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Sunday West 41
The bully is banned
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Elsewhere, the Prime Minister announced plans to ban the highly dangerous American Bully XL dog breed, the result of a campaign largely by one man, academic Lawrence Newport. Considering that he was opposed by the RSPCA, probably the country’s most prestigious charity, and dealing with a country with absurd levels of animal sentimentality, it was an impressive campaign with lessons for others. There have been several good pieces on the Bully XL problem over the past few weeks, and also one by me.
On that subject, Ellen Pasternack on why bans do work
Breed-specific legislation has been very effective at minimising risks to the public from dogs over the three decades it has been in place. Pit bulls are one of the prohibited breeds in the UK; in the USA, where they are generally not subject to restriction, fatal dog attacks per capita are twice as high, with attacks by pit bulls more than making up the difference.
We see this argument again and again in all sorts of contexts. “If you ban this thing that I don’t want banned, that won’t stop it from happening!” For the right, it’s gun ownership; for the left, it’s abortion (“you can’t ban abortion, you can only ban safe abortion”), prostitution and drugs. Then of course there’s the view that it’s literally impossible to prevent children from watching pornography, which seems to forget that children generally first stumble across online porn by accident, rather than seeking it out. No, most tweens are not tech-savvy enough to get around age restrictions even if they want to.
Ever since I can remember having an interest in things like this, the Dangerous Dog Act has been hailed as the platonic ideal of a badly-written and hastily-drafted law that doesn’t work, something I just assumed to be true because everyone said it. But it seems like it’s not and the law does work quite well.
Conor Fitzgerald on why Sinn Fein became trendy
The short answer is that they (or their friends) stopped murdering people. He writes:
I remember what it was like before. On the Southside of Dublin in the late 1990s, where I grew up, being a republican was probably the least fashionable thing a human being could be. Voting for Sinn Féin would have been half-way between voting for the National Front and the Flat Earth Party, i.e. the act of thug but also a crank.
I’m also exaggerating the average views of the time here for comic effect but not that much. Flash-forward to 2023 and the descendants of those southsiders, their counterparts (in the case of some of the older ones, the people themselves) are jumping around in a field to Celtic Symphony.
Middle-class people are more paranoid of their status than any other group – unlike the people at the very bottom they have something to lose, but unlike the people at the top they lack the money to insulate themselves from a bad social decision. That’s why they (particularly the younger ones) are the most conformist social class. They don’t pick up a suspect device unless they’re absolutely convinced it has been defused.
I’ve been watching Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland this week, which is truly brilliant filmmaking and deeply moving. A quasi-review of sorts should follow.
Kathleen Lowrey on Canada’s Convenient Victims
Lowrey, a WSoH subscriber, mentioned this piece in last week’s comments. It really is an excellent read.
During June and July 2021, more than 50 Christian churches across Canada were damaged by vandalism or destroyed by arson, acts Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “understandable” and which the executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Union celebrated in a now-infamous tweet (“Burn it all down”). While the Catholic and Anglican churches had run most residential schools, the attacks were ecumenical, and targeted, in one instance, a Coptic Orthodox church. In some cases, these attacks destroyed churches in indigenous communities that had long played important roles as community centers.
On July 6, 2021, Trudeau arranged a photoshoot in which he knelt holding a teddy bear on land near a former residential school in Cowessess First Nation. Here, ground-penetrating radar suggested the presence of 751 burials. Unlike the Kamloops site, bodies are certainly present at Cowessess. Chief Cadmus DeLorne was clear that these were “unmarked graves,” not mass graves. The land was long used as a Roman Catholic graveyard in the community, primarily for adults, many of whose grave markers have deteriorated and been lost over time. But the point of the teddy bear was to wash Trudeau in the blood of many spectral little lambs in preparation for an August election call. Trudeau’s minority government gambled—unsuccessfully, as it turned out—on returning to power with a majority.
Louise Perry on repaganisation.
The Roman Empire has become a story this week, thanks to TikTok, and part of the fascination with Rome is just how alien and cruel it all was - cruel precisely because we are all products of a Christian society. But with the faith in sharp retreat across the West, older forms of thinking are re-emerging.
The moral innovation of Christianity was to reconceptualize rape as a moral wrong done to the woman herself, regardless of her birth. Paul’s prohibition of (to use the Greek term) porneia—that is, illicit sexual activity, including prostitution—upended an ethical system in which male access to the female body was unquestioned and unquestionable. Whereas the Romans regarded male chastity as profoundly unhealthy, Christians prized it and insisted on it. Early converts were disproportionately female because the Christian valorization of weakness offered obvious benefits to the weaker sex, who could—for the first time—demand sexual continence of men. Feminism is not opposed to Christianity: It is its descendant.
Modern progressivism is a paradox because it is both a form of mutated and accelerated Christianity, with an obsession on victimhood and the last shall be first, but also its rejection (not unlike its relative, that other Christian heresy, communism). It’s why I can really empathise with those Romans who saw their old gods and old way of life slipping away.
Ben Sixsmith on the Peckham protests
At a time when small shopkeepers are suffering from increases in shoplifting and violence, I find this story deeply disturbing.
What the media has not reported is the extent to which these demonstrations are both reflecting and fostering communitarian divides. Zoom in on the signs that have been stuck to the shutters of Peckham Cosmetics and you can find messages like “PARASITIC MERCHANTS OUT OF OUR COMMUNITY” and “RACIST ASIANS GO TO HELL PATEL”. The same journalists who are always very sensitive to, say, the blowback on peaceful Muslims after terrorist events don’t think that this is worth a mention.
The rhetoric of the protestors is curious as well. “We need to get a new ecosystem,” announced one protester over a megaphone, “Our own ecosystem where we spend money in our stores. They cannot treat us this way. These are our streets.” One assumes that by “our” he means black people. Does “they” mean Asian people or just anyone else?
The phrase ‘parasitic merchants’ is especially grim; whatever the conflict, personally I will always be on the side of parasitic merchants and against those attacking them. Yet why are the people here allowed to behave in such an obviously intimidating manner? And why does the anti-racism establishment not seem to condemn them?
I’ve written this before, but racial narcissism is a bottomless well, and if we don’t stigmatise it in all groups - because we’re worried that people will suspect our intentions - a minority of people will become unbearable to live around.
Naomi Wolf, as many people will know, is the feminist writer who went down something of a mental wormhole during lockdown (many such cases), although she did produce some fantastic tweets. But there were signs long before, as Lewis writes in this review of Naomi Klein’s book about her namesake.
Like Klein, I loved The Beauty Myth as a young woman, and then largely forgot about Wolf until 2010, when Julian Assange was arrested for alleged sex offenses (the charges were later dropped), and she claimed that Interpol was acting as “the world’s dating police.” Two years later, she published Vagina: A New Biography, which mixed sober accounts of rape as a weapon of war with a quest to cure her midlife sexual dysfunction through “yoni massages” and activating “the Goddess array.” In one truly deranged scene, a friend hosts a party at his loft and serves pasta shaped like vulvae, alongside salmon and sausages. The violent intermingling of genital-coded food overwhelms Wolf, who experiences it as an insult to womanhood in general and her own vagina in particular, and suffers writer’s block for the next six months. (I suspect that the friend was just trying to get into the spirit of Wolf’s writing project.) I remember beginning to wonder around this time whether Wolf might be a natural conspiracy theorist who had merely lucked into writing about one conspiracy—the patriarchy—that happened to be true.
The counter is that a lot of fashionable and popular beliefs - the patriarchy, systemic racism, disaster capitalism - are conspiracy theories themselves. But that is always the risk with being a ‘pattern recogniser’, of seeing connections that might exist or might be a coincidence, or explained by non-nefarious causes.
Then came the book.
Her final exile from the mainstream can probably be dated to 2019, when she was humiliated in a live radio interview during the rollout of her book Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love. She had claimed that gay men in Victorian England were regularly executed for sodomy, but the BBC host Matthew Sweet noted that the phrase death recorded in the archives meant that the sentence had been commuted, rather than carried out. It was a grade A howler, and it marked open season on her for all previous offenses against evidence and logical consistency. The New York Times review of Outrages referred to “Naomi Wolf’s long, ludicrous career.” In the U.K., the publisher promised changes to future editions, and the release of the U.S. edition was canceled outright.
I admit that I have never been able to listen to that interview, I just don’t have the stomach to endure that level of humiliation, although I’d still like to read Outrages because John Addington Symonds was my great-great-grandfather.
Niall Gooch on the Sensibles
George Osborne and Ed Balls have started a podcast, and it’s good to see that the old adversaries are able to get on despite pretty much agreeing on everything.
Balls and Osborne, like Stewart and Campbell, both campaigned to remain in the EU. Both are liberal on borders – in 2018 Osborne suggested, with an optimism bordering on delusion, that Remain might have won if they had talked more about immigration – and neither of them has ever shown much interest in anything but a mainstream liberal approach to crime and justice, to culture, to the family. I shall be enormously surprised if either of them dissent meaningfully from the ruling class consensus on the Ukraine war, or net zero, or free speech. The disturbing rise of racial grievance politics in the UK over recent years appears to bother them not a jot, if their public pronouncements are any guide. I suspect both would rather have complicated dental surgery than join Nigel Farage for a Sunday roast and a pint of Theakston’s at the George & Dragon. Their disagreements are confined almost entirely to economic matters, and even there the differences are not so very great.
Christopher Caldwell on the 90s.
I think I’m with Randy ‘the Ram’ Robinson on the relative benefits of the 1980s and 90s, but it was nevertheless a transformational decade and the father of our era. In particular it was the time when ‘political correctness’, the forerunner of today’s woke, came of age.
Affirmative action was something else altogether. The mystery is how it had even survived into the nineties. Americans hated it, as polls showed year in and year out. In the 1980s, when the essayist Richard Rodriguez published his memoir Hunger of Memory, his editor advised him to cut the passages about racial preferences, saying: “Nobody’s going to remember affirmative action in another twenty-five years.” That the hard power of civil rights was still at work in American life seemed like an oversight, and in a way it was. So confident in the power of free markets were the Hayekian libertarians who shaped Republican ideology in the 1980s that they forgot there was any other kind of power.
They assumed that government programs, being less effective than private ones, would simply wither away. The Business Roundtable convinced Ronald Reagan not to revoke Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246, which had established affirmative action for federal contractors. And Reagan’s departure revealed that the party’s attractiveness to real conservatives—reactionaries, traditionalists, and cultural pessimists, as opposed to opportunistic businessmen—had been personal and contingent. Conservatives had never been given a functional policy role in the Republican party, not even in Reagan’s time. Though still a primarily Republican voting bloc, they began to drift. The rallying of “angry white males” to the GOP in 1994 was a last hurrah, at least until 2016. The Republicans became the 45-percent party they remain to this day.
Civil rights survived because it proved an extraordinary tool—unlike any in peacetime constitutional history—for contravening democratic decision-making. By withholding money, by suing states and businesses, the federal government can use civil rights law to coerce local authorities into changing policies; it can alter the behavior of private citizens. When Bill Clinton broadened the remit of civil rights, he didn’t have to spend money to do it.
His predecessor, George H. W. Bush, had taken the first steps down this road. Bush’s Civil Rights Act of 1991 introduced punitive damages in a broad range of civil rights cases, creating major incentives to file lawsuits for race and sex discrimination. In the wake of the 1992 L.A. riots, Bush lowered standards of creditworthiness for inner-city home buyers. But it was Clinton who opened the floodgates of housing credits by threatening, on the strength of misrepresented agency data, to find lenders guilty of “redlining” black neighborhoods. He used the Carter-era Community Reinvestment Act to pressure banks politically. Black homeownership rose by 25 percent between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. This was the era of subprime loans, which would bring on the crash of 2008 and the ensuing global recession. The American media has never been comfortable acknowledging that minority homeownership programs were at the root of an international economic calamity. But economists (notably Atif Mian and Amir Sufi of Chicago, and Viral Acharya of NYU) have understood it all along, and the progressive Cambridge University historian Gary Gerstle, in his recent The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, puts the Bush-Clinton subsidies squarely at the center of the 2008 crash.
Progressive attitudes on race and sex prevailed because they were enforced, disseminated, and protected (even from democratic review) by civil rights law. At a time when all certitudes were being toppled, racial progressivism, along with its sexual offshoot, was spared. It was the functional equivalent of a state religion or a national ideology. As Clinton entered office, promising to appoint a cabinet that “looks like America,” progressivism became the organizing principle of the White House.
I’ve just read Richard Hanania’s The Origins of Woke, which makes a similar argument to Caldwell’s in Age of Entitlement (which Hanania acknowledges and cites) – that wokeness is downstream of law. Will post about it soon.
Matt Goodwin on the benefits of Brexit.
I’m pretty downbeat about Brexit, being an early Bregretter. I’ve written before about how, working for a Tory MP, I read loads about the workings of the EU and concluded that the Leave arguments didn’t hold up. It would make a lot of people poorer, which is a terrible thing and makes me really dislike the word ‘Remoaner’ (yeah, I’d probably moan if my business was ruined). Leave won, in huge part, because people saw it as their only chance to have a say on overwhelming, nation-changing levels of migration, which the Conservative government used as an opportunity to increase immigration – and that, more than anything else, will ensure that they get badly defeated at the election.
BUT, as a counterpoint, Matt – who is by nature cheerier than me, which isn’t hard – makes the case that there are in fact lots of upsides.
Rory Sutherland on optionality trumping optimality.
I really dislike the removal of manned ticket terminals in railway stations, yet another thing that makes life frightening and unsettling for older people who struggle with technology (I mean, I’m heading that way myself). Sutherland, whose Spectator column is a true gem, also suggests it doesn’t make business sense either.
Like many cost-cutting decisions practised by our techno-economic lizard overlords, wholesale automation also overlooks the less quantifiable value created by human presence: social exchange, security or reassurance. The new Thanet Parkway station is unmanned and in the evenings it feels like a set from Blade Runner.
Besides, anyone who has any knowledge of human behaviour knows that the more ways you sell things the more things you sell. In marketing, optionality trumps optimality. McDonald’s understands this. So while it has spent hundreds of millions of pounds installing screen ordering systems, it still preserves the option of ordering face to face. SNCF goes further. It sends vans to rural markets to allow people to buy tickets without going to a station first. Expensive, yes, but quite likely an incremental sale. Any idiot can make a business more efficient by selling to fewer people.
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