Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Hustings: Week in Review

The Hustings takes a break for the weekend today, having featured, in its first full week of commentary, a score of entries from seven of our talented writers.

Our contributors have engaged the issue of abortion policy in Canada, with editor Jackson Doughart seeing a bright spot for the pro-life cause in Justin Trudeau’s dark new mandate, and guest poster Alexandre Meterissian making a case for modern, European-style abortion regulations.

Jeffrey Collins brought his foreign policy credentials to bear in his case for Western pragmatism in Syria, and Cody Boutilier brought to light the profound challenge facing our society with the ceaseless advance of technology.

Political tumult in Europe has been on our minds as well: Geoffrey Wale offered a defense of Dutch political personality Geert Wilders, while Tom Stringham and Jackson Doughart attempted to unearth the real political causes of the legislative earthquake in the EU. Meanwhile, Barbara Kay skewered the decision of a Belgian euthanasia advocate to hold his conference at Auschwitz.

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Tom Stringham: Conservatism and technological change

Modern technology is realizing a new stage in its evolution, as artificial processes threaten to replace not only human exertion, as they have been doing since the Industrial Revolution, but vast roles hitherto played by human cognition as well. Firms like Google, whose autonomous cars are only years away from the market, are at the vanguard of this transformation, as Cody pointed out yesterday. Robotic devices, until now mostly out of sight, will soon find their place in our everyday lives.

Cody argues that while previous modernizations allowed for the creation of an expanded service sector of the economy, the next wave of innovation will leave no new space for human labour, perhaps leading to mass unemployment.

On this point I don’t agree: if we can’t imagine what the future’s jobs will look like, I think it reflects more on our imagination than on the future. This seems especially true given failed predictions of technology-triggered labour sector collapses in times gone by.

Where I do agree is that the shift toward a highly-technical economy has led, and will continue to lead, to profound social consequences. The less educated, the less ambitious, and the less inclined toward cognitively intensive, technical fields among us will probably be left behind—if not in jobs, at least in pay and status. We are already seeing some of these trends play out, as in yuppie tech haven San Francisco, where according to new data, income inequality rivals Guatemala’s.

This sort of impending social disruption probably justifies, for a conservative, at least a mild Luddism when it comes to technology. If the ship of civilization is thrown off course by rapid technological change, then its crew might do well to cast an anchor on the side of institutional caution.

This cautiousness will require its own ingenuity. Governments might have an educational role to play in mitigating media addiction, especially among young people. Or maybe the astounding, almost accidental accrual of massive wealth to technology firms and their employees will justify future changes to patent laws or tax regulations.

While innovation is prosperity’s lifeblood, it does seem clear that our society’s cultural maturity is lagging its own technical intellect, and large segments of our population will likely pay the price. As Cody mentioned yesterday, the economic and the social are truly inseparable—perhaps the approach to both requires an extra measure of conservatism.

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Jackson Doughart: A word on “insider” books

On CBC’s The National last night, panelists Bruce Anderson, Chantal Hébert, and Andrew Coyne discussed “tell all” insider political books written by former advisers to prime ministers. The cause for discussion was two such books published this year by Tom Flanagan and Bruce Carson, both dealing with the head of the present government. The panelists generally agreed that insider books are healthy for country, as they bring to light details of our leaders which journalists may be able to uncover on their own. They also have the added advantage of being written in the name of the author; leaked insider details to journalists are usually from unnamed sources, carrying less credibility.

Unique on the panel, Anderson expressed some doubts about the ethics of revealing intimate details of a prime minister’s inner circle, especially when the prime minister is still in office. I agree with him, but for more reasons than the lack of loyalty shown by former staffers who throw their former employer under the figurative bus, even when such revelations would serve no public good.

There needs to be some way in which prime ministers, who especially in Canada are afforded substantial power, can operate among their advisers and staffers in a freewheeling manner, so as to come to a considered and informed decision about policy. Presumably this involves the ability to say out loud thoughts which, if revealed, would probably be quite damaging to the reputation not only of the individual prime minister and his cabinet ministers, but also of the institution of executive power itself. Yet this ability to say the publicly-unsayable in private, to hash out all of the possibilities and get to the heart of the matter, is an important element of deliberation.

Perhaps this makes me more deferential than one ought to be, but I really don’t care much about how a politician came to take or support a particular decision. It doesn’t matter to me whether he went through ten advisers to get it, whether he threw a temper tantrum in the middle of it, or whether he needed to be prescribed Prozac just to get through the process. What I care about is the merit of the proposed or pursued action. The necessary check on bad decisions is not belatedly-written and often self-serving insider texts, but a properly adversarial and supervising legislature, and a well-informed and fearless class of journalists.

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Cody Boutilier: My debt to Russia

I’m witnessing the gradual close of a brief but crucial chapter in my young life, namely those several years when all things Russia loomed large in my thoughts. Exiled by economic necessity to Utah for the past year, I’ve interacted with Russians mostly through the Internet. It’s hard to imagine that little more than a year ago I was an officer in a UC Berkeley Russian cultural organization, and spoke Russian almost daily. It’s even harder to imagine that nearly a year ago I spent three weeks in Snowden’s new homeland.

For those three weeks, Russia was a sensual, tangible place of train schedules and hotel registrations, desperate attempts to nab proper verb prefixes, bowls of borsht and bottles of Baltika beer, countless trips to the bank to replenish my rainbow of rubles, and tens of thousands of breathing, 3D men and women. My Russian experiences are no less stark and prominent in my memory, but Putin’s mischief in Ukraine has come to dominate the Russia of my psyche. This is an unfortunate development, and for once I don’t blame Vladimir.

Three and a half years ago, when I returned from a semester in Moscow, I intended to go into academia. A few months later I decided to become a lawyer, but my obsession with Russia continued unabated. I returned to Russia twice, and became well-acquainted with the Bay Area Russian community. Since the beginning of my interim year in Utah, my cultural communion with Russia has attenuated. Texas, my soon-to-be home, is the new mystical land to capture my imagination, and the study of the law, a far more intensive endeavor than study of history, will soon consume my waking thoughts. I’d be foolish to expect Russia to keep its privileged role.

I’ll continue to chat regularly in Russian with friends on VK, and I expect that most of the books I read will still be about Russia. With luck, I’ll finish work on my Russian-themed novel, and will try never to lose my internal map of the Moscow Metro.

Watching the Olympics’ opening ceremony, I was overcome with nostalgia for the days when I was reading Tolstoy, hardly knew Russian, and couldn’t wait to journey there. The rediscovered sense of wonderment was invigorating, with Russia as with all things. I’m proud of the cultural enrichment I’ve secured myself for years to come.

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Jackson Doughart: Bill Maher’s abortion-and-crime correlation

Before it gets too far away, I’d like to rebut a remark made on Bill Maher’s “Real Time” program last Friday. In the context of discussing the botched execution last month in Oklahoma, Maher and his panelists digressed to the topic of declining American crime. Guest David Frum pointed out that despite sensationalized television news coverage, which may encourage the impression of America as a violent place, crime has been steadily decreasing since the 1990s, largely thanks to crime fighting efforts.

In a bizarre comment, Maher then attributed the decline in crime to the prevalence of legal abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973, which pre-preemptively eliminated, in his words, future members of the FBI’s most wanted list.

Here in Canada, this line of argument should put one in mind of the late Henry Morgentaler, whose own pro-abortion advocacy was predicated—at least in private, though later acknowledged in public—upon this very claim. From a 1999 magazine essay by Morgentaler:

Is there a relationship between the statistically proven decline in crime rates and access to abortion? For the last six years, in both the United States and Canada, the crime rate has steadily decreased — in particular for crimes of violence, such as assault, rape, and murder. Some demographers explain this by the fact that there are fewer young men around, and it is mostly young men who commit crimes. No doubt this is true, but what is even more important is that, among these young men likely to commit offenses, there are fewer who carry an inner rage and vengeance in their hearts from having been abused or cruelly treated as children.

Why is that? Because many women who a generation ago were obliged to carry any pregnancy to term now have the opportunity to choose medical abortion when they are not ready to assume the burden and obligation of motherhood. It is well documented that unwanted children are more likely to be abandoned, neglected, and abused. Such children inevitably develop an inner rage that in later years may result in violent behavior against people and society.

Morgentaler went on to say: “I predicted a decline in crime and mental illness thirty years ago when I started my campaign to make abortion in Canada legal and safe. It took a long time for this prediction to come true.”

I don’t suspect Maher of harbouring the same evil spirit as Morgentaler, the former having at least acknowledged that anti-abortionists have a legitimate claim about abortion being an act of killing. But he is parroting the same disingenuous argument, which even if theoretically tenable, respects no moral proportion. In Canada, the commonly-cited figure is 100,000 abortions every year. 1.06 million were reportedly performed in the United States in 2011.

Were there Charles Mansons and Timothy McVeighs among them? Surely there were. But there were no doubt Mozarts and Wilberforces and Lincolns and Picassos as well, of whom humanity has been deprived. More importantly, there were millions of innocent human beings who were violently deprived of life. And all for the sake of a lame explanation for crime reduction? This is moral obtuseness at its height.

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