Monday, February 26, 2007
While this event may not be big news for all readers of this blog, Rob McEwen’s return to Red Lake, Ontario (announced today) is very big news for the Northwest Ontario region where I live.
Who is Rob McEwen? He is the developer of the Goldcorp Red Lake mine, one of the world’s richest and most profitable gold mines, if not the richest of them all. He had the combined wisdom and good fortune to guide the company to persevere by engaging in deeper exploration when the existing strike at the Red Lake mine seemed to be playing out.
This serendipitous decision led to the discovery of one of the richest veins of gold in mining history. Following his success in this venture, Mr. McEwen withdrew a substantial portion of his holdings in the company several years ago, and reinvested in the Cortez Trend gold mining region of Nevada.
What has Mr. McEwen done today? Well, you can read all the details here.
Essentially, this is what has occurred, quoting the press release, “McEwen would acquire a major stake in Rubicon through a minimum investment of $10 million. Through wholly-owned Evanachan Limited, McEwen has also agreed to vend-in to Rubicon a 513,000 acre land package in the area of the world-class Pogo gold mine in Alaska in exchange for shares. Rubicon will also acquire a 225,000 acre land position in prospective northeast Nevada, currently held by Lexam Explorations Inc a company in which McEwen is the major shareholder in exchange for shares. McEwen will serve as a strategic advisor to the management of Rubicon for a minimum period of two years.”
I have had my eye on Rubicon Minerals Corp. for the past four years, and had recently tripled our position in mid-February, based on my belief in the company’s strong fundamentals. In response to the news today, I have tripled our position again.
What are Rubicon’s fundamental strengths?
Let me borrow again from the press release:
“Rubicon Minerals currently controls 180,000 acres of prime exploration ground in the heart of the prolific Red Lake gold camp of Ontario, home of Goldcorp's Red Lake Mine which is one of the richest gold mines in the world. During (Mr. McEwen's) tenure at the helm of Goldcorp, that company realized spectacular growth from a market capitalization of $50 million to over $7.0 billion following discovery of the High Grade Zone. Goldcorp has reported that this zone currently has a Proven and Probable reserve of 1.63 million tonnes grading 83.4 g/t gold or 4.37 million ounces of gold as of December 31, 2005 from a total reserve base of 8.34 million tonnes grading 23.75 g/t gold or 6.37 million ounces of gold.
“McEwen said: ‘I am excited to be back in Red Lake and to be involved in the creation of a new Rubicon which will have a great combination of properties in the low-risk North American gold districts of Red Lake, Alaska and Nevada. It will also have a strong cash position that will be used to carry out aggressive exploration programs. The new Rubicon represents a personal investment in one of North America's premier exploration companies.’
“The land package being acquired by the new Rubicon includes significant land holdings in Alaska consisting of approximately 513,000 acres around the Pogo Mine of Teck-Cominco/Sumitomo, which is entering commercial production and is expected to produce between 350,000 and 500,000 ounces of gold annually over a 10 year mine life. With this acquisition, the new Rubicon will become the largest land holder in the Pogo district and one of the largest land holders in Alaska. Rubicon has also agreed to acquire from Lexam Explorations Inc. approximately 225,000 acres of its highly prospective gold exploration properties in Elko County, northeastern Nevada.
“David Adamson, President and CEO of Rubicon said: ‘We are excited to welcome Rob back to Red Lake and look forward to working with him to create what we think will be the "go-to" North American exploration company. With the Alaska and Nevada assets added to our Red Lake portfolio and through our financial strength, the new Rubicon is aimed at attracting investors looking for exposure to high quality exploration in district-scale, politically stable environments.’”
I recognize that you could read the press release for yourself, and also that the above is intended to be promotional literature.
But let’s read between the lines here.
Northwest Ontario has been an economically depressed region since the long-faded 1960’s boom in forestry and mining. We have entirely missed out on the dramatic period of North American growth from 1980 through the present. Northwest Ontario is a sleepy little corner of the world.
For the duration of this decade, our primary news in Northwest Ontario has been of the declining forestry industry, as massive new mills have been established in Asia to pursue expanding markets there, and North American mills have been dismantled. Paper mill and saw mill closures and production cuts and reports of the resultant economic damage have been the primary theme of news coverage in this region throughout the new millennium.
The return of Mr. McEwen to Red Lake is a signal that the fortunes of Northwest Ontario are now turning.
Of course, one swallow doesn't make a summer, but Mr. McEwen's return is a signal event with respect to the focus of national and international interest in mining development in the Red Lake region. (In Kenora, we are about 3 hours southwest of Red Lake.)
What are the implications?
Expect increased investment in other mining projects in Red Lake and Northwest Ontario. Along with that, expect a gradual migration of capital investment, and with it, new job opportunities, to our region.
If I am correct that we are at the mere dawning of a new multi-decade bull market in precious metal mining, then expect that the seemingly moribund and long-forgotten Northwest Ontario region might again become a national and international hotspot for capital investment and economic activity generally.
Like it or dislike it (it will bring new problems for sure), think of Northwest Ontario as a soon-to-be booming international destination for the precious metal mining sector.
By the way, here’s another consideration.
Due to global instability, which I personally attribute in large part to the accumulating adverse influence of excess monetary liquidity, many regions of our globe are becoming unsafe for investment. In all likelihood, that will not be the case in Northwest Ontario, and that is another advantage for our region.
And a note for the young people: You had better start studying geology, engineering, administration and mechanics, because you will be in demand to fill the new jobs which will be emerging in the Northwest Ontario precious metal mining sector.
A closing thought: In the long run, the value of Rubicon Minerals will hinge on how much gold can be discovered and mined. We don't yet know how much gold that will be. In the field of mining exploration, the odds are almost always against the explorer.
But in mining, as in life, you only discover what you search for. Mr. McEwen’s interest will no doubt lead to an acceleration in the pace of exploration in Red Lake. And for the Northwest Ontario economy, that is a good thing.
For now, let’s just speculate that accelerated exploration does lead to accelerated gold mining along the Red Lake-Musselwhite trend. In that case, I'll plan to meet you in black tie and tails at the McEwen Centre for the Performing Arts in Red Lake on February 26, 2030 (I'll be a sprightly 81 as of that date!). See you there!
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Why does the world become a messy, confusing and dangerous place?
Why can’t we all just get along?
What makes people capable of acting with patent disregard for the dignity, autonomy and sanctity of life of their neighbours?
Conversely, what makes it possible for humans to act in a generous, empathetic and self-sacrificing manner?
As I am sure you are well aware, there are no simple answers to these fundamental questions.
However, let me put forward a few simple ideas to spark your own activity with respect to addressing and resolving questions of this kind.
The fundamental constraint of life is that we are limited and mortal. If we exert effort to accomplish some things, we must forgo effort to accomplish other things. Though our efforts may then prove more or less productive, we are unlikely to accomplish aims towards which we do not direct our actions.
The ultimate result of all of our effort, at the personal level, is that we will die and others will carry on after we are gone. What will remain will be our impact on others.
Due to our biological – and some would say spiritual – nature, humans are capable of bonding. That is, we act in ways which affect our fellow humans, and they respond to those actions. The progress of these interactions over time creates strong or weak psychological connections with others.
We act socially, and we are interested in the social consequences of our actions, which are highly salient to us. We are constructed this way.
Governing all of our behaviours are the emotional systems of our human brains. Emotions range from intense to minimal, and from pleasant/desirable/euphoric to aversive/unmanageable/overwhelming.
Our personal/private and social/interpersonal effectiveness broadly governs our lives, and shapes the quality of our emotional experiences.
Both positive and negative emotions can lead to prosocial or antisocial behaviours.
Our social experiences will powerfully influence our emotional state, and the social consequences of our actions will shape the direction of evolution of our personal emotional experience. But ultimately, we will engage in more or less of a particular type of behaviour based on its personal emotional consequences for us.
Now this matter is somewhat complicated as well, because we do not seek emotional states which are pleasurable so much as emotional states which are meaningful.
For example, if I have been raised by a violent father, and if I have daily witnessed him exercising violence to bring other family members into submission, and if I observe him responding with pleasure to his capacity to exercise power and control over the members of my family, then my own increasing exercise of such powerful behaviours will also begin to generate emotions which are meaningful to me, some of them pleasant and some of them not, but all of them desirable.
(By the way, the above is an example. I was raised by a man who was incredibly tolerant, peaceful and nonviolent.)
Similarly, if I have been raised by a mother who is highly attentive to my own emotional states, who treats me and my emotions as important, and who demonstrates caring and empathetic behaviour towards others, then I am more likely to find meaning in relatedness and mutual aid.
(In this latter case, I am describing my own experience. My mother was a person with a seemingly infinite reserve of empathy and emotional availability.)
Therefore, when we observe behaviours in ourselves or in others, the question we must ask is, “What are the emotions associated with that behavioural pattern, what is their meaning, how was the meaning acquired, and how can the meaning be changed?”
In short, engagement in the process of asking and answering this simple series of questions is how we can get along.
While I am not a card-carrying libertarian, I share with this group a fundamental optimism about the power of free markets to unleash personal and social creativity and to advance individual and collective liberty.
Murray Rothbard, formerly a professor at the University of Nevada, and a fellow of the Mises Institute, was quite perceptive about some of the less obvious dynamics in the left-right debate.
Let me offer an excerpt from his article analyzing “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty:”
“We are now in a position to apply our analysis to the American scene. Here we encounter a contrasting myth about recent American history which has been propagated by current conservatives and adopted by most American libertarians. The myth goes approximately as follows: America was, more or less, a haven of laissez-faire until the New Deal; then Roosevelt, influenced by Felix Frankfurter, the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, and other "Fabian" and Communist "conspirators," engineered a revolution which set America on the path to Socialism, and, further on, beyond the horizon, to Communism. The present-day libertarian who adopts this or a similar view of the American experience, tends to think of himself as an "extreme right-winger"; slightly to the left of him, then, lies the Conservative, to the left of that the middle-of-the road, and then leftward to Socialism and Communism. Hence, the enormous temptation for some libertarians to red-bait; for, since they see America as drifting inexorably leftward to Socialism and therefore to Communism, the great temptation is for them to overlook the intermediary stages and tar all of their opposition with the hated Red brush….
“Thus, the New Deal was not a qualitative break from the American past; on the contrary, it was merely a quantitative extension of the web of State privilege that had been proposed and acted upon before: in Hoover's Administration, in the war collectivism of World War I, and in the Progressive Era. The most thorough exposition of the origins of State monopoly capitalism, or what he calls "political capitalism," in the U.S. is found in the brilliant work of Dr. Gabriel Kolko. In his Triumph of Conservatism, Kolko traces the origins of political capitalism in the "reforms" of the Progressive Era. Orthodox historians have always treated the Progressive period (roughly 1900-1916) as a time when free-market capitalism was becoming increasingly "monopolistic"; in reaction to this reign of monopoly and big business, so the story runs, altruistic intellectuals and far-seeing politicians turned to intervention by the government to reform and regulate these evils. Kolko's great work demonstrates that the reality was almost precisely the opposite of this myth. Despite the wave of mergers and trusts formed around the turn of the century, Kolko reveals, the forces of competition on the free market rapidly vitiated and dissolved these attempts at stabilizing and perpetuating the economic power of big business interests. It was precisely in reaction to their impending defeat at the hands of the competitive storms of the market that business turned, increasingly after the 1900's, to the federal government for aid and protection. In short, the intervention by the federal government was designed, not to curb big business monopoly for the sake of the public weal, but to create monopolies that big business (as well as trade associations and smaller business) had not been able to establish amidst the competitive gales of the free market. Both Left and Right have been persistently misled by the notion that intervention by the government is ipso facto leftist and anti-business. Hence the mythology of the New-Fair Deal-as-Red that is endemic on the Right. Both the big businessmen, led by the Morgan interests, and Professor Kolko almost uniquely in the academic world, have realized that monopoly privilege can only be created by the State and not as a result of free market operations."
If this interests you, click on the link, and read more.
I have a personal problem with the new security procedures at American Airports.
In response to the emerging threat of Islamic extremism, revised airport security measures have been adopted which include detailed inspection of randomly selected passengers.
Because our social affairs are governed by political correctness, we cannot systematically inspect those who are at highest risk of engaging in terrorist activities. The process must be random to demonstrate that our society is a fair one.
As my wife is white, blond and female, she has been stopped routinely for these more thorough searches. Perhaps it is a random occurrence that she has been targeted for this particular procedure, but I think not.
What is going on? In our effort to be “fair,” we must inspect individuals who bear no resemblance at all to the young Islamic males who are most likely to be engaged in terrorist activity.
If the matter were not so serious, our systemic response would seem laughable, and perhaps I would be best off to accept it in this way.
I confess that I can barely contain my rage when my wife is targeted for such inspections while much more likely suspects walk on by, and I recognize this as a fault on my part. It is a certainty that I am over-reacting on this particular issue – I recognize that my emotional responses are out of proportion to the actual circumstances.
It is in fact very easy to step on others’ toes, and it is equally easy to misinterpret such transgressions as acts of racial or ethnic prejudice (that is, as “racial profiling”).
If we were to inspect only young Islamic males at our airports, this would reflect a bias on our part which terrorists would certainly be determined to thwart and also to exploit by recruiting unlikely suspects to carry out their missions.
In fact, there are converts from all racial and ethnic groups to Islam, and most of us will recall that John Walker Lindh, an American from California, fought alongside the Taliban – and against the United States and Canada – in the original Afghan Conflict. The singer Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) is now a prominent British Muslim. Several of the recently arrested southern Ontario suspects were Hindus who converted to Islam.
So it is not an impossible stretch of the imagination that my wife could be an Islamic extremist, sympathizer or other variety of evildoer. When one thinks of it logically, if we are to do airport searches, such truly random procedures actually do make strategic sense, initially incomprehensible though they may seem.
I have some confidence and encouragement due to our recent success in capturing the large-scale southern Ontario terrorist ring in 2006. If our surveillance systems are in fact as effective as they now appear, I would hope that in most cases terrorist suspects will be apprehended well before their arrival at a Canadian airport to carry out a terrorist mission.
I cannot fight and win every battle, and this is one I will concede.
Let the airport security inspectors search me or my blonde, fair-skinned wife, or any of us at all for that matter – on the off chance that persons who might not initially appear to be so could in fact be Islamic terrorists or sympathizers with their cause.
The more we “profile” passengers in conducting such searches, the more likely it is that our enemies will recruit sympathizers who do not match our profiles in any case.
Let us just hope and pray, however, that our covert surveillance activities are less politically correct than our practices at the airport. If I were to learn that our covert surveillance teams were giving equal opportunity to white blonde female terrorist suspects, it is at this point that I would become genuinely fearful.
Friday, February 23, 2007
OK. Let’s say it now. All together. There is an elephant in the living room.
Canada's security services have demonstrated one of the most enviable records in the western world in the protection of our citizenry from terrorist activity, with the recent arrest of 17 terrorist suspects in the Toronto area. Yet, in a manner that could perhaps unfold only in Canada, the citizens of our country are now preoccupied with the process by which we safeguard the rights of suspected terrorists, and there is much recrimination directed towards our national government and security services. We seem unable to discuss the fact that a terrorist plot has been narrowly averted which would have brought grief to hundreds of Canadian families.
Let me for one offer a voice of gratitude to our security services for their recent accomplishment.
And what again was that accomplishment? More than 400 police officers conducted a series of raids in southern Ontario on June 2-3, 2006, arresting 17 terrorist suspects. Evidence was brought forward that the plans of these evildoers were far-reaching, with targets including the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, the CBC Broadcast Centre and the CSIS office in Toronto, and an unspecified military installation. The amount of explosives being accumulated exceeded by several times the quantity used to accomplish the Oklahoma City bombing.
Our police officers and security personnel have just saved the lives of hundreds and averted the injury and permanent disability of perhaps thousands of Canadians. Though it has hardly been discussed, and no honour seems to have been brought forward for those who have accomplished this feat, let me say, more power to them. Job well done!.
Let me now turn to today's topic of security certificates.
The Supreme Court ruled today that Canada’s system of security certificates is unconstitutional. Let us not forget that they also agreed that some system must exist for the assurance of national security and for the preservation of the confidentiality of intelligence-based information.
Are the men presently detained under security certificates guilty of terrorist conspiracy, actions and/or crimes? I have no idea. I haven't seen the evidence either.
But here is what I do know:
1. Canada’s system of civil and criminal law is predicated on the notion that citizens desire to participate in and at least cooperate with, if not contribute to, civil society.
2. Our system does not work particularly well for individuals who have no commitment to the health and wellbeing of our society, including those who wish to subvert or destroy it.
3. There are individuals – in fact, many of them – whose heart’s desire is to cripple and ultimately demolish Western society, and the means to that end includes the formulation and execution of detailed plans to kill and maim citizens of Canada by the hundreds or thousands. We now know that the implementation of the plan which was averted in June 2006 was well-advanced, as I have discussed above. Most of us have probably given scant thought to Ahmed Ressam, the Canadian-based criminal, terrorist trainee and Millennium bomber, who was halted when importing massive amounts of explosives into the United States with the intention of blowing up Los Angeles International Airport shortly prior to the onset of the new millennium. We also forget that Ressam warned of Osama bin Laden's plot to attack the United States, and that President Bush was briefed on this matter on August 6, 2001.
4. Would that this were a paranoid fantasy, but it is in fact a daily news item, in Canada, as around the world. Thanks to the alertness of Canadian security personnel, the most recent known terrorist plot in Canada appears to have been averted. But one need only follow the daily news to appreciate that terrorism is a rising global phenomenon, and that terrorists are operating in Canada as well as in many other regions of the world.
5. If we did not have a system for the surveillance of terrorist activities and the apprehension of terrorists, the balance of probabilities in my view is that hundreds of Canadians would already have been killed, and probably thousands more permanently injured and disabled – in ways that are horrific to contemplate – based on what we already know about terrorist activity in Canada.
6. Granted, the so-called “war on terror” appears now to be making the problem worse by spurring the conscription of new recruits to terrorism by the dozens or hundreds daily in the Islamic world, including among Islamic populations in Canada and other western nations. The west is without a strategy in its encounters with Islamic extremism, and we are undoubtedly our own worst enemy. We cannot forget this fact as we move forward to combat terrorism.
We do not know if the particular individuals detained are or are not terrorists. There are probably some sound reasons why the authorities charged with our protection chose to confine these particular persons, though the possibility of error is not without precedent, as seems already to have been the case with Meher Arar. The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of the criminal justice system in a civil society.
The Supreme Court has determined that a process must be developed by which the evidence against these particular individuals can be reviewed. However, the Supreme Court has not ruled that we should abandon efforts to protect society from the depredations of those who plot and conspire to cause mayhem and terror amongst our people.
So, what do we all know?
1. Terrorists are different than the great majority of Canadians in one fundamental respect. They reject pluralism. There is no wish nor desire that we “all” get along. From the standpoint of the terrorist worldview, virtually all of us deserve to be crushed and to die, and it is their chosen duty and desire to carry out the crushing and the killing.
2. Terrorists globally exist by the hundreds of thousands, and they operate within Canada as well as abroad. They have already killed and maimed tens of thousands, and plan to murder and injure many more. Their cause is growing, they are feeling strong, and they are actively and aggressively acquiring new recruits by a variety of methods, none of which is conscionable within the pluralistic values and laws of Canadian society.
3. Terrorists are trained to lie and deceive. A terrorist who is apprehended is unlikely to confess to his or her actual allegiances and intentions, and the primary reason for this is quite elementary. To acknowledge his or her role in a terrorist organization, a member would be forced into compromising the identities and plans of his/her compatriots. Let us recall that it is to his and her colleagues that the terrorist is loyal – and certainly not to our collective vision of a pluralistic, tolerant, fair and civil society.
4. The individuals presently detained may or may not be terrorists. The Supreme Court has determined that an improved process will be required to answer this question.
5. The development of such a process is a matter of critical – life or death – importance for Canadians.
6. A new (generalized) process will now be required to make the determination as to the terrorist status of suspicious individuals going forward.
One boundary defining this process is familiar, even reflexive, to our habitual way of thinking as Canadians. It would be very costly at the individual level to err in finding these particular persons guilty if they are innocent.
However, the contrary boundary in this dilemma is new in Canadian experience. In the instance of detecting and preventing terrorism, it would be unimaginably costly to allow even one Islamic extremist to go free, given that the plans of Islamic terrorists have been writ large in world headlines since the original bombing of the World Trade Centre in the early 1990s. These people have made no secret of what they are about. Driven by a new cult of hate, they choose to despise us and thus desire our unalloyed harm. Whether they can or cannot overthrow our society or subvert our way of life, even one terrorist can kill or injure hundreds or thousands.
To the democratic conscience, therefore, the risks are extraordinarily high on both sides of the security certificate debate.
The logic of terrorism is a bizarre and unbalanced calculus with which we have little relevant historic experience (in Canada) to guide us.
Historically, Canadians as individuals or in small groups have not engaged in plans to kill and maim their neighbours en masse and indiscriminately, targeting citizens randomly precisely because of their collective innocence.
There is something distinctly disturbing and foreign to our manner of thinking about the operation of the terrorist mind. We have so little experience with this malignant and alien mindset that we literally lack the words and language required even to discuss it, let alone to formulate a coherent response to it.
(Canadians in the recent past feared that Japanese Canadians would engage in terrorist activities during the Second World War. However, this paranoid fantasy was just that, and the over-reaction of internment of Japanese Canadians at the time was out of all proportion to the evidence at hand. Our current dilemma is quite the opposite of that encountered during the second Great War. We now know all too well that terrorists are operating malevolently in our midst, yet we can no longer abide the fear-driven response of the containment of an ethnic population – and rightly so.)
The familiar democratic adage is that it is better that one hundred guilty men go free than that one innocent man be condemned. In this instance, that principle will be our undoing. To permit one hundred terrorists to go free to assure the protection of the one falsely accused innocent man is a risk our society truly cannot abide.
A new principle, or set of principles is thus required, principles that still balance individual against collective rights, and which certainly do not bow to racism, but which recognize that a new level of collective threat is now being encountered in Islamic extremism – and let us call it what it is.
Our present difficulty is that we are able to converse only in terms of the threat to individual rights, and we have no acceptable language for the rights of the Canadian collective.
I would like to suggest that in our search for the development of new mental tools to address this dilemma, it is perhaps now time for us to look eastwards to our oriental neighbours, who have many millennia of experience in the development of collective values, principles and manners of thinking and speaking in the arena of human rights and responsibilities.
I am confident that the west well leads the east in its articulation of individual human rights, but I now fear that we greatly lag the east in our articulation of human responsibilities to the collective, and thus of collective rights.
We simply do not know how to talk about accountability, rights and responsibilities within this new framework.
We have been “forced to fit” into a strange and unknown world of new possibilities and consequences by the rise of Islamic terrorism. At this time, we are without a framework. The framework of laws and values which we carry from our past will certainly endanger us if we cannot free our minds of it – though paradoxically we must still adhere to the validity of its most fundamental principles.
A new process is being born, and it is agonizing to us to participate in its birth.
Our first response will be to recoil from the agony of the painful decisions we face, but the cost of retreat at this point will be our certain undoing. So we must somehow go forward into this unwelcome, undesired and unchosen venture.
Once again, I cannot at this time even imagine the precise answers to the dilemma that I have framed, but my instinct is that we have much to learn, and that for the sake of our survival as a society, we had better go about learning it expeditiously.
But let me conclude with this idea. The resolution of the problem of security certificates will fail if it becomes lodged at the level of a discussion of individual human rights – or mired in a misleading debate about the possibilities of a new racism.
We must somehow discover a means by which issues of individual rights and responsibilities can be framed against a background of collective accountability.
What do I mean?
I mean that we must develop a language to enable us to discuss our present accountability to the not-yet inured, maimed and killed who are slated to suffer and die through the Canadian expression of the global terror agenda.
If this new dialogue framed in a new language cannot take place, I fear that it is then a certainty that hundreds if not thousands of Canadians will needlessly suffer and die at the hands of the terrorist insurgency which is already known to be at work in Canada.
The particular individuals concerned in the present security certificate debate have important rights under Canadian law, and therefore require juridical protection.
Their innocence is possible, and it is thus a presumption.
However innocent or guilty these particular individuals are eventually found to be, I am certain of one thing, and that is, at this historic juncture, the people of Canada are more innocent still.
I am convinced that we have not yet grasped what is arrayed against us. We do not see what is coming, and we will have difficulty comprehending it, even when it arrives in all its heartless force and brutal disregard of every principle that we as Canadians hold dear.
Let us then not shrink from the duty of parsing the responsibility for the assurance of justice in the matter of security certificates in such a way that sheer disaster will not be unleashed upon our land as a foreordained consequence of our inability to hold terrorists – whoever they may eventually be discovered to be – collectively accountable to the people of Canada as a whole.
And above all, let us be ever mindful of our own accountability as citizens and collective decision-makers to the not-yet-harmed as we muddle through the security certificate debate.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The Utopian Party of Canada now has an offical motto:
"The Utopian Party of Canada: Serving you better to serve yourself."
I hope that all readers will find this new motto clarifying and enlightening.
After all... every party needs a few sound bites!!!
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Sentiment has become increasingly bearish on gold stocks relative to gold since late 2003, and this can be seen in the decline of value of the Gold Bugs Index (HUI) relative to the price of gold since that time.
Increasingly, we hear of the difficulties faced by gold producers, including rising political risk (including exploitative government intervention in unstable countries ranging from Venezuela to Bolivia to Eritrea to Russia to Indonesia), rising costs of equipment and energy, power shortages (Ghana), regulatory delays and blockages, labour unrest and sabotage, price to earnings ratios that parallel those on the NASDAQ exchange during its bubble days (and that bubble has many years of unwinding still ahead of it), difficulty raising funds for development and exploration (the broad market is still focused on yesterday’s favourites in such sectors as technology, finance and housing), environmental concerns and local community objection to mine development.
Additionally, some bellwether gold mining stocks are floundering, and these range from Newmont Mining – facing production declines, leadership turnover and problems in almost all of the above areas, to Gold Fields – facing declining reserves, a deteriorating political climate in South Africa and unimaginable cost increases, to Barrick Gold – still weighed down by the costly legacy of its bear market hedging practices, to Iamgold – facing a work stoppage and vicious acts of sabotage, to companies such as Nevsun, Crystallex, Gold Reserve and Apex Silver – facing political risk and government exploitation in the unstable countries where they operate.
My present purpose is not to evaluate the above problems, except to say that many environmental and local community concerns may be quite valid, and that a number of the above-cited problems are obviously going to worsen further.
However, markets inevitably turn at times when bearish sentiment preponderates, and in my view, that is certainly the case in gold mining stocks relative to gold today.
As the Aden sisters recently indicated, fundamental concerns tend to drive investment markets, but technical patterns direct their movements. As a psychologist (and let me prefix the term “amateur” when it comes to applying any knowledge I have to investment markets), technical indicators greatly interest me, as they are no more than a graphic representation of the collective behavioural patterns of humans. Therefore, I take technical patterns as very critical scientific data with respect to human behaviour in the investment markets.
At this point, the technical indicators are telling us that there is an overriding fundamental pattern that is favourable to gold miners, and it is not being discussed enough.
That pattern is the ineluctably rising price of gold, in particular, the movement of the price of gold into a new and stronger uptrend channel which launched in the last quarter of 2005. Behind gold’s stellar rise are the global fundamentals which support its climbing nominal (currency) value, and these have been well-described by countless others. Suffice it to say that the global trend of currency deterioration (monetary inflation) and associated increasing political instability (I believe the two are causally linked) will be powering the price of gold upwards over coming decades (in my opinion, for an additional 2-3 decades).
Does the rising price of gold cancel out the other risks and problems associated with the gold mining business?
In a word, yes, regardless of how formidable these particular problems may be.
The rising price of gold essentially trumps the myriad quite genuine and in many cases escalating problems faced by those in the gold mining business.
But there is also a second reason to favour the gold miners at this juncture, and this relates to a well-known fundamental factor of market dynamics. That is, the multitude of difficulties associated with operating mining companies create massive barriers to entry, and this lends powerful advantage to those with their foot already in the door of this perilous but profitable business.
In one of the market’s ceaseless paradoxes, the massive difficulties associated with operating mining companies functions in their favour in terms of market valuation. The primary advantages are two.
First, global gold mining production is still falling, despite the fact that gold is now in its 6th year of rising (it will soon triple its bear market lows of ($252.50 - $255.00 from 1999-2001). Why is production declining under favourable market circumstances? For all the reasons we have just discussed.
And that leads us to the second benefit enjoyed by existing mining companies. The lengthy (often 10-15 year) and perilous process of acquiring mining claims and developing mines to the operational level offers a potent first mover advantage to those mining companies that were visionary (and fortunate) enough to be able to move forward with property acquisition and mine development plans during gold’s brutal 1980-2001 bear market. It will be many years before new entrants on the scene can hope to catch up.
This fundamental situation will power the price of gold higher over coming decades.
And, very soon, this fundamental situation will again give impetus to the value of gold mining (and other precious metal) equity investments.
What causes me to assert this?
Here, I redirect my discussion from market fundamentals to technical indicators.
The bearish view of the gold mining business has pushed the value of mining stocks to the very bottom of their uptrend channels.
A close view of the charts shows that the price of gold launched a new uptrend in mid-2005, and despite the bearish view of their prospects relative to gold itself, gold mining companies led this trend change by several months after bottoming in the second quarter of 2005. That in itself is a bullish indicator for the value of gold stocks.
However, while gold moved firmly off the bottom of this fundamentally favourable channel after re-testing it in early January, gold stocks have followed, but demonstrated less energy in their rise.
Similarly to gold itself, gold stocks have until recently been locked into a triangular consolidation pattern. However, gold broke out of this pattern to the upside on February 9, 2007, and the Gold Bugs Index (HUI) is indicating that it will soon follow (perhaps one more pullback over the next 1-2 weeks is possible).
This brings us to the topic of the HUI:Gold ratio (which I have discussed previously). This ratio defines the value of unhedged US gold mining stocks relative to the price of gold, and it reached its bull market peak (.639) far back in November 2003, and is presently languishing at .52.
However, while most all eyes have been elsewhere, this ratio has steadily been climbing (also in a triangular consolidation pattern), with lower highs, but also with higher lows. This triangular pattern is set to break by mid-2007, and the odds favour an upside move.
Why is that?
While both the price of gold and the HUI index itself have moved into new uptrends since early to mid-2005, the HUI:Gold ratio is locked into a single trend which remains unbroken since late 2001. The likelihood that this uptrend would break down while gold and the HUI are now advancing in new (power) uptrends seems highly unlikely for fundamental reasons.
That is, the HUI:Gold ratio must soon break either up or down, and a downside breakout is highly improbable.
While I lack the tools to illustrate it, the more probable course is in fact to retest the top of this uptrend channel at some future point – and in my view, this could possibly occur as soon as mid-2008 (though possibly later). This would imply a dramatic upwards move in the Gold Bugs Index at a time when all eyes are focused elsewhere – and of course, this is just the kind of “trick” that defines the capricious nature of market behaviour.
In short, I am saying that due to strong market fundamentals for the value of the product which gold mining companies produce (gold), and due to lagging global supply and still very formidable barriers to entry, the investment markets will favour gold mining stocks relative to the price of gold over the next year to year-and-a-half – and that this will take place precisely when few, even in the gold community, are giving much thought to this possibility.
My conservative target (and I am not a professional investment advisor) is 480 for the HUI. However, at whatever point the HUI:Gold ratio again moves to the top of its multi-year uptrend channel (and tops do get tested as well as lows), the HUI:Gold ratio would reach .80. Were gold to be trading in the $1000 range at this time, it would imply a value of 700-800 for the HUI, and this would be double current levels.
I entirely concur with Goldrunner that the next HUI peak will be at the 480 level and probably this year, possibly only a few months away, and that an upside test in the HUI:Gold ratio’s 5-6 year uptrend channel could bring the HUI to the 700-800 range by as soon as mid-2008 – though the upside test might in fact require more years than that to develop.
While I am uncertain that we will see a doubling in the HUI by mid-2008, what I think is almost inevitable is a retest of the previous top in the HUI:Gold ratio, and that was .639 in late 2003.
In this case, again with gold in the $1000 range, the HUI would at the least advance to the mid-600 level, and that would take it 300 points higher than its current value.
Let me also address the perplexing issue of the “slowness” of the advance of both the price of gold and the value of the Gold Bugs Index in a bull market.
Those who are looking to find “literal” parallels with the 1970s bull market are sure to be disappointed, as the dramatic eightfold increase from 1977 to 1980 will not be repeated in the present bull market at this time (and dismiss such talk if you begin to hear it even as the market advances).
This misconception arises from misunderstanding of the fractal nature of investment technicals. That is – our present fractal is extended in both duration and amplitude, and at this point, duration trumps amplitude. That is, an opportunity for an eightfold or greater increase in the price of gold is quite probable in the current bull market, but certainly nowhere in the near future. In the present much stronger, fundamentally-driven and therefore much more slowly advancing gold bull market, such a dramatic “end game” move will be many, many years away – and this is a good thing.
In fact, let me put this in perspective by referencing my earlier discussion (based on the Adens’ research) in “A Three Stage Gold Bull Market?” that the ratio of the market value of gold mining stocks to the price of gold has been in an over-three-decade-long downtrend. It would be highly unusual for such an adverse relationship to persist in a gold bull market.
Thus, if this multi-decade trend is to turn in favour of gold mining companies, in my view, the greatest likelihood is that this reversal will in fact take place in mid-2007. As this would signal a breakout from an almost four-decade-long secular downtrend, it would be a quite exciting event – though I think it almost certain to go widely unheralded.
Let me add that the break of the four-decade downtrend could in all probability signal the birth of an uptrend in the value of gold mining companies relative to the price of gold which could quite conceivably endure for a similar time period (that is, on the order of a third of a century).
The unhurried and meandering pace of the third millennium gold bull market reflects the much greater strength of the present market when contrasted to the “brief period of excitement” that characterized the 1970’s bull.
My central thesis here is that our current gold bull market is actually built on much firmer fundamentals than was the 1970’s gold bull, and thus that it will advance over a much lengthier period of time, and correspondingly, advance to much higher levels.
That is, slower is stronger.
So enjoy the lengthy journey of the bull market in gold and gold equities, and take pleasure in the many delights that it holds in store for us along the way – though let us not forget to take caution that bull markets inevitably surprise us with vicious downtrends when our optimism is at its peak.
ADDENDUM: Could I be wrong? Well, that question is easy to answer. If anyone were right every time, that person would soon control all the resources in the investment marketplace – and at least one has come close – as Warren Buffett has made amazingly few long-term errors over the half-century course of his investing career. And Mr. Buffett does in fact own a huge personal portion of the investment marketplace, thereby coming as close as anyone to demonstrating that my thesis (about being right every time) is correct.
That is, were he perfect, Mr. Buffett would in fact own it all. Though he does not now own absolutely everything, Mr. Buffett has certainly come closer than anyone else to achieving this.
(Disclaimer: I know with absolute certainty that I am not as smart as Mr. Buffett.)
One historic mistake on Mr. Buffett’s part: Mr. Buffett purchased Euros at a timely juncture, but he would have done better still by buying gold, a currency he disfavours to his modest personal disadvantage.
How might I be wrong?
I could be wrong about the gold price moving up relatively soon this year. I could be wrong about the market’s willingness to look past the formidable and multitudinous problems of gold mining to see the long-term advantages. Most specifically, I could be wrong that the HUI:Gold ratio will break up rather than down.
Why might the HUI:Gold ratio break downwards rather than upwards?
Well, the gold mining business could get even worse than it already is (hard to imagine but possible).
Gold could lag or pull back, stalling in its climb (easy to imagine, but unlikely for both technical and fundamental reasons).
The Gold Bugs Index could decline in sympathy with a drastic downward break in the broad financial markets (this in my view is a high probability scenario and almost certainly will happen at some point, though I presently favour a scenario in which general equities continue their 8-year stall and gold and gold miners continue to advance, at least for now. I am more sanguine about “more of the same” in the broad markets for 2007, but pretty nervous about 2008, but that is too many steps ahead, and unknowable until it actually happens.)
I apologize that I lack charting tools to illustrate the trendlines I have described,
I will present some relevant charts below.
1. Gold started a new uptrend in mid-2005. It is presently headed to retest the 1980 high in the $800 range, and then higher:
2. The Gold Bugs Index (HUI) launched into a stronger uptrend in early 2005, and is presently headed to highs near 480 and then in the mid-600s, and at some point, approaching 700-800:
3. The HUI:Gold ratio, long neglected due to basing since its 2003 peak, can go little further forward in time without initiating either a new advancing or declining phase. A decline is less likely in my view for both fundamental and technical reasons, and so a powerful advance is likely to begin no later than mid-2007. The 2003 high at .639 will be retested, and at some point, perhaps years away (but possibly as soon as 2008) the top of the uptrend channel will also be tested, and this would be at the .80 level, implying a doubling or more in the Gold Bugs Index from its present levels over perhaps the next 1-3 years.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Today I want to comment briefly on a widespread but dangerous popular misconception about the US stock market. The stock market bulls are beginning to ridicule the bears. This was recently done by a smart and quirky, and usually contrarian thinker, whom I will reference here – Cliff Droke. In his February 15 article, The Cult of the Bear, Mr. Droke states:
“A gradual procession of super bears has been quietly admitting they've been wrong in their bearish assessment of the stock market. As the major stock market indices continue to push to higher highs and as market internals continue to reflect a stellar market condition, even the most stubborn of bearish traders and market commentators have been forced to reconsider their positions. Slowly, and with little fanfare, they've been covering short positions.
“Yet these same died-in-the-wool bears refuse to turn bullish and are now standing idly on the sidelines watching stock prices move ever higher. If they can admit they were wrong to sell short, why can't they bring themselves to become buyers in what is obviously a strong bull market?”
OK, you may be thinking, that was a moderate enough opening gambit. But now consider how Mr. Droke closes his article, with a newly penned piece of verse:
The Bears' Lament
"The sky is falling" or so we're told,
but these pronouncements are growing old.
"Sell stocks and bonds and bar the door!"
Haven't we all heard this before?
"The crash will come," the bears intone.
Too bad for them their shorts are blown.
Perhaps they should give the charts a look,
and see the market they all forsook.
Instead of taking their bad advice,
The investor should ask, "At what price?"
For they've missed more than one bullish run:
no sense in missing another one.
Having read Mr. Droke's work for years, I can attest that he knows better than to spout such ideas so uncritically. He is a very intelligent man, if also perhaps a renegade thinker. But obviously his success in reading the technical indicators behind the current broad market rise has given tailwind to his hubris.
What then could be at fault in Mr. Droke's logic?
My reply would be: its fundamental premise – that stocks are in fact increasing in value.
Let us take the Dow Jones Industrial Average as our landmark evidentiary exhibit. As I have earlier demonstrated on this same site, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has continued to collapse in terms of the world’s primary inflation-proof currency – physical gold, and this all-too-obvious collapse will enter its 9th year later this summer.
Let’s update that chart here.
As you can see, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been cascading steadily downwards since mid-1999 – when priced in a currency that is not subject to inflation. And this collapse is in fact occurring as the nominal value of the Dow has reached a new record level.
What then is the critical flaw in Mr. Droke's argument?
When the trend of the Dow turns negative in nominal terms – and that day is at some point inevitable, for reasons already well-described on this site – the gentle cascade downwards will morph into a furious and collapsing torrent – as the signature index of the market value of America's pre-eminent corporations yields to the adverse impact of past decades of brazen monetary manipulation.
What has blinded Mr. Droke?
He has forgotten that the US dollar is an arbitrary indicator of value, that it is falling drastically against most other global currencies, and that it is collapsing even more dramatically against the value of gold (and let us not even discuss silver, where the pattern of the dollar’s demise is more dramatic still).
Mr. Droke’s mountain of dollars is diminishing from within even as it expands, bubble-like, to superficial and external view.
(Let me close with a note of respect to Mr. Droke, as I know him to be a sage interpreter of the precious metals markets who has taught me much. May he only be wise enough to convert his dollar holdings to gold at an opportune moment so as to preserve their ever-diminishing value against a currency that he knows full well to be considerably more reliable.)
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Puru Saxena published an excellent article on Safe Haven today. The link is below.
While Mr. Saxena’s article was extremely thoughtful, it does reflect a particular error which could potentially be quite misleading to gold bulls. Mr. Saxena’s overlay (naively) makes it appear that we are now on the verge of a gold market collapse. However, if one considers the fractal analysis, referred to on my blog only yesterday, it is quite clear that something else is afoot. That is, the illustrated parallel between our present bull market in gold and the previous bull market has become distorted due to an overly literal juxtaposition of the two charts.
As you will see, the grey line is the 1970’s bull market, and the dark line our present one.
Based on the analysis about which I commented yesterday, we may very likley be at an entirely different analogous point on the chart in terms of our present gold bull market position. To make my point, some mathematical alteration of Mr. Saxena’s overlay would certainly be required (and this is well beyond the range of the tools or time I have available).
In fact, look closely, and you will see an immediate problem with the overlay. The 1970’s chart is based at exactly zero, but the current chart is based at $200. So already, the analogy is distorted.
Why then are we not in synch amplitude and timewise?
Well, to start, as many much wiser than I have observed, history doesn't repeat, it rhymes.
I think the present bull market will likely be longer, and thus stronger, than the 1970’s bull market (which occurred in conditions of global adjustment far less extreme than at present). It is therefore not at all certain that the present bull market will wrap up and flame out by 2011-14 (as using the above-illustrated analogy might lead one to conclude).
Further, inflation-adjusted charts have never to my knowledge been made with accurate estimates of the cost of living increase. While the current mantra is that the 80’s peak in the value of gold was $2000 inflation-adjusted, we probably need to move closer to $3-4000 to reflect the true cost of living increase. And given that inflation is likely to persist during the upcoming decades, further adjustments to our inflation-adjusted target also need to be considered.
I lack the tools to verify this, but my suspicion is that to graph our present market against this chart, we would have to compress the present (1980-2007) chart from decades to mere years. In that case, the first (and largest) “hump” would be the analogue of the 1980 bull market top, and our present position would be directly horizontal to that, about 4 years further forward.
That is, my intuition suggests that the 1970’s first peak near $200, which pulled back to about $100 before recovering, is analogous in our current chart to the 1980 peak, with its ultimate retreat to near $250 (much more severe in fact, particularly considering the ravages of inflation during that lengthy period).
So, in yet another fantastical leap, let me suggest that what took only 4 years to occur in the 1970’s bull market (that is, the fall from and eventual recovery to the $200 level), is in fact the analogue to the entire span of time from 1980 to the present, or 27 years. This easily implies that this gold bull market could run an additional two or more decades before exhausting itself.
My suggested time-compression ratio?
A very rough estimate is 10:1, perhaps 8:1.
The vertical multiplier?
I do not know, but the ratio is nowhere near one-to-one. A present estimate would be from 2.5:1 to 4:1, but we are 2-3 decades away from the implied target price of $2,000 - $3,500 in 2007 US dollars.
Therefore, a significant inflation adjustment will be required, and that would almost inevitably lead to an ultimate target for our present gold bull market of greater than $5,000 per ounce, with the unknowable upper limit depending upon the toll taken by continued monetary inflation.
We are further back, and have much longer to go, than a direct analogy to the 1970’s might imply. A very rough estimate, based on annual inflation at 5% (inflation is presently drastically under-reported, and I expect inflation to move higher for monetary reasons), is that somewhere around 2030, we will be seeing a gold price at ten to fifteen times today's levels ($6,000 - $10,000 per ounce), and in constant 2007 dollars, at 2.5 to 4 times 1980’s peak level ($2,000 - $3,500 per ounce).
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I wish to commend to you to the work of a very brilliant (amateur) analyst who is studying precious metal investments using a method referred to as fractal charting. He goes by the name of Goldrunner, and in my opinion his work is groundbreaking.
I have done a web search, and others are using this method. However, due to my limited experience, Goldrunner is the only person I know to be applying the method of fractal charting In the area of precious metal and currency investments.
Goldrunner’s most recently published article draws a fascinating parallel between chart patterns in gold in the 1970’s and today. If Goldrunner is right, then the precious metals markets could remain strong from now through mid-2008 (that would be an unusually long period of strength).
As do I, Goldrunner holds that the gold bull market is advancing in waves (or stages). He is thus suggesting that the new uptrend being formed might persist for about as long as did the one from 2001 through late 2005. You may recall that in late 2005, gold began to surge into the uptrend which we are presently experiencing (peaking in May 2006, but still going strong).
As do all freely-traded items, the price of gold tends to move in channels, and within the channel, the movement can be quit violent. But if Goldrunner is correct, the next year might prove to be a period of smoother than usual sailing.
Well, I was trained by the boy scouts, so I'm battening down the hatches anyway. But if the sailing should prove clear over the next year, it would make the trip all that much more enjoyable!
For those of you interested in exploring Goldrunner's work in more depth, here is an index to his work: Gold-Eagle.com Goldrunner Index.
Goldrunner references the work of Dan Norcini (a colleague of Jim Sinclair and regular contributor to JSMineSet), and here is the long-term gold chart to which he is referring.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Perhaps another way of expressing my views on the topic I addressed at length on February 9 is to state that the left-right debate has become stale to the point of emitting a detectable stench (I could use stronger language here).
We might say that the world – or at least our understanding of it – has changed, and that both the left and the right have lagged behind these changes. It seems that the only area of observable advancement is in the implementation of strategic tactics to co-opt the media to promote the interested party’s spin on current events.
I was struck by a CBC Radio feature yesterday which summarized the new emphasis on sound bites and spin in contemporary political discourse. The central message of the CBC piece is that the media for the most part are now basically incapable of representing, let alone originating, thoughtful conversation on the topics of our day.
The mainstream news media offer only a few seconds for an idea to be expressed, and only sound bites are effective in this environment. The sound bite must be snappy and appealing, or fade rapidly into the ether, to be replaced by the next, and pithier, sound bite on the same or a different subject.
Additionally, public debate has degenerated to the level of the Roman coliseum, with only forceful and argumentative representations of issues constituting sufficient entertainment value to capture the interest of the presumed otherwise-preoccupied or politically illiterate electorate.
The primary marker of “spin” at work is when reporters indicate that an “unidentified source who cannot be named” has commented “in advance” on a topic that a particular politically interested group wishes to present to the public with the intention of gaining initial sympathy to its agenda and interpretation of events. Timing is calculated so that reporters have little opportunity to obtain opposing information, and thus the well-placed sound-bite is reported end-of-day, and stands unchallenged in the spin cycle of 24-hour news.
My thoughts on this bankruptcy of the politics of right and left, and the corresponding failure of the media, are of course only partial, and political discourse is at most a “sometimes” area of interest in my own life. But from another perspective, all of life is politics, and the inability of our leadership on the left and the right to address the issues now shaping our world is a matter of critical – and for many affected individuals, daily – concern.
In my recent post, I addressed the issue of moral courage, and I do believe that such courage has been lacking. It is easier to yield to the strong – even violent – emotions of others which underlie their adherence to “correct” thinking than it is to take the path of Socrates and engage others in dialogue to explore the deeper implications of their ideas (and we all know the consequences of doing this for Socrates).
I think what I communicated in essence on February 9 is that we feel responsible when we take action directly, and absolved of responsibility when actions are taken by others. Thus the politically correct on both the left and the right arrange their thinking and behaviour so that it is not necessary for them to address the unintended (and often injurious – sometimes horrendous) consequences of their displacement of responsibility either through inaction, through avoidance and denial, or through attribution of responsibility for the cause or remediation of the problem to a third party.
Therefore, the problem is not only about the failings of courage – I'm sure that the politically correct can be courageous in arenas apart from their unquestioned political certainties. It is also about the failure of vision – to look beyond the familiar to the unfamiliar, the threatening and the unknown.
Let me say something more about the psychological process that is involved in this process of “revisioning” (a neologism coined by Robert Theobald – a man who greatly inspired my mother – shortly prior to his death, and meaning to reconsider a perplexing issue from a new and broader perspective).
Morality in my view is the process of taking considered but direct action to determine how the inevitable harms associated with difficult decisions should be allocated. Political correctness is therefore motivated by the need to establish and live within a zone of comfortable certainty which spares us the agony of moral decision-making.
Through the very nature of the process by which they are framed, the issues championed by the politically correct seduce us into a distorted perspective on the difficult questions which they are interested in addressing – or avoiding.
For example, with respect to the “embryonic stem cell” debate, the label itself draws our attention to the embryo. Of course, each of us was once an embryo too, and we would not have wanted anyone to tamper with our stem cells during the earliest stages of our formation. From the outset, this pre-framed perspective yields an instinctively powerful response in favour of the rhetoric of the politically correct position.
However, this debate is also about the suffering of mature individuals with genetically-based illnesses, and Michael J. Fox has chosen to make himself a public example of this “less correct” perspective by speaking in favour of embryonic stem cell research In the case of Parkinson’s Disease. Who on this side will stoop to argue, “I was once an embryo too?” Yet that is in fact at the heart of the matter.
By the nature of the context in which the debate is framed, we think instantly of the sanctity of life of the embryo, the source from which each of us was formed. It is far more difficult – in fact, a strenuous effort – to consider the perspective of the person with a genetic illness. And if we are not a person with such an illness, or do not have a relationship with one or more such people, it will be very difficult to frame the alternative position in this debate. In part, this difficulty is due to the fact that the esteem with which we regard embryos is generalized and universal, whereas the suffering of persons with genetic illnesses is particularized and highly variable.
In its simplest terms, the debate becomes distorted, because it is easy to think about embryos, and difficult to think about persons with genetic illnesses (even if we have considerable knowledge of the subject). The same can be said for the other subjects I addressed on February 9.
That is, it is easier to think about the rights of suspected criminals (whose actions are on public display, and who, like ourselves, might suffer needlessly if misunderstood, misrepresented or even “framed”) than about the rights of their victims (whose stories are complex and rarely fully told, if ever told at all).
Corporations are visible, and they are obviously amassing great wealth through the conduct of their businesses. We forget that corporate wealth is the source of our society’s wealth, and enriches our society at many levels. It only seems fair that this wealth be redistributed, Robin Hood style, to the individuals who have been personally injured through the use of tobacco, asbestos or the unintended side effects of pharmaceutical products.
Similarly, it is apparent that Islamic militants are attempting to cause us harm. It is more difficult to piece together the complex web of relationships within which their aggressive actions represent a settling of grievances with us collectively due to our imperialistic legacy, or alternatively, how their behaviour might serve as a convenient platform for them to displace responsibility for home-grown issues which we bear no responsibility for creating.
Therefore, without further ado, let me now make an idiosyncratic proposal for my fantastical view of a utopian political party for the third millennium that might function differently than the left and the right. Let me address this in the Canadian setting, as this is where I have now lived and made my home for over 35 years. I caution that the following “party platform” is purely a fantasy exercise on my part (at least at this point!). Obviously others might choose to join me, tacking on their issues of concern as well, if they find anything to agree with here, or might propose a party of their own if my ideas don't work for them. (Sorry, I do claim precedence for the title, “Utopian Party of Canada.” Those who choose to create other “fantasy” parties will be required to deploy alternative terminology.)
Let me emphasize that if my central thesis is correct, that the existing parties and ideologies are now failing us, then we literally do not know what should replace them. So we are clearly exploring uncharted terrain together, seeking to find a new way – for Canada, perhaps a “Northwest Passage” through the third millennium….
Here then is my entirely partial and idiosyncratic “fantasy” agenda or platform for the Utopian Party of Canada:
1. Public opinion polls would in most cases be used as contrary indicators, because the party has committed itself to leading the people, not to following them.
2. Discourse on the problems of the day would be lengthy and detailed rather than brief and snappy, and would be sober and reasoned, and free of yelling, interruption, and aspersions on the character of persons representing contrary viewpoints.
3. The party’s broad policy would be to reward desirable public behaviour and to withdraw rewards for directly harmful public behaviour, through incentives where possible and through sanctions where necessary.
4. Our nation’s wealth would be seen to derive first and foremost from economic freedom and thereby from productive economic activity attained by promoting business development at the corporate level, and by promoting business participation at the citizen level.
5. The party would therefore nurture business activity – without distinction as to its capitalistic or cooperative nature – both have been proven over time to work, and both would be encouraged.
6. I actually think the government should stay out of the right to life debate as much as possible, so I am modifying the position I originally published on this topic on February 12, 2007. The right to life is too important and sensitive an area to entrust to the government, except with respect to the most obvious protections for those already living. For example, developing fetuses whom mothers are planning to carry to birth should have legal protections equivalent to those afforded the already born. To avoid government over-involvement in this extremely sensitive area, I favour strong permissive policies with respect to obvious life-favouring initiatives. What do I mean? If there are a group of citizens who wish to prevent abortion by promoting adoption, the Utopian Party of Canada might encourage and aid them. Similarly, if another group wishes to enhance the quality of life for the already-living by assisting potential parents to practice better birth control, that is great too. (That is, taking sides on this controversial issue is none of the government’s business!) Let me go even further. The issue in embryonic stem cell research as I understand it (I am not a specialist here) is that fertility enhancement requires the production of multiple embryos whose parents do not plan to give birth to them. If some group were to take action to provide alternative host mothers for these “surplus” embryos, and if the biological parents do not object, this also could be permitted or even aided. But if the biological parents do not want these embryos to be born, and if the biological parents also consent to proceed with stem cell research using these embryos, then that is between the parents and the scientists. There are some issues that are just too sensitive to leave to governments to solve. Excessive government involvement in such issues will almost inevitably make matters worse for everyone concerned. In principle, I prefer leaving morality to the involved individuals, rather than to regulatory bodies, because I believe that citizens acting freely (within reasonable limits) are almost always better problem-solvers than governments. Let me go another step further still. Let’s say a citizen group argues that embryos should have an ombudsman so that their voce can be heard. That is great, but let the citizen action group fund it, not the government. What is the role of the government? To permit and encourage citizen initiatives that are obviously not anti-life and that might in some arguable way enhance life, even in difficult and complex areas. Governments should leave moral decision-making to the citizenry, and occupy themselves with things that they can do better than citizens acting independently, such as developing and maintaining infrastructure and enforcing a code of laws and rights. (Edited: 20 February 07)
7. The party would seriously address issues of the carrying capacity of the earth, and incentives to encourage citizens to regulate both population growth and environmental damage naturally and voluntarily would be considered.
8. All young citizens would engage in two years of modestly reimbursed public service at age 18, not unlike the Swiss (or an extension of the former Katimavik Program), though there would be much freedom of choice as to the form of the service, and in addition to military service, the international component would also include reconstruction and citizen service teams as well as soldiers. By policy, individuals of diverse background from across the country would be grouped together for the explicit purpose to relationship-building. Further, citizens of all ages could volunteer for such service to their country, whether to return at a later point in life, or as an extension to their prior period of duty.
9. It would also be Canadian policy that for every soldier on the battlefield, three Canadians (or more) would be actively involved in reconstruction, citizen services and relationship-building activities in the countries or regions where our military intervened.
10. The criminal justice system would refocus itself from criminal services to victim services, and where possible, convicted individuals who are not dangerous offenders would play a primary role in redressing harms done to other citizens.
11. With respect to criminal prosecution, three questions would be asked: (1) Is this person innocent or guilty – and extensive resources would be available to those charged, based on the principle of the presumption of innocence; (2) Is this person dangerous, destructive and/or determined to re-offend – again, considerable resources would be required; (3) If this person is dangerous, destructive and/or determined, then how can the safety of any and every prior and potential victim be assured – and it is at this point that the balance of resources would begin to flow in the direction of those whose needs are invisible to the public – to prior and potential victims rather than to services to determined antisocial offenders
12. Everybody wants to reform the schools. What would the UPC do? We would try to get out of their way so they can have at it! Let different groups who have different ideas about what is important organize themselves to offer their programs through public schools (through negotiation - yes, public schools would still exist) or though private schools (if they really care that much). There would still be universal standards. Reading, writing and arithmetic still matter, and there would be provincial exams. After all, we'll have to make some effort to keep up with the Japanese and the Chinese, and some Canadians should still write books and practice science. What would my school teach? The three R's for sure, and what else? Long-term planning (how to get from where you are now to where you want to go). Collaboration (how to cooperate with or stay out of the way of others while you're going there). Inner skills (how to get along with the single person you can never escape - yourself!). (Added: 20 February 2007)
13. Issues of public concern which do not submit easily or directly to the profit motive in the world of business would nonetheless be delegated to private enterprises, with the role of government being to provide incentives to cover “start-up costs” until such new initiatives became economically viable or otherwise self-sustaining, for example:
a. The government would act strategically with respect to economic policy, and would take action ahead of rather than in reaction to global trends. At present, this would mean anticipating the coming global alternative currency and commodity boom attributable to the rise of Asia in the post-war “excess liquidity” environment (in my view, Asia's advantaged position derives from the capacity of Asians, through long-range strategic thinking, to capitalize on the capital flow “bubble” originating in the west, whereas the nations of Africa have been largely incapable of mounting an effective response, and the Middle East and Muslim world have been thrown “off balance” by excesses of opportunity).
b. The Canadian government would continue to utilize the income trust structure for the development of energy and mineral resources (an area of concern of particular interest to Canada, both now and historically) and for other business ventures as deemed appropriate.
c. Transportation across the county by all methods would be encouraged, including the twinning of the TransCanada Highway across the length of the country, but also including the fast-tracking of the TransCanada Trail for hikers and other users of non-motorized transportation – both here and abroad (in my view, this would be a potent attractant for international eco-tourism), and we would also rehabilitate the railways and the airways (primarily through regulatory incentives).
d. There would be broad incentives relating to the development of businesses to enhance both environmental quality and quality of life.
e. Considerable subsidies and incentives relating to start-up costs would be available to developers of alternative energy and energy conservation strategies. These would ideally be repayable where possible.
f. In the provinces, a small-scale business incentive program modeled on the Grameen Bank would replace welfare and “make work” programs for those living at the margins of society, including those living in urban and rural areas as well as in the First Nation territories. Everyone, including in particular those with severe disabilities, would receive incentives for working and contributing to the national economy to the greatest of their personal capacity.
g. On a related note, I would eliminate restrictions on the accumulation of personal savings for the poor (our contemporary version of debtors' prison), and replace them with incentives to save. As my calculations have shown, it is realistic to expect that even an impoverished Canadian could accumulate in the multiple millions of dollars in savings through saving and investing early and consistently. Thus it is realistic to expect that at least some of the poor might be able to be self-sustaining in later life through this policy.
h. Taking this idea one step further, we might establish a national investment program for Canadians who are not sophisticated in the world of investment, and this program, established perhaps as a very large (or series of) income trust(s), would target growing industries based on analysis of broad secular trends. This program might then provide some of the incentive funding for the government-mandated programs which I proposed earlier.
i. In the First Nations, homes and property would gradually return to individual ownership, and there would be temporary economic incentives to those who improved their home and property on their own initiative, enabling them to increase the value of their personal as well as their tribal holdings over time.
I could say much more, but this is the real world (not utopia yet!), so that is all for now!
Friday, February 09, 2007
Much has been written about political correctness, and there is little I need to add to the literature defining the subject.
But I am interested in the psychological problems that are created by political correctness. At heart, the real difficulty with political correctness is that it prevents us from seeing things as they are. The central conundrum with respect to this politically enforced perceptual distortion is not so much that we cannot describe reality accurately, but that we cannot respond to reality morally.
It is well known that derogation of political correctness is a preoccupation of the right, and it is most often those on the political left who are branded with this label. In fact, all ranges of the political spectrum are hobbled by their own variants of political correctness, and the right is no less guilty than the left in this regard.
Why are we as a species prone to political correctness? I suggest that this is because moral choices are inherently painful and complex, and in fact, often agonizing. Therefore, we seek simple formulas to spare ourselves the agony of moral decision-making.
Without further preamble, let me illustrate some of the dilemmas faced by the politically correct on both the left and the right, using examples only.
A DILEMMA FOR THOSE ON THE LEFT
We entirely lack the societal resources to resolve the problem of egregious offenses against the wellbeing of the populace through the procedural maze of the present administrative and court systems. If we do not live within our means (that is, within all of our limits and boundaries) as we act to resolve ethical dilemmas, we will ultimately impoverish and thus incapacitate ourselves socially, financially and morally.
1. We cannot afford to resolve all criminal infractions through our present court and legal system, particularly the most serious as perpetrated by habitual antisocial offenders. It is illogical to devote millions of dollars in societal resources to balancing the rights of the habitual antisocial offender with those of the general public. We all know that some individuals are habitually destructive and dangerous to the wellbeing of all, and the fact that such individuals should be wholly restrained by permanent removal from society is quite obvious to any rational and compassionate observer.
Why then do we agonize over the rights of criminals while abandoning victims to their fate? Our human tendency to deliberate at length over the rights of perpetrators while recoiling from inquiry into the impact of their actions on their victims in my view also derives from a reflexive failure of moral courage of the same type that is at the heart of political correctness in all of its forms.
This particular dilemma is quite simple in its moral and psychological structure. Where punishment of the perpetrator is in question, it is our own direct or indirect action that will result in premeditated harm to this person, making us personally responsible for inflicting punitive sanctions (and therefore injuries) against another, no matter how callous, brutal and remorseless this particular individual may be. While extensive processes exist to enquire into the functional capacity, motivations and psychological functioning of antisocial offenders, we have virtually none to study the experiences, perspectives and agonies of their victims.
In the arena of the politically correct, the harm done to victims is inflicted by the “other” – the criminal whose rights we safeguard – and thus no harm has come to the victim through our personal action (though much may ensue through our subsequent neglect). As personal action weighs more heavily on our conscience than the actions of others, we permit dangerous offenders to return to society while simultaneously erecting few if any safeguards for their prior or potential victims, including those at risk of retribution.
The first step in the permanent exclusion of antisocial offenders from society lies in deciding where to draw the line as to who should and should not be designated for exclusion, and for how long – and so we erect complex, unwieldy, self-maintaining and correspondingly unreliable mechanisms to shelter ourselves from this distasteful task.
But underlying this first moral dilemma, difficult though it may be, is another dilemma far more difficult still, and that is the decision as to how our finite societal resources should be divided. Due to our distaste for judgement, we spare no expense in the allocation of money and manpower to evaluate the known perpetrators of offensive crimes, first through complex and often multiple trial proceedings, typically spanning many years and sometimes costing in the millions of dollars, and then through the ongoing monitoring and review of the perpetrator’s progress within the criminal justice system, all of this possibly extending for the remaining lifespan of the evildoer.
In the midst of our extravagant provision of lifetime services to the brutal and callous (and this is at the heart of the second and greater dilemma) we learn almost nothing, either publicly or systemically, of the impact of antisocial crime on its many victims and survivors. We have no parallel system of resources which monitors the safety or the ongoing mental or physical health of the victims of vicious criminal acts. Similarly, our victim services processes are private, whereas criminal proceedings are public. Therefore, victims suffer in silence, shielded from public view, and we, as members of the public, are sheltered from the torment of personal responsibility.
My professional work often brings me into contact with victims of violent and antisocial crimes, and in my experience, the decisions and actions of victims are shaped to a greater degree by their fear of perpetrators, whom they view as dangerous, powerful and likely to return unhampered to society, than by their confidence in the criminal justice system, which they almost invariably view as vacillating, weak, unpredictable, ineffective, and incoherent. As many know, it is not unusual for perpetrators to gloat in their impunity. In fact, through the eyes of the victim, the criminal justice system very frequently appears to be directly aligned with and empowering to perpetrators, and so aligned against and disempowering to victims.
The politically correct person on the left refuses to make the costly decisions which would acknowledge initially that violent and antisocial offenders require permanent exclusion from society, and then that societal resources must be directed preferentially to victims, and this at the expense of inhumane, remorseless and habitual offenders.
2. We cannot afford to hold the free enterprise system itself hostage to the infinite moral dilemmas of the general populace by extracting massive cash settlements to redress the real or imagined injuries of the aggrieved through class action (tort) lawsuits for wrongs that in their very essence reflect the inescapable risks and hazards of our mortal nature. The fundamental dilemma is that life is inherently risky and ultimately fatal, and that businesses which provide products to meet our needs cannot possibly remove all risk from living by selling guaranteed harm-free products.
a. The politically correct person on the left holds tobacco companies culpable for the sale of tobacco and its resultant harms, whereas society, through its legal system, makes tobacco a permitted – even a promoted – substance with the full sanction of the very governments which extract legal penalties from its purveyors.
b. Similarly, asbestos was valued by society as a whole for its insulating and fire retardant properties. It was only with the advance of medical knowledge that the hazards of asbestos became known. The harms caused by asbestos are in no way the responsibility of those who mined, processed and sold it to members of a society who desired it for its useful properties.
c. It now requires in many cases hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to develop and test new pharmaceutical products over periods of decades in order to address the illnesses and frailties to which we as humans are prone. Extensive evaluation is required to assure safety, and this is rational. But should unintended side effects occur following such development and testing, we punish the pharmaceutical companies for their efforts, rather than acknowledging that not all consequences of a medication’s use can possibly ever be comprehended or foreseen. For failing to exercise such mandated infinite oversight, we then punish pharmaceutical companies with massive lawsuits, rather than acknowledging that no set of safeguards can protect us against all conceivable harms and unintended consequences of the use of pharmaceutical products. In response, the pharmaceutical companies avoid risk, developing medications to treat only a narrow range of illnesses, and the prohibitive costs of drug development result in independent companies developing drugs in most (fortunately not all) cases to treat only a minute fraction of the spectrum of the illnesses of the world’s richest people – those who can afford to pay the massive risk premium required to fund contemporary pharmaceutical research. As has been well-established, even aspirin can be extremely dangerous in certain delineated circumstances (I personally have an adverse response to this commonly-used medicine). It is only through the intervention of charitable foundations which are willing to undertake the staggering costs and associated liabilities that any treatments at all can be developed to alleviate the suffering of the world’s impoverished majorities. Through our aversion to risk and uncertainty, we have transferred responsibility for the ineluctable hazards of living from ourselves both as individuals and as a society to the pharmaceutical industry, with the result that innovators are excoriated and presumed guilty for the inherent liabilities of our mortal nature.
The politically correct person on the left is unable to acknowledge that life itself is hazardous to the point of certain death for all. These individuals seek to establish a way of life without risk in an imagined utopia of accountability that is sought through endless prosecution of the purveyors of the products and services that in our fickle nature were once desired, and now spurned due to changes in our understanding or perception of the balance of risk and benefit in their use. What the politically correct have created is in fact a suffocating and blatantly exploitative regulatory framework (within which accountability has become an infinitely displaced end) that quashes creativity and affixes so many penalties upon innovation and productivity that our capacity to continue to create the goods and services necessary to sustain and potentially enhance the quality of our lives has become critically compromised, with far greater costs to human wellbeing and freedom than their regulatory efforts could possibly ever forestall.
A DILEMMA FOR THOSE ON THE RIGHT
We inhabit a moral universe fraught with complexity. Multiple and ultimately competing perspectives that we often have no right or ultimate capacity to modify place demands upon us and dominate our lives. The ultimate dilemma is not one of right or wrong, but of engagement or escape. Ethical living demands engagement with the full spectrum of human experience.
1. At its core, the struggle to survive is not a tenet of political ideology (as in “Social Darwinism”) but a biological reality. Across the 4.5 billion year history of our planet, a mere atom in a galaxy which in turn is a speck in a cosmic web of galaxies and galactic clusters, multitudes of species have arisen and passed away, and multitudes more will do so, including at some inescapable point our own. In most species, the great majority of individuals do not survive to maturity. Across the span of the history of life on earth, most species themselves do not survive, as they are displaced or die away due to changing environmental circumstances (and all of this is in the context of the drama that Darwin referred to as natural selection). Over most of our own history as a species, it was unusual for human individuals to survive through to maturity and old age prior to relatively recent times. I am not at all suggesting that the preservation of life is not a virtue, and in fact I hold to this principle quite dearly. But I do submit that it is in the very nature of life itself that only a miniscule fraction of germ cells survive to become embryos, and that there are infinite hazards faced by embryos on their journey to becoming human individuals.
In my essay on the movie Vera Drake, I have dealt already with what I regard as the inherently unsolvable moral dilemma of abortion. Here I would like to establish a quite similar point, that the competing rights of the human embryo and of the developing or mature human who might benefit by the fruits of embryonic stem cell research is not at heart a moral problem, but a biological one. That is, it is in the nature of the very struggle of life that what is beneficial for one individual will at some point harm another (whether of the same or different species), and vice versa. Here I can only assert that embryos are known to me to have neither greater nor lesser rights than mature individuals, and that the death of embryos which were never intended by their parents to enter into human form will generate certain benefits to individuals with genetically-based illnesses that might yield to the fruits of embryonic stem cell research. Conversely, to withhold such benefits out of respect for embryos whose parents never intended for them to breathe life seems a patently illogical, counterproductive and ideologically-based stance to take, where no benefit can in fact derive to the embryo, and clear harm will result to those with genetically-based illnesses if the research does not proceed apace.
2. In an entirely different sphere, North American conservatives, and here I refer predominantly but not exclusively to those in the United States, have embroiled the globe in a series of ill-considered ideologically-motivated military adventures in which the enormous but finite resources of the United States are pitted against those of far less wealthy and powerful, but far more determined, adversaries, who perceive American incursion to be an insult to their sovereignty and freedom. Little investigation is required to establish that the actions of the United States have been incoherent to the point of apparent dysfunction.
Let me clarify at the outset that I am not approaching this challenge to the political right from the ideological left, and I hope this will become evident in my subsequent discussion.
Historically, the United States seems to have careened off course shortly following its rise to the position of dominant world power at the close of World War II. With the rise of anti-communism, the United States arrogated to itself the right to intervene seditiously in the affairs of state of governments around the world, and it is well-known that the United States initiated actions to destabilize the governments of such countries as Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to oppose the will of the vast majority of the citizens of Vietnam in America’s greatest debacle of the 20th century. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, suffered and died as a result of America’s ill-considered actions.
In my own view, the disruptive spilt in the American psyche must be traced to its roots, though I am of course uncertain as to its ultimate source. My intuition suggests to me that a predominant factor in the genesis of what Richard Hofstadter referred to as the “paranoid style” in American politics (originally a 1964 essay in Harper’s) is the fact that many early American settlers were members of persecuted minority groups, both religious and ethnic. Thus their traumatic experiences of sustained persecutions, many unimaginably severe, would seem to have been transmitted intergenerationally to our present era. Yet many Americans are also open, fair-minded, selfless, charitable and ultimately supremely balanced persons, and this achievement can be attributed in large part to the country’s dearly-attained democratic and pluralistic innovations and traditions. The United States therefore conducts itself in a dissociative manner when it behaves internationally, and this is baffling to others in the far-flung corners of the globe where Americans almost invariably mis-step.
Another tragic mis-step, of course, has been taken recently in Iraq (in my view, the Afghanistan combat is a quite different and far more complex intervention for many reasons). So what has the United States done wrong in this case? Well, we must be historical. To begin, the United States equipped, financed, trained and then abandoned its historic allies but ultimate enemies in the mountains of Afghanistan in its ill-conceived anti-Soviet interventions in that country now decades ago. With shifting alliances which parallel and perhaps exceed those of Orwell’s 1984, the United States has been with and against Iran and Iraq, and against and with and now in an ambiguous relationship with the former Soviet bloc countries.
With ideological fervour, the United States has in fact fought on both sides of many of the ethnic, cultural, religious and ideological fissures which rend the Muslim world through the Middle East, Asia and North Africa. And what has the United States encountered there but a mirror reflection of itself, a similarly dissociative cultural and political environment also shaped by centuries of persecution and ridden by paranoia? Faced with an adversary whose psychological conflicts mirror its own, the United States has responded incoherently, unable to transmit its deeply cherished democratic and pluralistic ideals to a population that in at least some respects admires and appreciates these same ideals (almost certainly the democratic more than the pluralistic), due to their being enshrouded in a paranoid overlay which with seemingly unerring accuracy perverts and distorts almost every American foreign intervention, whether well-intended or otherwise (in my view, there has been much of both).
Let me now explain why my present criticism of the United States is not drawn from the ideological roots of the left. As an American citizen myself, I believe that the United States has, in its peak accomplishments, attained to a series of principles of immeasurable value. Among these I include pluralism, free speech, due process, the rule of law, the right to hold private property and to vote, and a deeply held belief in the irreplaceable benefits of economic freedom. In almost all cases, America’s adversaries have been less advanced in many if not all of these critically important dimensions.
However, the United States has proven strikingly ineffective in transmitting these values and ideals to the countries in whose internal affairs it has intervened, and one must at this point ask why a people driven by such noble ideals have proven unable to deliver them to others by means of military force. Let me also submit that in the question lies most of the all-too-obvious answer, and that is that freedom cannot, by its inherent nature, be imposed. It must be invited in. And it is delicate work to create the receptive psychological climate within which the process of giving birth to freedom can occur. In my view, the “military-industrial” megalith of United States power is an all-too-blunt instrument to accomplish this highly refined objective in most circumstances. In fact, and it has often been demonstrated, Americans possess the skills to win others over through precept and example, but America refrains from this method when its leaders (and the citizens who support them) are driven by fear.
Unlike many who criticize America from the left, I am deeply troubled by the evils that I perceive in the world of Islamic extremism, and I am concerned that much of the Muslim world is rapidly slipping into a new dark age, and this seems to parallel, but lag by several centuries, the developments that swept Europe almost a millennium ago (and that led in great part to the persecutory history of our current adversaries in the Muslim world through the crusades). While Islam boasts a proud history of intellectual, cultural, social, scientific and spiritual achievement, much of that history is now being erased by a wave of jihadist extremism against which the evils I have just described in the United States pale in comparison.
In my view, there is no greater evil than terrorism, which strikes intentionally at the innocent in order to inflame them to a level of fear and hate which mirrors that of the perpetrators of this most heinous of all offenses against humanity. And while the United States has selfishly blundered and intruded, staggering about both thoughtlessly and blindly, and thereby engendered needless suffering for untold millions through ill-conceived military-industrial activism, the adversary it has recently encountered is more evil still. It is thus one of the paradoxical sins of the United States that through confused and naïve action (driven by what Hofstadter described as the dual burden inflicted by the addition of paranoid fantasies), the United States has contributed to the unleashing of an already existing evil against which its own pales in comparison – and I think this needs to be explicitly stated.
That is, and I wish to be quite clear, the evil of terrorism greatly exceeds the evil of imperialism. The one is far more repugnant than the other, though, in our present age, both must by all means and in all circumstances be avoided. There is no place for either terrorism or imperialism in our modern world, and those who practice them must be held accountable to desist by the leaders of the world community in all of its quarters. The freedom which we enjoy in the west is a precious treasure to be guarded, but also not to be squandered, and I wish to argue that that the cost is far too great to persist in our ill-conceived activism.
Islamic extremism poses many dilemmas to our society, and the arming of Iran and the rise of the jihadists are but the tip of the iceberg in a vast region of the world where pluralism is rejected, and minorities, including in particular many Christians, are persecuted. There is no easy response, but I do maintain that we must cease using blunt instruments, and act first by understanding and then accurately estimating our enemy prior to engaging him. We must respond strategically rather than in a haze of fear (or pride).
At a minimum, we should consider how to act to stop feeding the sinister processes which breed new terrorists by the hundreds each day, then to isolate the most extreme and disruptive of the jihadists, simultaneously to provide meaningful protection to minorities suffering under persecution by Islamic extremists, and then – and only then – to confront militarily those whose brutal designs can by no other means be resisted.
In summary, then, my criticism of the political correctness of the right is that the web of frightening fantasies must be swept away, enabling a clearer vision of the actual risks and opportunities that lie ahead. We must acknowledge that while there exists an evil in the world far greater than that which we ourselves have perpetrated, our own excessive (but ultimately inadequate) use of power and our self-absorbed and reactive interventionism appear in fact to be feeding the very evil which we seek to restrain. We must still combat our own evil first and more directly so that we can see clearly to combat the evil which clouds the vision of our Islamic neighbours. It is this supremely uncomfortable fact to which the political right must either accede or succumb.
The politically correct person on the right is able to acknowledge the existence of evil in the world, and also to recognize the requirement of bravery to confront it. However, in my view, this person has become entrapped by unwillingness to acknowledge the complex interplay of multiple viewpoints, and so denies his or her own participation in the origination of our world’s inevitable evils. Thus, the politically correct individuals who inhabit the political right respond reflexively rather than strategically to complex moral issues, disregarding and thereby alienating others, leaving them standing incoherent in response to their own isolation in a world where black-and-white characterizations of problems create imagined solutions that are unworkable for those with needs or viewpoints different than their own.
The purpose of the present essay is not to “answer” the questions I have posed, but to portray clearly how certain popularly chosen paths to their remediation are in fact inherently unworkable, and thus must be abandoned, to be replaced with new answers based on new ways of thinking which have not yet in fact been generated. It is my hope that in the resiliency of our human nature, and particularly in our ability to communicate honestly with each other at deep rather than superficial levels, the answers to these dilemmas may reside.