Custom Search

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Memory police - down the memory hole with YOU!

In "The freedom of historical debate is under attack by the memory police" (Guardian, October 16, 2008), British historian Timothy Garton Ash skewers the European Union's new "memory police," noting that "Well-intentioned laws that prescribe how we remember terrible events are foolish, unworkable and counter-productive." Unless you are a bureaucrat with a taste for bending minds, right? In which case, you will think God sent it express from heaven just for you. For example,
More and more countries have laws saying you must remember and describe this or that historical event in a certain way, sometimes on pain of criminal prosecution if you give the wrong answer. What the wrong answer is depends on where you are. In Switzerland, you get prosecuted for saying that the terrible thing that happened to the Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman empire was not a genocide. In Turkey, you get prosecuted for saying it was. What is state-ordained truth in the Alps is state-ordained falsehood in Anatolia.
Fortunately, a group of non-barking mad European historians is starting to push back against the memory police. No surprise that this "Kafka is supposed to be fiction, guys!" group is spearheaded in France:
A further law, passed in 2001, says the French Republic recognises slavery as a crime against humanity, and this must be given its "consequential place" in teaching and research. A group representing some overseas French citizens subsequently brought a case against the author of a study of the African slave trade, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, on the charge of "denial of a crime against humanity". Meanwhile, yet another law was passed, from a very different point of view, prescribing that school curricula should recognise the "positive role" played by the French presence overseas, "especially in North Africa".
Where's comedian Guy Earle (charged under B.C.'s human rights tribunal) when you need him, anyway? A funny man has got to be pretty good to improve on the memory laws farce.

Speaking of "the French presence overseas," imagine applying memory laws to Canada: It would be illegal to say in Quebec that French President Charles de Gaulle was way, way out of bounds when he shouted "Vive le Quebec libre" during some speech he gave - and it would be illegal to say in Ontario that he was within bounds. Heck, a historian could spend her life shuttling from courthouse to courthouse, and from one jail to the next ...

Just when I think that I spend too much time worrying about the growth of the nanny state, another nanny appears with another dose of something awful that's Good For Us.

Fire. Them. All.

Labels: ,

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Canaries in the coal mine

This evening, I was discussing the "human rights commission" situation with a friend who pointed out that Stephen Boissoin, the Alberta pastor who was sentenced to a lifetime speech and communication ban by a "human rights" commissioner had at times been "over the top".

Yes, I suppose so.

And, you see, that’s just the trouble, isn’t it? We don’t like him, so we do things to him in the name of the law that are not defensible according to our own tradition.

If Canada is going fascist, we won’t start by silencing philanthropist Jean Vanier for no good reason, we will start by silencing some fundie pastor somewhere for no good reason.

Then, as civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant says, we end up with two justice systems – one for nice people and one for not-so-nice ones.

Then the second system starts to overstep. Then it is forced to drop the cases brought against prominent people like Mark Steyn, revealing that we do indeed have a two-tier justice system!

The justification for treating not-so-nice people with scrupulous fairness is enlightened self-interest. They are our canaries in the coal mine.

For that matter, when free speech is threatened, intellectual freedom is sure to follow. It starts with persecution of people who say offensive, maybe stupid, things that we don't want to hear. Then ideas that challenge entrenched interests - ideas that they don't want to hear - are labelled "offensive" too.

All the more so if people have b ecome unused to hearing anything that offends them.

I, for example, would far rather be offended by Bill Maher's Religulous than be "protected" by a human rights commission charging Maher with offending Christians. If I needed that kind of protection, I wouldn't be old enough to understand the movie.

Labels: ,

Intelligent design and popular culture: Going all "viral" on the Explore Evolution text

Recently, biologist John Timmer published an attack on Explore Evolution, a biology textbook put out by (cue evil music) the Discovery Institute. His "review" is mostly the usual heavy-handed sludge that standard-bearers for a publicly funded establishment produce.

It briefly went "viral" as the herd of dependent minds picked up the signal.

One of the five authors, Paul Nelson wrote a nimble reply, beginning:

On September 24, 2008, biologist and science writer John Timmer published a review of the supplementary biology textbook Explore Evolution (EE). Timmer had previously written about EE without having read it, so Discovery Institute sent him a copy.

Alas -- having EE in his hands improved neither the quality of Timmer’s writing about the book, nor indeed his coverage of the relevant science. In fact, Timmer so baldly misrepresents both the content of Explore Evolution, but especially the associated scientific evidence and controversies, that his review perfectly illustrates the need for a book like EE.

Our reply will reverse the order of Timmer's review. He starts by using nearly 1200 words to speculate about the motives of EE's authors. Since Timmer did not contact any of us, his speculations -- such as "the authors know precisely the sort of conclusions they’d like everyone to reach" -- cannot be better than groundless. We shall comment briefly in the last part of our reply, however, on a couple of his more philosophical points.

We want to focus on the science. Timmer’s review reflects a deep dilemma that increasingly confronts educators in biology. The devil is in the details -- the data -- but if organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, or the National
Association of Biology Teachers, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, don’t want students to hear about the devil, namely, about challenges to accepted theory, then they will have to omit -- i.e., censor -- the data, namely, the evidence and how biologists variously interpret it.

Hence, many scientific publications that raise interesting questions about evolution will never see the inside of a classroom. The questions are too risky. Science education will become a catechism, diverging from science itself, because the questions now being raised by many evolutionary biologists cut ever closer to claims long held to be "fact."

I have a copy of Explore Evolution on my shelf but haven't gotten around to reviewing it yet. From what I can see from reading a few pages here and there, it's mainly the innocuous inquiry-based "pro vs. con" snoozeroo I used to write myself when I worked as a textbook editor and writer.

That's quite proper too, because the classroom is not supposed to be Indoctrinate U - though it is rapidly becoming so, and no small thanks to people like John Timmer, who may never have met an argument for Darwin's theory that he could risk wondering about, let alone (heaven forbid!) questioning.

People like Timmer are the best argument for the Discovery Institute, Paul Nelson, and Explore Evolution. Disco should put Timmer on the payroll, for all he has done to make the world aware of a book that - had it been legal - would be just another grease-catcher in the student caf.

Here's a bit of Indoctrinate U on line, but buy the DVD, will you? Support (truly*) independent film:

*truly independent? If the government funded a film through an arts grant, it is not truly independent. It's truly independent if no one knows or cares what the government thinks about it.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

Labels: , ,

Who links to me?