Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Fountain of Stupidity

There's a certain kind of columnist who, whenever some deplorable event occurs (such as the recent riots in Britain), doesn't hesitate to use it to rail opportunistically against some perceived moral failing. Reliable scapegoats to blame include liberals, immigrants, and atheists. And the morons who read these columnists eat it up.

Michael Coren is that sort of columnist.

He offers "six ways to prevent a repeat of London, Vancouver, Toronto scene". But his "six ways" are mostly vague appeals to religious morality, with no specifics.

Let's look at each of Coren's solutions in turn:

1. "Reduce the role of the state and, as a balance, increase the role of the family."

Right, because in the days when the state played little role in supporting health and the poor, there were never, ever, any riots in Britain? The Economist dismantles that claim. England has a long history of violent youth; the Economist traces it back to at least 1751.

Coren says, "parents are not informed by law if their underage daughters tell doctors or teachers they are sexually active, but they are left to face the consequences when teenage pregnancy or STDs occur." But ironically, he supports a church that declares birth control to be a sin. No disconnect there, no sirree.

2. "State-supported education and health care may, arguably, serve a purpose, but state-supported welfare and social services have become so all-embracing that individual self-reliance has evaporated. The balance is important here. Neither the fanatical libertarian nor the obsessive socialist model works."

I'd agree with the last line, but not the first. Where's the evidence? The last time I looked, European social democracies such as Sweden and Norway were prospering (in terms of objective measures, e.g., healthy life expectancy, longevity, child mortality, and homicide), while more libertarian countries such as the US do not do as well. And European social democracies lead the world in scientific papers per capita; no sign that social democracy has sapped "self-reliance" there.

3. Stop the war on religion. Whatever your view of faith and God, the massive decline of religious observance and community in Britain has removed one of the glues that held the country together.

This is just an insane fantasy. There is no "war on religion", metaphorically or otherwise. God-soaked commentators like Coren are just so used to not being questioned about their beliefs that they mistake demands for evidence, or questions raised about their beliefs and their consequences, as a "war". In reality, it's just that religion is increasingly being subjected to the same standards as other truth claims about the world. Religion has been exempt from these standards for far too long. If, for example, Coren supports the Catholic Church's ban on condom use and thinks that this ban is a boon to people in developing countries, let him make that case without appealing to sectarian dogma.

I don't deny that religion can hold people together. But it can just as easily drive them apart. There are many reasons why immigrants came to North America, but the religiously tolerant climate of their home country wasn't one of them. Coren doesn't present any evidence that the "war on religion" led to the riots, and as the Economist article shows, similar violent events have occurred in England for at least 250 years.

4. Control immigration, so it is based on the cultural and social needs and unity of the host population as well as on compassion and economic growth.

And what do you think immigration is based on now? Go read this page from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to see the kinds of professions that Canada is looking for. Surely physicians, nurses, social workers, and psychologists contribute to the "cultural and social needs" of the country.

5. Liberate the police from the whims of political correctness and government fashion.

Right. If only the police had been able to taser those damn rioters, that would have taught them a lesson. After all, it's not like the police had anything at all to do with the immediate cause of the riots.

6. Do not romanticize the worst of lower-class antics on TV and in cinema and music. Entertainment once presented a world worthy of aspiration, now it glorifies the mud and muck.

This is exactly the same argument that the small-minded made 60 years ago against classics like Caldwell's Tobacco Road. Coren is no better.

Boors like Coren don't have any interest in thinking deeply about the causes of mob violence and how to remedy them. They're just interested in blaming the usual suspects from some assumed position of moral superiority. From their mouths, a fountain of stupidity spews forth.


Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

I don't see how #1 Reduce the role of the state can fit with #5 Liberate the police from the whims of political correctness and government fashion.

Does he not realize the police work for the state?

Alex said...

Policing is one of the primary roles of the state, so there's no contradictions between #1 and #5. He didn't say "abolish the state".

It's also a bit silly to insist that the riots had anything to do with the police shooting of an armed drug dealer. I'd say #5 is perhaps the only valid point he brought up, though it's very poorly phrased. There's a reason why the London police are now consulting with US law enforcement, and looking into acquiring new equipment and procedures for future riots. Their inability to regain control was pathetic. While anti-authoritarian zealots might rally against anything which actually makes the police effective, I think most rational people can agree that the government needs to be able to enforce the law and ensure the safety of it's citizens.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

It's also a bit silly to insist that the riots had anything to do with the police shooting of an armed drug dealer.

I guess you haven't read much coverage of the riots, then.

I didn't say it was a rational or proportionate reaction, just that it was definitely one of the immediate causes.

Alex said...

I did follow the coverage - I just disagree with that assessment. You could say that the police shooting was a direct cause of the peaceful protests which followed, but saying they were a direct cause of the riots is going a bit far. The rioters were simple opportunists who saw a chance to steal and destroy without being stopped by the authorities.

As an analogy - if I see a good looking woman wearing skimpy clothing I could say that her appearance is the direct cause of me going over and flirting with her. On the other hand, if I decide to rape her, I don't know many rational people who would say her appearance was the cause of the rape. It might be correct in a purely technical sense, but it's inappropriate, it doesn't add much to the discussion, and it highlights a relatively minor factor while ignoring the real causes.

Then again, maybe I'm just splitting hairs :) I mainly took issue with BB's suggestion that points 1 and 5 contradict each other; I didn't really have a problem with your responses to Coren.

Anonymous said...

What boggles my mind about his commentary is that he makes the statement reduce the role of the state, without ever saying what is wrong with the state, or what about the state caused these riots, sure there is a little bit too much sensitivity to spanking kids these days, but aside from that i mean... is the state issuing drivers licenses something that is causing riots, cause that process only took me about 15 minutes last time, what about drunk driving stops, anyone getting upset over those, not really

i fail to see how such a generic statement can possibly make someone qualified to be a columnist in various newspapers across the nation

Anonymous said...

Ages ago I read a few satirical article's by Coren in Frank magazine (does that still exist?), and some were actually pretty funny. I guess he's matured for the worse.

Mark said...

Coren is right--we need more entertainment that focuses on the foolish antics of the upper class, along the lines of "Upper Class Twit of the Year Contest."

Anonymous said...

Off topic :
Shallit, what do you think about the specified complexty argument in the context of the fine tuning:
1-Does the so called fine tuning problem meet's both critereas(independent pattern and high improbability) of dembski theory?
2- Are both of those critereas sufficient to establish intelligent design in the context of cosmology?

I really apreciate if you have time to answer me.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


Read my article with Elsberry to see why "Dembski's theory" is incoherent gibberish.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. For more fun, try reading his latest book: Why Catholics Are Right.

I borrowed a copy from WPL for a good laugh. It was mostly sad. Coren starts by saying that he expects many nasty reviews and that people aren't civil. He then calls Atheists ever nasty name in the book.

His explanation of the (ongoing) pedophile scandal is laugh out loud funny. Especially how he claims that because most of the abuse victims aren't prepubescent children, it's not actually pedophilia. And because it's mostly male-on-adolescent-male abuse, it's really just a problem with allowing homosexuals into the Church (and to exist at all, one presumes).

This man isn't worthy of any more of my time.

jellybean said...

Coren's analysis also applies to events in the US in the 1960's. It's a little known fact that starting in the 1920's, a tsunami of atheism and political correctness swept over the entire population of Southern whites. By the 1930's, every small southern town had its group of people who met to discuss Bertrand Russell and T. H. Huxley. A few decades later, this moral vacuum took its toll. The fact that angry mobs of whites felt no compunction in attacking unarmed civil rights activists with bricks, bats, and whatever else was handy, while the police looked the other way, must be traced directly to the decay of traditional values. If only just a few thousand more Southern Baptist churches had been operating in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida during that period, perhaps our ugly Jim Crow past could have been avoided entirely.