people organized themselves into disciplined throngs of hundreds of thousands enduring hours of patient waiting in order to flow past the coffin of the dead Queen.

 

Says Turchin:

“Different groups have different degrees of cooperation among their members, and therefore different degrees of cohesiveness and solidarity…. Asabiya refers to the capacity of a social group for concerted collective action. Asabiya is a dynamic  quantity; it can increase or decrease with time. Like many theoretical constructs, such as force in Newtonian physics, the capacity for collective action cannot be observed directly, but can be measured from observable consequences”.

Great Britain manifestly has huge asabiya. So does the United States or Japan. Canada had asabiya. It demonstrated this in two world wars. Whether it still has asabiya is doubtful. It is rent by too many ethnic fissures, and the group most asabiya-endowed,  English Canada, is constantly denigrated and weakened by the governing Liberals as a matter of multicultural policy. “Diversity is our strength.”  The French Canadians fear English Canada’s asabiya and seek always to diminish it. For that matter, all of woke ideology is an attempt of the political left and their black allies to weaken the asabiya of the American people – “white fragility”, “systemic racism”. So is the attack on organic sexual divisions in the species a different form of attack on asabiya, as the idea of fixed sex roles, indeed fixed anything, goes against the idea of personal choice.

Life is not a matter of expressing our puny selves. It is a matter of belonging  to something great. Think if the political left as being in a permanent war against every other kind of asabiya but their own, when theirs is a weak and hate-filled search for enemies.

Asabiya is real, though not material.

 

 

 

 

 

The Internet is broadcasting, therefore let us regulate!

The new Broadcasting Act, Bill C10, may be stymied in the Senate of Canada, but the actual content of its policy objectives has just been released. Heritage Canada has published “Guiding Principles on Diversity of Content online”. The Guiding Principles have several advantages over the policy objectives of section 3 of the Broadcasting Act. They are not legislated, they can be revised and adapted according to the how the technologies or the societies that adopt them evolve, and they have no legally binding force. They have only the force of the large platforms to back them, if they sign on to the Guiding Principles.

It was Tim Wu in The Master Switch who pointed out that the structure of an industry mattered a lot more than any other factor in determining whether there could be censorship. Vertical integration of the movie-making business with distribution and movie theaters meant that the censors could govern the industry through the code of conduct, one that lasted from Mae West in the 1930s to Easy Rider in the 1960s.

The basic idea of the Guiding Principles is the achievement of diversity, equity and inclusion. It is a set of principles that its signatories are expected to work towards. The most important signatories will be the Internet platforms, because without their compliance, the Principles will be mere hot air.

The private sector companies to which the guiding principles are to apply particularly include “services operating online, whose primary purpose is to broadcast or distribute content or share user-generated content online.” Governments, media sector representatives, regulators and civil society organizations are likewise to be included as signatories.

The goal is to promote diversity on-line, understood as

  • Creation access and discoverability of diverse content online
  • Fair remuneration and economic viability of content creators
  • Promotion of diverse, pluralistic sources of news and information as well as resilience against disinformation and misinformation
  • Transparency of the impacts if algorithmic treatments of online content.

 

Signatories are to agree to implement these goals within the scope of their responsibilities and to develop specific commitments by December 2022 at the latest, to show concrete actions they will take to implement these guiding objectives”.

There follow a number of principles which assume, as a matter of fact, that

  1. There are “equity deserving groups” whose access is limited
  2. Hate, racial prejudice, disinformation and misinformation “can disproportionately affect indigenous people and equity deserving groups”.
  3. “Equity deserving individuals and groups” are defined as those facing significant barriers to participation in different facets of society, a marginalization that could be created by attitudinal, historic, social, economic, legal and environmental obstacles.

Having seen the cartoons of the kids of various heights standing on boxes of various heights to see the baseball game over a wooden fence, “equity” may reasonably be interpreted to mean active measures to overcome the consequences of inequalities, natural or artificial. The term ‘equity’ involves, in modern parlance, an ongoing governmental interference to achieve goals that might not otherwise be achieved in the absence of governmental actions.

The Principles are organized around themes:

  • Creation access and discoverability of content
  • Fair remuneration and economic viability of content creators
  • Promotion of diverse, pluralistic sources of news and information as well as resilience against disinformation and misinformation
  • Transparency of the impacts of algorithmic treatments of online content.

 

The last-mentioned goal says that “content recommendation algorithms and their developers should minimize potential systemic biases and discrimination in outcome, related to such things as race, sexual orientation, gender identity and ability.”

Content recommendation algorithms now seek to interest me in what is related to what I have previously expressed an interest in. If I have expressed interest in videos of Andrew Camarata fixing bulldozers, the algorithm is likely to recommend other machine-oriented males fixing tractors, chainsaws, and building log cabins. Inevitably the algorithms will direct me to things of interest to males, such as myself. I imagine the same happens with videos on golf, tastes in music, physics, flower gardens, or cooking, Japanese art or any taste whatever. How then, it may be asked, will an algorithm correct for systemic bias in male oriented videos if I am a male, and female oriented videos if I were female?

The Guiding Principles do not say, but they expect content recommendation systems to “respect freedom of expression in a way that allows for safe and diverse content.” In other words, safety and diversity, as defined by governments or the platforms, are to constrain freedom of expression.

The Guiding Principles are a kind of Broadcasting Act for the Internet, or a set of objectives that the platforms are expected to implement  By this I mean that the system it envisages is systemic, organized, comprehensive, global (as far as Canadians will see) and subject to government regulation, and that in Annex A to this document, the signatories are expected to develop by December 2022 at the latest “concrete actions they will take to complement the guiding principles.  These specific commitments will remain evergreen and continue to evolve”.

The great advantages for the government, in its efforts to regulate the Internet, are that the Principles utterly bypass legislation, need no Parliamentary approval, require the cooperation of the platforms but not of society, and subject large areas of private tastes to algorithmic manipulation.

The Guiding Principles are creepily totalitarian, and yet one imagines the authors of this document think of themselves as being great public benefactors. In order to explain what I mean, I ask you, as a thought experiment, to replace the content of the particular goals to be achieved by the guiding principles. Look at the whole thing, and ask yourself what the document, conceived as a whole, says. It says in short, that speech carried across the Internet is to serve particular purposes. All speech, everywhere, that is carried on the Internet.

Agreement or disagreement with the guiding principles as they are stated is less important than the whole purpose of the document. Take out the language about diversity, equity and inclusion (the new modern woke credo) and replace it, in this thought experiment, with any other set of goals to be achieved. These goals could be anything: the divinity of Christ, the supremacy of the Aryan race, the sanctity of the Roman Church, the triumph of scientific socialism, the grandeur of the Aztec Sky God Huitchilopotchtli, the preservation of the British Empire, or the values of the Enlightenment. So let [x] stand for the content of the Guiding Principles. Forget whether you agree with them or not. Just think of the Guiding Principles as a block of ideas that can be lifted out and replaced with some other set of desiderata. In effect, by calling the Principles an evergreen document, Heritage Canada virtually guarantees that they will be revised in time.

Then perhaps it becomes clearer that my point is not the DEI principles, though they are creepy enough. It is the idea that everything on-line should be aimed at any guiding principle at all.

Would you think it normal that the publishing industry in Canada be enjoined to publish books that exclusively promote a certain political agenda?

Would you think it right that speech across various telephone and voice applications be organized to conduce to the achievement of diversity, equity and inclusion?

To make the point even clearer, I recall the story of a Canadian diplomat who served in the Soviet Union, as it then was, in the Brezhnev era. I asked whether there was freedom of speech in the Soviet Union. He said ‘yes there was, absolute freedom of speech’. I was startled.

-What do you mean absolute freedom of speech?!!

– If you are out on the ice fishing in winter, and in your shelter, and out of range of prying microphones, and talking with people whom you have known all your life or from high school, and you have developed trust over decades, you can talk about anything. And they do. They talk about stuff no one talks about here, like whether Hitler was right to invade Stalin’s USSR, or whether Communism is a pile of crap, or whether the USA is actually imperialist. There is complete freedom of discussion. You just have to be careful with whom and where you share your ideas.

People need to look at the Guiding Principles from this perspective. Canada will have complete freedom of speech. Just not the kind we have been used to. Thank you, Peter Grant.