In Praise of Shame

Human beings are flawed creatures. All of us are afflicted, to some degree, by laziness, greed, selfishness, dishonesty and every other distasteful characteristic that haunts our species. Living in civilized society requires us to suppress that side of our nature, and so we’ve developed all kinds of mechanisms to keep those impulses at bay. One of the more important ones, no doubt, is shame: the idea that there are certain things that one simply does not say or do in public, no matter how much one may want to, out of fear that those around us will disapprove.

I was recently reminded of the great value of shame, as I read an interview with Montreal restaurateur David McMillan. McMillan’s flagship restaurant, Joe Beef, needs no introduction to Montreal foodies. Consistently rated as one of the best in the country – if not the world – Joe Beef has flourished in one of the toughest dining markets around. Read more

Talking past each other on identity politics

The debate about whether ‘identity politics’ is crucial or dangerous to liberalism is on. And it is frustrating.

Jacob Levy came out swinging yesterday in defence of the crucial role of identity politics in liberalism, against arguments about the role of identity politics in the rise of illiberalism (and Trumpism) in the U.S., such as those presented by Reason’s Robby Soave and in Mark Lilla’s recent NYT piece. Jason Kuznicki has responded to Levy. Elsewhere, Tom Palmer names identity politics as a danger to liberalism in his fabulous essay on the three fronts of growing anti-libertarianism.

The first order of business seems to be to decide what, exactly, we mean by ‘identity politics’. Jason Kuznicki agrees:

“An equivocation is occurring here, between good and bad, both claiming to be “identity politics.” In cases like that, it’s morally imperative to differentiate rather than to lump together.”

I am concerned about identity politics as it’s represented by Tom Palmer and Jason Kuznicki, so I’ll draw from them as I take a stab at nailing down a definition of the ‘identity politics’ that worries me.
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Compromise and responsibility in the bureaucratic state

“If we have proportional representation, the government will have to compromise.”
 
As opposed to what? Whether the compromise takes place as it does now between factions of one party, or — as it supposedly will under PR — between parties, what difference will it make to the voters?
 
Here’s one difference: when party factions compromise, someone has to take responsibility for the result. When different parties compromise in a coalition… Not so much.
 
If you’ve ever worked in a bureaucracy with, uh, diffuse responsibility for decisions, you may appreciate my misgivings about this “reform”.

Time to rehabilitate a pejorative?

As folks struggle to deal with the populist, anti-market realignment on the right, Godwin’s law has been making itself more relevant. People who make the mistake of equating today’s right-populism with national socialism might be forgiven, even if they go too far, for a more appropriate term has been drained of meaning: fascism.

Anyone who says that politicians today are fascist sounds nuts. The word has been applied indiscriminately to dismiss people and policies so often that it’s devoid of meaning, though it’s broadly associated with an unhinged lust for power, disregard for constitutional law, and eugenic racism. But the original intent of fascism aimed at none of these things. I’ve written on how modest the tenets of fascism sound in today’s political climate. Steve Horwitz has been pressing the applicability of the technical term since last summer. The fact is that, fallen as the word might be, there’s simply not a good substitute.

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The Sham of Democratic Reform

Often, when politicians break their promises the voters politely look the other way. After all, they understand that such promises are not to be taken seriously. Occasionally, however, a commitment comes back to haunt the candidate that abandons it, and Justin Trudeau’s guarantee that last year’s vote “will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system” may be among them. While it was always going to be difficult to pivot away from such a clear pledge, the Liberals’ response to the report submitted by the all-party committee they themselves created was particularly inelegant, as the responsible minister insulted its authors, mocked their use of mathematics, and did little to dispel the notion that the entire exercise was a sham. Read more

Who’d a Thunk It?

Canada’s Auditor General used his fall report to Parliament to break 2016’s least surprising item: the federal government is a mess that stubbornly refuses to clean itself up. The litany of chronic problems that Michael Ferguson notes include the following:

  1. “Programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services.”
  2. “Programs in which the focus is on measuring what civil servants are doing rather than how well Canadians are being served.”
  3. “Regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate.”
  4. “Public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on for a myriad of reasons—such as systems that are outdated or just not working, or data that is unreliable or incomplete, not suited to the needs, or not being used.”

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