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Along with The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Phillip Pullman’s essay “Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms” must be one of his most radical pieces of writing. It corresponds to his general concern about lack of oversight over powerful institutions and speaks out powerfully against the authoritarianism that can arise in parallel with public fear:

And the new laws whisper:

We do not want to hear you talking about truth

Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours

We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on

We do not want to hear you talking about innocence

Innocent means guilty of things not yet done

We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence

You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt

We do not want to hear you talking about justice

Justice is whatever we want to do to you

And nothing else

One early passage in his new novel La Belle Sauvage evokes a similar theme:

She tried to keep a steady pace. She had nothing to fear from the police, or from any other agency, except like every other citizen she had everything to fear. They could lock her up with no warrant and keep her there with no charge; the old act of habeus corpus had been set aside, with little protest from those in Parliament who were supposed to look after English liberty, and now one heard tales of secret arrests and imprisonment without trial, and there was no way of finding out whether the rumors were true. (p. 153–4)

Authors like Pullman and Margaret Atwood play a valuable societal role in drawing attention to such dangers: that fear will drive us to hand over control to unaccountable entities and that a drift toward dystopia is possible. Among all the dangers we face, we mustn’t forget the nightmares the state is capable of imposing.

Related:

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U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson‘s conduct has increasingly been the subject of public and media criticism. He has gone from refusing to let students choose their own gender pronouns to a much broader critique of university culture. Recently, he proposed to start a website where people could report which of their professors and classes are “indoctrination cults”.

See:

Dr. Peterson is an interesting man and one of the most compelling speakers I’ve been exposed to. I feel like he has seriously lost perspective and become inappropriately convinced that he is being subjected to persecution. If he could abstract himself from his own situation enough to think about it more objectively, I think a section from one of this lectures would lead to him rethinking his conduct:

So life is suffering. What does that do to people? It makes them resentful. These are pitfalls of being. Except being has a structure. One of its fundamental structural elements is suffering. But suffering produces other characteristics of being: resentment is a characteristic of being. People feel resentful when they believe that they’ve been taken advantage of. And if you feel resentful, it may be that you are being taken advantage of. It may also be that you should screw your head on straight and look at things properly. And it may also be that you should talk to somebody to find out if you’re being taken advantage of or if your head just isn’t screwed on straight.

Dr. Peterson started on the comparatively defensible ground of being concerned about how potentially oppressive institutions might unjustly constrain speech, but from the beginning he has been targeting the oppressed rather than the strong. Now he has drifted into the company of aggrieved enemies of supposed “political correctness” who have inverted their understanding of politics to see themselves as oppressed while those like the transgendered are elevated by structures which he must now resist. It’s a dynamic where exposure to people who disagree with you can tend to deepen your conviction that you are actually right, leading to you being more and more isolated and increasingly unable to comprehend the discussion you’re taking part in.

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Some kind of nuclear accident, probably “involving nuclear fuel or the production of radioactive material” and not a nuclear reactor, seems to have taken place in Russia: Russia named as likely source of Europe radioactivity spike

Continuing a tradition established by the Chernobyl disaster and the Kyshtym disaster, the information comes from radiation monitors in other countries and has so far been denied by Moscow.

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Sylvester

2017-11-11

in Photo of the day

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