Jonathan Haidt and time well spent.

At the end of October, the Institute for Humane Studies posted a video of a talk that had recently been given at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. The speaker was Professor Jonathan Haidt. The talk is entitled The Coddling of the American Mind, which just happens to be the title of a book that he co-wrote with Greg Lunianoff.

This talk is nearly an hour and a quarter long. If you regard that as bad news, then the good news is that watching it is time well spent.

Haidt presents himself as a reasonable, warm, friendly, winsome person. Cynic that I am, and one that previously was not familiar with him, when his talk starts sailing into water that has recently become controversial to the extent of generating riots, I wonder whether this is a persona that he projects in order more safely to navigate this perilous course. I go off and explore his other speeches and interviews, and return a verdict of Not Guilty.

This is not a persona, but the real Haidt, and the perilous course takes him face-to-face with what has colloquially been termed the Snowflake Culture – i.e. university Safe Spaces, etc.

Gratifyingly, however, he does not so much confront it as strive to understand it. That essentially is the genius of this talk. He explores its origins, its ethos, making us his audience almost empathise, before he explains why it is profoundly and dangerously wrong.

The talk has more visuals than I would like. The editors of this video cut away from the slides enough to prevent Haidt becoming for us a voice-over for a picture show; but the audience in the hall does not have that privilege. My rule with visuals is simply stated: include it only if the argument would be significantly impoverished without it. I venture that there are some slides here that fail that test.

In striving to help us understand various details, Haidt supplies a great deal of survey data which are displayed for us in the form of various graphics. I have absolutely no quarrel with this talk being data-rich. Speakers who address controversies without showing their workings are suspect, and graphics convey such workings very effectively. However, it’s almost as if including an abundance of slides generates its own momentum and that the slides that are necessary and desirable somehow give birth to others that are less so.

How often have I observed in this blog that the better the speaker the pickier I get? The previous two paragraphs are a good example of my becoming hyper-picky, because Jonathan Haidt shows here that he is nothing short of an exemplary speaker. It’s not just the delivery which is superb, but his argument is flawlessly structured also.

I think I may read the book.

Andrew Doyle and Woke

At The National Liberal Club in London, on 13 October 2019, Sovereign Nations held a conference entitled Speaking Truth to Social Justice. One speaker was Andrew Doyle.

I was keen to watch this speech because few have done more to satirise the wearisome Woke movement than Doyle (except, arguably, the Woke movement itself). Among other things, and I’m going out of my way to highlight this because in his speech he doesn’t do so, he co-founded and runs Comedy Unleashed, where comedians may perform without having to conform to the bigotry of Woke restrictions. This means free speech and, in a civilised society, should be the norm. The Woke establishment (and be sure that the Establishment is Woke) hates it and labels it ‘Far Right’, which is Wokese for the holding of non-Woke opinions.

I cannot believe that he’s reading a script! What has possessed him? He’s hacking great chunks out of the impact of what he is saying by regurgitating something he wrote earlier. It’s not all the time: sometimes his eyes mercifully lift from that wretched paper and he addresses the audience in spontaneous terms. Then the eyes go back down and the speech immediately deflates to an appalling degree. If you don’t believe me, close your eyes and listen. It’s certain that you will know when he is looking at the audience and when at the paper. This is exacerbated by the script being in written-, as distinct from spoken-, English; but he shouldn’t have the bloody script in the first place.

I know for an absolute cast-iron certainty that he doesn’t need it. This is not just because I’ve proved it to countless trainees over the decades, but because I have actual evidence from the man himself. Watch this and see if there’s a script.

What he is doing there is monumentally difficult. It looks easy when it’s done that well, but it is without question the most skilful form of public speaking. He’s fallen into the trap of thinking that Public Speaking is in some way different – a formalised medium. It isn’t. It’s just structured talking, and he has shown he can do that phenomenally well.

The speech is brilliant and could and should have been brilliantly delivered. Because it’s personal no one on this planet could deliver it better than he if he did but dare bin the paper. It’s punchy, funny, clever, everything you want it to be. And it’s important.

One tiny caveat concerning paperless speaking. He often quotes people by reading what they said or wrote. On those occasions he is right to do so, because by being seen to read a quote you transmit a subliminal signal that you are not paraphrasing, but quoting faithfully.

AKA Posie Parker

Some time in 2018 at a “We Need To Talk” event at The Jam Jar in Bristol, England, an activist who goes by the pseudonym of Posie Parker gave a speech.

It seems that Parker has been banned from various social media platforms, not just by that name but by her IP address. She has also been interviewed by police under caution for publishing a definition to be found in dictionaries. In Orwellian Britain it seems that we are approaching a time when everything is policed except crime.

My previous post showed a TED talk by Susie Green where she described how her son transitioned to become a girl. In many ways it was a moving and heartwarming story, but there are always two sides to every argument. The civilised thing to do is to explore both sides.

She is reading her speech.

To me you are not a proper speaker till you can, and do, speak without notes; but Parker does not presume to be other than a parent who is concerned enough to protest, so portraying herself as not a proper speaker rather adds charm. Nevertheless she avoids presenting herself as charming; she is in a battle.

She certainly has audience instinct. She gets an excellent response to her ad lib concerning the microphone that won’t stay where placed, and she expertly stokes the laugh when it comes.

She also has instinctively followed one of my cardinal guidelines by giving this presentation a very clear Face

Does my eleven-year-old daughter have the right to go into a female changing room and not see an adult penis?

If we want to get technical it’s slightly too many words for a Face, but they’re powerful. And she repeats them several times.

Parker has at least as good a case as does Susie Green and, if I may borrow the exemplary title of the event where Parker is speaking, “We Need To Talk”. But we don’t: one side of this debate is officially muted.

A lesson we learn in our youngest days, coping with arguments in the school playground, is that the party that refuses to listen to the other almost certainly has no case. Both sides in this argument have cases, and in a climate of goodwill fairly obvious solutions present themselves; but one side is silenced and goodwill crushed. This currently applies across many areas of opinion and in many countries, where only one opinion is deemed acceptable and the other is silenced by officialdom – international officialdom.

Who or what has that sort of reach? And why should they want to sow discord? I have a theory, but this is neither the time nor the place.

Susie Green and Jackie

In December 2017 there was given a TEDx talk in Truro, Cornwall, by Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, an organisation set up to advise and support parents of gender nonconforming children.

I seldom cover TED talks, because the actual process of speaking is made fairly uniform and therefore gives me little to cause my rhetor hat to be donned. However I chose to explore this one as there is another speech giving a contrary view; and we will look at it in the post that follows this.

Thirty six years ago my elder son, likewise aged four, came home from nursery school one day and startled his mother and me with the declaration that he now knew the difference between boys and girls. We gulped gently and asked him to explain. He announced –

Girls cry and boys don’t.

A four-year-old boy barely knows what girls are, other than that they get treated differently, get dressed differently, and play with different toys. Unless he has a sister he probably won’t know the physical difference, and even then won’t care. If any four-year-old boy would rather fancy being treated as they do that other sort, have longer hair like them, wear those softer, freer, more fluid clothes, and play more gently, so what? Plenty of girls play football, even rugby, or climb trees. Our world is astonishingly rigid in its adherence to certain gender stereotypes and interpretation of non-conformity.

It’s not our fault: we were brought up from the cradle in these rigid conventions, and that conditioning goes very deep. It’s probably high time we dismantled much of it; but the current fashion for gender-nonsense, far from dismantling, actually reinforces the stereotype because its default interpretation of simple preference seems to be dysphoria. “If he wants to wear a skirt, he must want to be a girl” – why? He may be too young to have yet been conditioned, and may grow up to be a prop-forward. Convention aside, what is inherently female about a skirt? What is inherently male about climbing trees? I have no doubt that genuine gender dysphoria exists, but the way a whole industry is growing around it, must surely give us pause.

This speech tells a very moving and heartwarming story about a mother and child, and may be true in every detail. It may – in every detail – have happened to Susie and Jackie Green, or she may have cherry-picked some bits from others’ true stories with which to embellish it – as CEO of Mermaids she certainly has access to material.

[If that is thought to be an accusation of scurrilous behaviour, I would point out that there is noble precedent. We are in the season of celebrating the story of Christ’s nativity, the details of which we have cherry-picked and cobbled together from multiple sources. Nowhere in the Bible is there a star over a stable. St Matthew’s Gospel has the star, etc, St Luke has the manger, etc. Just about the only overlap detail is Bethlehem as the venue. Back to Susie Green …]

I get slightly concerned when Green supports gender realignment with statistics about the terrible rate of suicide among trans people, but fails to tell us how much of that happens after treatment. That is the sort of counter-information to be found in a blog called 4thWaveNow, which is far more knowledgeable and informative on the subject than I.

Nevertheless, misguided or not, she makes a good case in this speech. Whatever our views, those conventions are there and will cause the sort of adverse reaction from some people who were conditioned like the rest of us and don’t understand. It is therefore important that an organisation like Mermaids exists among parents trying to cope with a situation in their children that is at best confusing and at worst life-threatening.

In my next posting we will examine the opposing argument.

Martin Howe pulls no punches.

The British Conservative Party Conference at the beginning of October 2019 was an interesting affair. Parliament had been turned, by those bent on betraying the biggest democratic mandate in Britain’s history, into a bad joke. A disgustingly partisan Speaker in the House of Commons had assisted opposition parties in breaking many traditions, including that of suspending parliament during conference season. Other parties had been able to hold their conferences without their members of parliament needing to be in London to debate legislation, but not the governing Conservatives. Not only was parliament sitting while their conference was on, but crucially important business was in hand. Nevertheless the conference did happen, and much of the talk was about the foregoing in this paragraph.

During the conference the Bruges Group held a meeting which was addressed by Martin Howe.

The introduction by Barry Legg, Chairman of the Bruges Group, is delivered in tones that barely disguise desperation. There is an air of persecution. The fight to honour the people’s instruction to secure Britain’s independence from the EU is looking to be in peril. Britain’s Establishment has shown that it is prepared to descend to whatever depths are necessary, breaking any rule to thwart it, and its scrupulousness has seemed to be winning.

Howe reveals his early nerves by clinging umbilically to his script. He even looks down to be prompted to say the words, “this afternoon”. He knows that every syllable spoken at this meeting will be picked over. It is a measure of the seriousness of the political environment when a highly experienced legal advocate feels himself to need such strict circumspection.

Nevertheless he does not pull his punches. Parliament has made itself illegitimate; its activities are unconstitutional; the administration is entitled to ignore its instructions. I take this as meaning that, on 31st October 2019, the Surrender Act notwithstanding, the Prime Minister is entitled to use the Royal Prerogative to break with the EU, something he has repeatedly promised –

“No ifs or buts”

– to do. That, and the same in other equally uncompromising terms, he has made more times than I care to count.

Yet on 31st October he didn’t. Why not? What other pressures were brought to bear? It seems that the principal one was that this wretched excuse for a parliament, rotten from the Speaker upwards, would not allow a General Election to take place unless the PM undertook to break that promise he had repeatedly made. He had been rendered powerless – at least that was the story we were persuaded to understand.

So now we are into a General Election, still haven’t left the EU; and I for one know not what, or whom, to believe. It barely matters because the only feasible alternative to his party is so horrendous, that we have no choice but to elect him.

Unless the PM is party to a very deep conspiracy, and the people are being duped into believing his new assurances to return him to power only to have him renege yet again on everything he has said and lock us deeper into the EU, Boris Johnson will form a new government with a bigger majority and take us out. If he reneges, I shudder to think what will happen. The anger of the people will be ugly, just as it has been in France for the past year; and as in France we could have EU armoured vehicles on the streets of Britain. And I fear that I will not be too surprised: why do we suppose that the mainstream media in Britain has avoided showing us what has been going on in France?

But while we still can, let us try to remain optimistic and assume that the PM is sincere. High on his agenda then should be root-and-branch reformation of the Establishment. It makes the Augean Stables look like a sterile operating theatre.

Roger Hallam and claps

From 30 July till 2 August this year there was a Green Gathering Festival somewhere in Wales. Provided the weather was good, it looks as if they probably had a wonderful time. I was too young and impecunious to visit San Francisco before 1976, and therefore missed their Summer of Love hippie fest of 1967. On the other hand I and my guitar spent the whole summer of 1965 being irresponsible in a (then) minuscule and almost unknown Algarve fishing village called Albufeira. I can vividly recall the intoxicating sense of freedom, so I begrudge no one the urge to return to what feels like nature.

But there was a difference. A great deal of our intoxication came from an overwhelming sense of optimism (and, let’s not deny it, sangria, sun and sex). Yes, there was The Bomb; yes, there was Vietnam; yes, we young people rebelled (all young people do), but still we felt that the future of the world was wonderful and out there to be seized. Today’s message is that there is no future; and the message is a dangerous lie.

On 2 August, the Green Gathering was addressed by Extinction Rebellion co-founder, Roger Hallam.

It is overwhelmingly tempting to give this speech a good kicking: it is such an easy target. It makes a long series of assertions, that claim to be scientifically proved but which are easily exploded via reference to authoritative data in the public domain, and does so with a desperate lack of coherence.

It is also tempting to mock it. I was genuinely startled to hear him repeatedly predicting universal ‘claps’. I understood that woke orthodoxy had outlawed the practice of normal applause in favour of ‘glad hands’. It was a second or two before I realised he foresees collapse.

Also is that a stain on the front of his trousers? If so, do I even want to know what it is? No. Quite a long way into the speech someone in the audience comes and tidies some fabric wrapped around a lead,

He tells us that he has been, for five years, at King’s College doing PhD research into how to cause trouble effectively. Though surprised that there should even be such a course, I believe him. This autumn has witnessed an astounding amount of trouble caused, and he has been largely to blame.

Nevertheless, looked at as a whole, this could easily be quite a good speech. His delivery, constantly on a falling cadence, is tedious; but though incoherent he manages to get his message across.

The question I ask myself, as he spews out this hate-filled stream of disinformation, is whether he is a fool or a knave. He makes it clear very early that he dislikes people, so wholesale merchants of disinformation would have found him a vessel eager to be filled. His organisation, Extinction Rebellion, is a misnomer twice over. There is no acceleration of extinctions, and when teachers take children out of school to join demonstrations there is no rebellion.

Problems are always upstream of the symptoms, and Hallam is merely a symptom – a puppet sideshow. There are very rich and powerful forces upstream, and legions of puppets – of varying degrees of influence – downstream. The climate industry is unimaginably big. The disinformation is parroted by the high, the mighty, and the rapidly getting richer on the back of it.

It is the disinformation that is stealing the children’s childhood.

The world is a wonderful place full of mainly wonderful people, and the environment is overall getting better all the time: the data make that very clear. If ever there was a moment in the whole story of homo sapiens for bright-eyed, smiling optimism and love and hope this is it. But there are forces who prefer – for reasons that no doubt make sense to them – to sow discord.

Roger Bootle: mildly excellent

On 28 January 2015 Roger Bootle, Chairman of Capital Economics, gave a talk at the University of Leeds. The talk was one of the Financial Times Masterclass Lecture series, and entitled The Trouble with Europe.

At this stage in the history of the UK this is fascinating: a penetrating, deeply researched and authoritative analysis of the European Union. Therefore as I did with the recent post we had of a speech by Digby Jones, I think it is relevant to put the timing of this talk into context. It was –

  • a little more than 3 months before a UK General Election, whereat David Cameron promised to seek radical reform of the EU, and then hold a referendum.
  • 18 months before the Referendum,
  • a time when the Euro was under enormous pressure.

That time-context gets particularly significant and interesting from about 41:00 onwards, and increasingly more as it approaches the end.

Malcolm Sawyer, Emeritus Professor of Economics, makes the introduction; and as we join it we see two figures standing in the gloaming before the screen. We zoom in to see which of them is speaking now and which is preparing to do so.

For me this is excellent! In these videos we seldom get a chance to watch the demeanour and body-language of a speaker before taking the stage. Bootle seems relaxed, and it is the sort of relaxation that is the preserve of one in command of his subject. He is listening impassively and slightly amused to the description of himself. Why is he carrying a sheaf of paper? Surely he won’t use a script: surely he is too adept a speaker for that. His adeptness is confirmed when he removes his wristwatch in preparation for laying it on the desk. That tells me that he has spotted the absence of a clock on the wall. It may seem a small thing but it indicates professionalism, and my expectation of speaking excellence rises – but what about those papers?

It turns out to be a list of his deck of slides – we even get a glimpse of it at one point. There are many slides, mainly graphics, and where there are words they are minimal. Very good. Accordingly I forgive the paper, except at one point when it rubs against his microphone.

He opens with some mild reminiscing about his long memories of this university. I chose that adjective ‘mild’ with care, because you can tell a lot about the tenor of a speech from the first minute. Immediately we know that however thoroughly he drills into the subject he will not hector. Nor does he. His command of the subject gives him authority, and enables the mildness.

This whole talk – fifty minutes of it – is riveting, not least because here we hear while armed with nearly five years of hindsight.

At 48:45 he begins to tell us how he will vote in the referendum, depending upon circumstances in the mean time. With hindsight we know what those circumstances turned out to be, and therefore how he probably voted. But what about his opinion nearer to today? This interview is from March of this year.