Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Psychology of Academic Deceit

About 18 months ago, I did a meta-post on Diederik Stapel, of Tilburg, and before that of Groningen. In that post, I linked to Retraction Watch, which recounted Stapel's misdeeds, a social psychologist who didn't falsify, but outright manufactured, data-sets in numerous scientific papers, 54 of which have now been retracted. Stapel, now known as the Lying Dutchman (see this post by Catarina) was an international star and rose to be Dean of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Tilburg before he was fired for academic fraud.
The New York Times Magazine has now published (28th April) a fascinating story by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee on the man and his career. Here is some of what we learn:
  • Stapel was impatient with the messiness of empirical data and started at first to falsify, but after a while to manufacture data-sets in support of hypotheses he found plausible. For example, he published a study, supposedly conducted at Utrecht railway station, claiming that when the station was garbage-strewn (during a strike) people sat further away from a black man planted in one of the seats, than when the station was clean.
  • He became famous because of his elegant and compelling presentations, which were aided by his good looks, charm, and bourgeois good manners.
  • He was exposed by his (more working class, less good looking) friend, Marcel Zeeland, who overcame his initial scepticism when cornered by suspicious graduate students, and decided to do the right thing. Zeeland now avoids meeting Stapel as much as he can. He is filled with conflicting emotions of sorrow and anger.
  • When Stapel's younger colleagues and graduate students approached senior figures in the US and elsewhere for advice about what to do about their growing suspicions, they were told that it would be prudent to keep silent. (The students became suspicious when Stapel refused to provide raw data.)
  • Finally, two of the students hit upon the ruse of cornering Zeeland at a conference in London, where he couldn't easily get away from them before hearing them out.
Stapel is presenting a front of unqualified contrition. But there is something rather arrogant about even this, in the way of a prominent divine who flogs himself to pray for forgiveness. He has a tendency to present his story as a symptom of bad things in the profession—which, undoubtedly it is, but it is hardly for him to cast aspersions. (The NYTM story coincides, by the way, with the publication of Stapel's own account of his crimes. In her post, Catarina asks about this memoir: "Is it “a way to try to make money off of his terrible decisions”, as suggested by Bryce Huebner (to whom I owe the pointer to the article on Twitter)? Or is it a case of someone who is so used to being in the spotlight that any form of public attention is welcome?" Indeed! )
One of the more interesting insights in Bhattacharjee's article comes when he interviews Stapel's parents. Elsewhere in the article, we find Stapel crediting them with instilling in him a culture of achievement: "That's what my parents' generation was like," he said, "You are what you achieve." (Interesting way to motivate fraud!) But Bhattacharjee writes
On our visit to Stapel's parents, I watched his discomfort as Rob and Derkje tried to defend him. "I blame the system," his father said, steadfast. His argument was that Stapel's university managers and journal editors should have been watching him more closely. [Stapel shook his head, "Accept that this happened."]
This demonstrates little care for the graduate students who are seriously harmed by the retraction of their joint publications.
What are we to learn from this? I suppose the content must take some of the blame. What are we to say of hypotheses like that supposedly proven by the Utrecht study? Are journal editors to blame? Only if you think that they should be looking at raw data. The Utrecht study is not replicable in the strict sense. (Of course, you could repeat the experiment, but what exactly would it show if you came up with negative results?)
As for his collaborators, was it simple naïveté, or something worse? Judge for yourself, from this story:
A colleague, Ad Vingerhoets, asked Stapel to help him design a study to understand whether exposure to someone crying affects empathy. Stapel came up with what Vingerhoets told me was an "excellent idea." They would give elementary-school children a coloring task in which half the kids would be asked to color an inexpressive cartoon character, while the other half would have to color the same character shown shedding a tear. Upon completing the task, the children would receive candy and then be asked if were willing to share [it] with other children.
Stapel cooked up some results that delighted Vingerhoets. While writing up the paper, however, he (V.) wondered about gender differences. But Stapel told him that the data had not yet been entered into a computer. "Vingerhoets was stumped. Stapel had shown him means and stadard deviations." He consulted a retired professor who asked, "Do you really believe that someone with [Stapel's]status faked data?" V. dropped the matter immediately.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Lunch

Lynne scored this beautiful fish kettle at Ashley's. When she pointed out that it had a small dent on the lid, they gave it to her for $180. (List = 1300.)

So we stuffed an arctic char with shrimp, mussels, and clams (see Marcella Hazan) and baked it. Fabulous. Next time, though, I might experiment by skipping the parchment paper and letting the kettle do the job of concentrating the heat.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Very Big Crime in Canada

"Police have made a breakthrough in the headline-grabbing heist of millions of dollars’ worth of maple syrup from a warehouse in Quebec.
"Quebec provincial police said the three individuals are to appear in court in Trois-Rivières Tuesday in connection with the massive theft from a maple-syrup warehouse in St-Louis-de-Blandford.
"The Sûreté du Québec said they also seized vehicles suspected of having served to transport the stolen maple syrup as well as equipment. Some two-thirds of the lucrative condiment has been recovered, say police."
So there, you Americans.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

When Friends Review Friends

I just got through reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It is regularly described as a “novel”. It is not. It took me not quite all of an afternoon to read; it is perhaps 30,000 words long; it shows no interest in characters that don’t move the plot along; it has no description of social or political matters outside of the personal (e.g., sexual mores in the sixties). It is a novella. (On Chesil Beach is the same, by the way.) I didn’t know that they gave the Man Booker Prize to novellas.
As a novella, it is a brilliant. It is a reflection on the suicide of a clever young existentialist philosopher, Adrian, by the narrator, who had hero-worshipped him in school. We get three explanations of the suicide, each deeper and more poignant than the last, and each implicating the narrator himself in a progressively more disturbing way.
Colm Tóibin reviewed the book for the New York Review of Books. Now, I wonder at this choice. Tóibin and Barnes are part of a tiny literary elite in England, and neither is going to say anything negative about the other—and certainly not in an international journal. The review, however, is revealing, because it wallows in the social and sexual insecurities of middle class English boys who have been educated in a slightly aspirational way. Sent to a state school, they would perhaps have become vulgar, loud, and sexually confident. Sent to a “public” school, they are frozen in the complexities of the English class system, where a kiss is anything but just a kiss. In Tóibin’s mind, Barnes’s work is a prose version of poems by Philip Larkin, who is quoted or alluded to more than once in the novella:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)—
I am interested in how Tóibin (who, by the way, is a novelist of considerably greater distinction than Barnes—no indictment of Barnes) treats the book. One of his themes is, if I may say so, obviously false. He suggests more than once that the narrator of The Sense of an Ending reflects wisely on his past. This is just wrong. The point is that the narrator’s (bad) character is gradually uncovered and revealed by the sheer self-centred obtuseness of his reflections on his past and his dopey insensitivity to all around him. ("You don't get it. You never will. Why don't you stop trying?" says a former girl-friend.)

More importantly, I was fascinated by how Tóibin reveals his judgement. If you take one wrong view of Barnes, he says, you might ”see the plot as thin and somewhat contrived,” and the novella itself as “a quintessential English novel of its age, well made, low on ambition, and filled with restraint”. If you take another wrong view, you will find it “oddly thin and under-imagined.” (Hmm . . . if these views are so wrong, why mention them at all? Because they are not so very far-fetched?)
So what’s the right view? “Barnes’s novel, then, is not about England or about loss, but it is an attempt to find a language and a formal structure in the novel that will allow one man to make sense of things in the abstract, but also in his own voice . . . a strange and oddly powerful book.”
Oddly powerful.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day in the Summer of Lobster

According to Sam Sifton, this is the tenth consecutive year of record lobster catches in Maine. Here in Canada, we think Maine lobster is the bland version of the supreme Maritime lobster, which lives in the cold waters of the Newfoundland current, rather than the warm Gulf stream of Maine. (OK, fact-checkers, come and get me.) Lobster is selling at $7 per pound here in Toronto.
Sifton may be challenged in where he buys lobster, but he has a superb recipe. As almost everybody knows, shellfish MUST be spicy, piquante spicy (Indian-hot, as we say in Toronto). And Sifton, with impeccable taste, offers us Singapore Chili Lobster, a recipe true to that great city and its great Tamil culture, but unknown there (though only because lobster is).
This being Father's Day (which Sifton was celebrating), I made Singapore lobster for lunch. I bought cooked lobster, and so modified his recipe. Here's what I did.
2 1-kilo Nova Scotia lobsters
375 ml good white wine
Small bottle of clam juice
2 tbsp chiffonade of mint
2 thinly sliced shallots
Tarragon, thyme, bay leaf, tomato paste
Good soya sauce, Sriracha sauce
1/2 cup sliced scallions, two chopped Thai birds-eye red peppers
Separate heads of lobsters, and extract meat from claws. Cut tails into 1" sections.
Put heads and claw shells in pot with wine, clam juice, sprig of thyme, sprig of tarragon, bay leaf, tbsp of tomato paste and shallot. Boil for ten minutes and strain.
Saute a couple of tablespoons each of ginger and onion, then sauté lobster. Add chiffonade of mint.
Reduce bouillon by half, add tbsp soya sauce and of tomato paste, and at least three times the amount of Sriracha sauce.
Garnish with scallions and red peppers.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Dom in Cologne

The Cathedral in Cologne has an amazing story. Started in 1220 or so, it was abandoned in the middle of the 16th century, and then taken up again in 1842.

Here, I have snapped it with my iPhone 4; superimposed is an etching on glass of the scene in 1842, when the construction was taken up again. Note the crane on the left. The cathedral was finished using the best 19th century methods. The roof is supported by a steel frame.

In the foreground is an excavation of the old Jewish quarter. It will be enclosed by a brand new Jewish museum.

Monday, April 16, 2012

York (Canada) Spurns $60 million! Skies Fall!! Newspapers Aghast!!!

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is a private think tank devoted to the study of democratic institutions and governance issues worldwide, and affiliated with the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Endowed by Jim Balsillie, a co-founder of Research in Motion (makers of the Blackberry), it has an impressive staff of scholars, many of them academic, some others private scholars who have produced books, films, etc on relevant topics.
Over the last week, CIGI has been caught up in a small but violent media storm in the Canadian press. At issue are a centre for international law that CIGI (and Balsillie) wanted to establish jointly with Osgoode Hall, the law school at York University, Toronto. The proposed endowment was $30 million from Balsillie, matched by Ontario: ten research chairs, twenty graduate fellowships, and international reach in vital issues such as “trade and finance rules, intellectual property law and environmental norms” (to quote Balsillie). (Some details here.)
But then . . . the faculty at Osgoode Hall declined the endowment. They turned down $60 million!
According to the newspapers, their behaviour is bizarre, myopic, retrograde, unionist . . . and this includes  even generally progressive newspapers such as the Toronto Star, in which we find this statement by Fred Kuntz, vice-president of CIGI for public affairs (and formerly a distinguished journalist and editor of the Star):
Jim Balsillie does not assert his own policy views on global affairs (I’m assuming he has them) into the research activities, nor do other members of the operating board. The entire bugaboo is a fiction. Signed agreements and protocols in place for the York proposal guaranteed academic freedom under York’s existing policies and practices, and left all faculty hiring decisions, curricula and student admissions solely and rightly in the hands of York . . .
The controversy has handed the opponents of the humanities and social sciences a big stick. Writing in the Globe and Mail this morning, the former oil executive Gwyn Morgan (who has written that a humanities PhD equips you only to wait at tables) writes:
How can it be that, in the name of “academic freedom,” those appointed to lead our publicly financed universities are rendered impotent by their own employees? Where else in the private or public sectors do employees decide who else is hired and what the organization delivers, while being free to spend most of their time doing what they choose?
Professors given a say in the appointment of other professors? Unthinkable!
But didn't Kuntz tell us that hiring was "rightly in the hands of York?" Hoping to resolve the contradiction, I wrote James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, to ask why his organization disapproved of the CIGI/Osgoode Hall arrangement. He replied:
In the case of York, the agreement provided that the program would be run by a steering committee made up of two representatives of CIGI and two of York. As all decisions of the Steering Committee had to be unanimous, the CIGI was given voice and veto power over:
(1) the research areas for each chair,
(2) the specific financial terms and expectations for each chair, including their research plans,
(3) the short list of the candidates from which the University will hire. 
In the face of massive opposition, the university modified #3 so that, in the event that CIGI disagreed about who could be on the short list, the matter would be referred to an outside group of "experts", chosen by the Steering Committee, that would make the final decision. That was the only change.
So did the proposed agreement guarantee academic freedom, as Kuntz writes? Perhaps, in a certain sense, it did. That is, CIGI did not seek to influence or censor what professors write. But this was never the issue. The issues were: CIGI’s attempts to monitor hiring, and its right, under the agreement, to cut off funding at any time for any reason. Kuntz was in a sense right to say that hiring decisions are “in the hands of York.” But he fails to mention CIGI’s control over the shortlist–indeed, over the whole project.
The proposed CIGI/Osgoode agreement has the support of some respected academics, including Patrick Monahan, an eminent constitutional scholar, former Dean of Osgoode Hall, and presently Provost of York University. Perhaps Monahan thought that CIGI’s rights to monitor shortlists could be managed and channeled in a constructive manner. But the fact remains that this is not an issue just of academic freedom. The issue is, rather, academic autonomy in certain critical areas of university governance. Oil executives and newspaper editors do not understand these issues. They are immersed in institutions that are managed for a determinate goal. They do not understand the culture of independent creation that informs a university. They have no idea why this culture is important, or how much it has contributed to the atmosphere of free inquiry that so benefits universities in the great democracies of the world.
It is sad that the misrepresentation of this issue can put this culture in danger. It is also frightening that research funding has become such a potent instrument of interference and control in Germany and other European countries.

(Crossposted from NewAPPs)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gupta Sahib of St Stephen's

In 1968, stupefied by boredom after three years studying Physics, I switched to a Masters program in Philosophy. (Some of my co-bloggers will be amused to hear that my Physics degree was held up by six months because I had failed History of Science and had to retake the exam.) A couple of weeks ago, I recounted here and here how I went to the Head of the Philosophy Department at St. Stephen’s College to ask what I might read to prepare myself. He suggested F. H. Bradley’s Appearance and Reality. The man who thus caused me much misery (but far far less than doing Physics and Chemistry labs) was Rajendra Kumar Gupta. He was a striking figure, a face made of planes, a mind never satisfied with uncertainty, a spirit that made of me, and every other Stephanian, a building and renovation project. For the next two years, I followed him everywhere. Last week, aged 81, he died.

My Bradley story was meant, of course, to serve a rhetorical purpose. It evinces my affection, but does not convey my enormous debt to Gupta Sahib (as we called him—only a few others were accorded that wry salute). Now I must thank him and mourn him. (What I write here is much informed by correspondence with K. P. Sankaran, Ravi Rajan, Akeel Bilgrami, Joseph Prabhu, Saam Trivedi, and Anjana Jacob.) 
Rajendra Gupta educated many generations of students at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. He himself took a degree in English there, but under the influence of Sudhir Kumar Bose, an enormously charismatic Cambridge educated philosopher, he switched to Philosophy, and went on to a Ph. D. at Bonn. He returned to St. Stephen’s College and taught there for the rest of his career.

Once I had actually enrolled in the Masters program, we would meet almost every day. Once a week, the meeting was formal, a tutorial for which my fellow Masters student, Lalit Sharma, and I would have to write something. That something was criticized word by word, to the point where it became our ambition just once to be able to write our two pages without error—an ambition never realized, alas. Once a week, we’d meet at the legendary Philosophical Society at which we would discuss a classic text, one painstaking page at a time. At other times, Dr. G. (another affectionate sobriquet), Lalit, and I would go to the Coffee House, occasionally accompanied by Mrs G., a philosopher at Miranda House. This was how we learned Philosophy—starting as wide-eyed students to whom every work of philosophy was wonderfully plausible, slowly emerging as more seasoned dialecticians who could engage a text.

Philosophy was taught in conversation in tiny groups. To think of forty such tiny groups—one replacing the previous as one year gave way to the next, to think of that maieutic process repeated again and again and again—this is to contemplate a career very different from the ones most of us have followed. But one that could produce the intellectual serenity, sense of achievement, and contentment of Dr. Gupta and his mentor, Mr Bose.

What exactly did we learn? Aside from Bradley, I remember inching through Plato’s Republic, Kant’s first Critique (another miserable summer) and Prolegomenon, Moore’s Principia Ethica—Dr G couldn’t decide who was the greater moral philosopher, Kant or Moore—W. E. Johnson’s Logic, Wittgenstein’s Investigations (politely disliked)—Dr G. thought that family resemblances were a metaphysical theory of universals, and a rather bad one at that—Ryle’s Concept of Mind (politely despised). (No Aristotle!) And there were lectures at the University, though St. Stephen’s and its University were more or less closed to one another.

In retrospect, it surprises me that aside from the Harvard educated Dr Ansari in the University department, we would have completely missed any technical philosophy. No modal logic. No metalogic. No Russell. I don’t think anybody understood quantification well enough to teach “On Denoting” or “Knowledge by Acquaintance” or “Three Grades of Modal Involvement”—or to understand the importance of these works. This cut us off from a large part of 20th century progress in philosophy—though once I got to Stanford, I was enthralled by this. (I sometimes wonder how well Wittgenstein understood quantification—replacing it with propositional connectives may be philosophically defensible, but misses the main point.)

Rajendra Gupta was a man of integrity. Even a tiny stain of imperfection was enough to turn him away from something . . . unless that something (or somebody) was from St. Stephen’s, which was family. It is a tremendous virtue never to compromise. But that virtue can isolate a man. St. Stephen’s was a sheltered world within which a man like Dr. G could escape the struggles of low income Indian life. A decent sized College bungalow, food in Hall whenever wanted, work and office mere steps away. It was in that little world that I learned philosophy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Wanderer

When I got my PhD from Stanford University at the beginning of 1976, I had already started on a one-year job in Claremont Graduate School in California. The future seemed golden. It didn’t occur to me that it would be 1983 before I landed a tenure-track job. But that’s what happened.

Picture for no tenure blog post
I had a good PhD. My professors (Julius Moravcsik, John Perry, Dagfinn Føllesdal) were well-known and supportive. (I always felt well-treated at Stanford.) And I was publishing regularly (in such places as Phronesis, Noûs, and the Canadian Journal of Philosophy). Yet I spent eight years in one-year jobs. This had a lasting effect. 1975-1983 represents eight years without pension credit; it marks nearly a decade of low income, rented accommodation, no savings. It was a long period in which to deal with disappointment, anxiety, and resentment. But why was it that way?

I had several weaknesses that might have contributed to my failure to launch, career-wise.

1. I was in the wrong field. Most of my efforts were focussed on ancient philosophy, but basically I was not interested in historical research. My first degree was in science. My interest was in certain philosophical problems that also interested the ancients. I wasn't all that interested in getting the philology straight, or straightened out. Still: I did publish in the field. (I am still proud of three articles I published in those years; one is among the best I have ever managed.)

2. I was (and am) very bourgeois. My identity resides in a certain kind of risk-avoiding prudence, in doing things because they are done, an owlish earnestness about culture—in short, an attitude that makes many people think “Who does he think he is?” Relatively few people in the profession think of themselves as “coming from a family,” as I did, and this didn’t quite fit with the North American ethos of those days. It gave (and gives) me airs, I suppose. I was thought, with some justice, to be arrogant. And yet: I was quite sociable, and capable of both receiving and giving pleasure in society. It wasn’t as if I was friendless and unpopular.

3. I was (and am) brown. A South Asian Indian before it was chic to be so. (See photo!)
Which of these weaknesses predominated in my many failures to land a good job? Honestly, I don’t know. At one campus interview (at the University of Toronto, actually) I remember a very distinguished scholar asking me (in a rather prosecutorial tone) whether I had read Zabarella. This suggests a preoccupation with weakness 1—though my job talk had been a terrific success. Another time, somebody told me that I was “too good” for the job they were offering. This suggests weakness 2 was the problem. But an explicit concern with scholarship or character doesn’t rule out an implicit concern with “otherness”. (In fact, one of the main lessons we have learned about discrimination is that it gets deflected to other concerns.)

The question resurfaced at the front of my mind recently when somebody from the Canada Research Chairs secretariat called to interview me on my experience as a member of a visible minority. This kind of interview is meant to, and does, elicit opinions normally unvoiced. And voicing an opinion tends to disinhibit thought. Moreover, I had been sensitized by a Statistics Canada study that suggested that non-white professional immigrants take about eight years to catch up to their peers—exactly as long as I took, if you assume that getting a tenure-track job seven years after my PhD is “catching up.”

The interviewer didn’t express much apparent emotion one way or another, as one would expect from a professional. But she kept probing. Was there anything else I felt strange about? And, actually, there was--though it was rather superficial.

My main career priorities are (of course) to have a good job and have my papers published in visible places. By 1985, I was publishing well, and the University of Alberta had started bumping my salary up to reflect my years in the profession. The gap was closed by 1991 or so; I was a full professor by 1989. I owe the folks at Alberta a lot for doing me right. (Not to mention for hiring me in the first place.)

But there are things that never came my way: professional influence and honours. I never did get to sit on national committees or boards. I have only once sat on a national adjudication committee. This was in 2005 (i.e., thirty years in). On this occasion, I was repeatedly assigned as “second reader” on the committee to a much younger guy who wasn’t expert in most of the topics. This petty incident epitomizes my doubt. How could I be second chair to a mostly unpublished person on files in philosophy of biology and mind? (And isn’t it unhealthy to worry about rubbish like this?) It wasn’t until 2009 that I got invited to give my one and only keynote address; in Canada, I still never have been. These things are superficial. (Have I said that already?) And often tedious. But they lead to networking and influence and interdisciplinary connections. I wonder why I never had these opportunities.

I am fine now. (Is it my bourgeois pride that compels me to say so?) I feel privileged to teach in a great department, and to enjoy the friendship and respect of my colleagues. But it has always been this way: esteem up close and the hint of something else just over the horizon. And I still wonder a little: what do distant, nameless “selectors” think when they look at my photograph?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The City of Fashion . . .

. . . is clearly London.

Why, they erect these quaint little red structures . . . 

. . . just so models can advertise:

The only thing I don't understand is: what does 'TELEPHONE' mean?

UPDATE: My friend, Dennis Des Chene adds some archival material.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Direct Political Action in India

India is experiencing direct political action. And not everybody is celebrating.
Back when Independence came, India had a relatively honest bureaucracy, so some say. But with Independence came the socialist planned state, and every commercial action needed a multitude of licences and permission. In a socialist state, public salaries were stagnant. The opportunities offered by the Licence Raj, and the neediness engendered by the levellers, led to increasing corruption. But the last two decades have eclipsed all that. Indian tycoons built huge fortunes off such opportunities as the sale of cell-phone rights. They have done so dishonestly.
I don’t know if that story is completely accurate, but India now has a bureaucracy and political class that are very corrupt by any standards. The 2G cell-phone scandal is said to have cost the Treasury $40 billion; the Commonwealth Games fiasco modernized the Capital—but at a cost in corruption that can only be guessed at.
This is where direct action comes in. Anna Hazare is an Indian who has been in the news lately. He proposed anti-corruption legislation to create the office of Lokpal, or Guardian of the People, with very broad powers to root out corruption. He has been fasting to protest its non-adoption. Yesterday, India’s Parliament passed a non-binding resolution endorsing Hazare’s main demands, and he broke his fast. “Today the Parliament is discussing the issues you have raised,” Hazare said, “It is the people’s parliament that is supreme.” It should be clear: Hazare’s phrase “the people’s parliament” does not mean Parliament. He is referring to the protest movement he started.
Hazare is a decorated retired soldier and a dynamic social worker. He introduced dramatic and very successful agricultural reform in his own village, and the results made him famous and influential. Disturbingly, though, there are reports that these reforms were achieved tyrannically. In a forthcoming book, the well-known journalist Mukul Sharma reports (in Ramachandra Guha’s summary) that “Liquor, tobacco, even cable TV were forbidden. Dalit families were compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet. Those who violated these rules—or orders—were tied to a post and flogged.” Local elections were not held; national campaigns were disallowed.
The mode of the anti-corruption campaign, and Hazare’s own predelictions, have caused many Indian intellectuals considerable anxiety. A few days ago, I posted links to Arundhati Roy writing in the Hindu, a left-wing newspaper, and to that newspaper’s own editorial on the subject (which notes that many of the provisions of the Lokpal bill are unconstitutional). Roy, who is a left-wing activist herself (and a Booker Prize winner for her novel, The God of Small Things) writes:
While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare's demands are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji's ideas about the decentralisation of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy, with thousands of employees, with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister, the judiciary, members of Parliament, and all of the bureaucracy, down to the lowest government official.
Roy is not disturbed just by the content of the Lokpal proposal. She deplores the movement itself: “the Maoists and the Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common — they both seek the overthrow of the Indian State.” Hazare does not care for India’s constitutional democracy: the last 64 years (since Independence) have been wasted, he has said.
Niraja Gopal Jayal, an eminent political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, strikes a note that is, at least to my ear, less authentic and less urgent than Roy’s:
If we allow civil society (or any segment of it, however well-intentioned) to dictate the law to Parliament today, on what grounds do we deny the same privilege to others tomorrow — corporate lobbies, for example?
Surely this cannot be the main concern: it is possible to regulate corporate lobbies. Still Jayal’s concern, like Roy’s, is with power being exercised outside the normal constitutional channels. “The supreme irony is that to give in to the demands of [Anna Hazare] would be tantamount to opening the doors to legalising the very forms of influence on which Hazare is so generously staking his life,” she writes in the Indian Express.
It’s a peculiarly Indian conversation. Gandhian principles of civil pressure struggling against pride in indigenous institutions and protectiveness of their legitimacy. Unlike China, India doesn’t enforce anti-corruption laws by shooting those found guilty. Like China before said executions, the new economy has reinforced and accelerated a long decline in public morality. The issue that engages many Indian intellectuals is how to break the culture of corruption within the Constitution. Hazare accepts no such restrictions.
Perhaps we should allow a politician the last word. Here is Rahul Gandhi, speaking in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament:
Democracy is central to fighting corruption. Individuals . . . have galvanized people in the cause of freedom and development. However, individual dictates, no matter how well intentioned, must not weaken the democratic process. This process is often lengthy and lumbering. But it is so in order to be inclusive and fair.

(Cross-posted at New APPS.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nationalist Scoundrels

I am viscerally opposed I am to Canadian nationalism--the protection of Canadian jobs against qualified non-Canadian applicants, and of Canadian culture on radio and TV. It is mostly a whiny way that Canadians claim entitlements that they don't deserve, and as such it reminds me of union featherbedding on a grand scale. But as a person of Indian origin, I am proud of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. This has led me to wonder when nationalism is morally permissible.

Nations are, I take it, groups of people historically united by culture, political organization, and language, and who constitute a significant majority in a geographical area. The majority criterion is important: Jews have shared culture, but they are not a nation, except in Israel.

Nationalism is an exclusionary ideology adopted by such a group. It aims to reserve political participation, economic opportunities, and cultural liberty for members of the group. Minority rights movements may ask for some of these things, but they are not nationalisms because they are not conducted by nations.

Is nationalism ever morally justified? Is it ever right to adopt an ideology that encourages the exclusion of people? Is it ever right for a majority to do so?

Well, it can be right when either it reacts to the colonial subjugation of a nation, or when it attempts to preserve the shared culture against an imminent threat. For example, Indian nationalism was morally justified during British rule. It isn’t justified any more, and has fortunately ceased to exist (I think) having been replaced by provincial nationalisms that have very little justification (though occasionally a modicum). Quebec nationalism was justified when the French language was under threat in North America. It is putrefying now (and enjoying it). There are many other examples of this sort.

On the other hand, there are many cases where nationalism is clearly unjustified or even preposterous. There is an English nation, but it has never been subjugated or threatened. It is debatable whether there is an American nation, but even if there is, the same applies. And in fact, there is no significant American nationalist movement in the sense just defined. (There is American patriotism, to an uncomfortable degree, and American militarism, ditto—but this is a different matter.) Aggressive nationalism is preposterous and can never be justified. The German nation was under threat in the 1930s, but how many brain cells does it take to see that this didn’t even begin to justify the annexation of Czechoslovakia or Poland?

Canadians are not a nation. There is no group of people historically united by culture, political organization, and language, and who constitute a significant majority in Canada. This is one reason why multiculturalism has worked here. In the US, multiculturalism is a vibrant cultural force, but members of non English-speaking cultures have to face a degree of intolerance. (In Australia, the nation is so ineluctably sexy that Chinese and Indians simply surrender with soft moans and shudders. This is the coming form of nationalism, but I won’t discuss it further here.) Canadians are more like Europeans than Americans in the tolerance dimension. In Europe, however, minority cultures bump up against nations. In Canada, there is tolerance, but no nation. These are great conditions for multiculturalism. (In Quebec, by the way, there is a nation, and multiculturalism has a harder ride.)

I ask the question about Canada in particular, but having asked it I wonder whether Canada is the only democratic country in the world that still harbours mainstream nationalism. There is a bit of it in Australia and in many European countries, but in these countries it is mostly a fringe movement. Every country tries to protect itself against levels of immigration that (in its view) would unduly stress its economy. But in which independent democracy other than Canada do polite centrists lament the incursions of qualified non-nationals?

Everybody knows the term CanCon here: it stands for Canadian Content, and it’s a phrase because radio stations and cable channels must carry a quota of it. This is appalling, and in my view it has a bad effect on the Canadian entertainment industry. Is there OzCon or DutchCon? (Actually, as I discovered, there are analogues: but somehow it doesn't feel as damaging to me.)

It’s all very puzzling. Back in the early sixties, George Grant wrote a barnburner called Lament for a Nation. This elegantly written but myopic book—I’ll write more about it in a future post—set the agenda for the then rising Canadian nationalist movement. The title was characteristically brilliant. Would it have stoked as much fury if it had been more accurately titled Lament for a Nation Unborn?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why Not Here?

The rioting in Britain isn't following a pattern that is easily explained by protest or reaction to oppression. You could have said something like that about London late last week. But yesterday, Tuesday, there was looting in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, etc. From BBC TV coverage in Birmingham (possibly taken from CCTV feeds) it appears that a few young people appear suddenly, attack shops, the word gets out, and then more people arrive, etc.

One explanation that has been offered is this: watching riots and looting in London, people in other cities decide that they too can have boxes full of merchandise. Some were apparently trying things on in H&M before running off with them. The riots "didn't seem to be politically motivated, nor did they have any sense of community or social solidarity," said an observer quoted by Zoe Williams in the Guardian; "We're not all gathering together for a cause, we're running down Foot Locker," said another. "Greed," "entitlement," and "consumerism" are the buzzwords today.

I don't know if this is what happened, but if it is, then why not here? I don't want to put ideas in anybody's head, but why can't people in Toronto (or any number of other cities) watch what's happening in England and decide that they too can have boxes of merchandise? If it's not about anything in particular, then why should it respect national boundaries? Should we worry about riots in Markham and North York (the banlieues of Toronto)?