Sunday, March 11, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 11.3.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • Here's The Economist on the issue of independence of Spain's judiciary. Something which isn't terribly obvious to the casual observer.
  • A strange bit of dissonance today . . . In my early months here – 17 years ago – I was introduced to the word endogamy. Defined here This was in the context of promotions within Spanish universities and I was being told about the high degree of favouritism operating in these. And the absence of meritocracy there. So, I wasn't entirely surprised yesterday to read the article below (the original in Spanish here). In which you'll find the comment: To historical evils such as endogamy and provincialism is now added job precariousness, falsely justified by a claim of apparent meritocracy. And the phrase: asphyxiating bureaucracy and absurd governance. But, this morning, I saw this article congratulating Spain on the improved performance in the global rankings of her universities. Odd. And now I am confused.
  • Interestingly, the upstart Ciudadanos right-of-centre party has announced it'll put an end to temporary job contracts. Well, maybe.
  • Oh dear. Some seriously bad news.
  • And possibly some good news, at least for travellers.
  • An homage to this famous Low cartoon of 1939:
Scum of the earth, I believe.
   Bloody assassin of the workers, I presume.
The short, fat, maniac, rocket man, I believe
The old, mentally retarded, deranged dotard, I presume
The UK/Social Media
  • This, apparently, is an ad for the Nationwide Building Society. It beats me but, anyway, it has caused one of those bizarre internet 'storms'. Or frenzies. Involving death threats from some cretins At the request of the company, Mr Plod is now involved. As if he didn't have better things to do.
Nutters Corner
  • Every regular reader of this blog must be aware I'm a lapsed Catholic atheist with deep distaste for those theists who are crazy. Especially hypocritical American evangelists. I normally post their doings here but, today, here's a sympathetic list of the reasons why there are still religions – hundreds, if not thousands, of them, of course – around the world. Under the heading: Why is religion so damn powerful when it's also so damn wrong? Enjoy, whether you're a theist or an atheist. Some of my best friends are the former, by the way:-
  1. Religion has answers for everything. It doesn't have the 'right' answers for everything, but it has answers, and for many people, that's enough.
  2. Religion uses guilt to prevent you from leaving. Religion compels you to live up to certain ideals whether or not they make sense... And disobeying them, or even questioning them, means you're not really faithful.
  3. Religion makes you feel special. Doesn't everyone want to be one of God's Chosen People? Don't you want to believe God created you personally and watches over you? The whole concept of a Guardian Angel is silly, but it's the same principal: You're a special little snowflake. And so the billions of other people just like you. There's value to believing that when you're a child. But at some point, you have to realize that if all of us are special, none of us are special.
  4. Religion capitalizes on division Religion loves to stoke the Us vs. Them mentality. We're okay; they're not. We're going to Heaven; they're not. God loves us; not them. It's human nature to want to be accepted. We all want to be part of a welcoming group. The problem is that it's that very mindset that causes so many problems. Because so many people believe that everyone who's not in your group needs to be converted or killed.
  5. Religion makes morality really simple. We all want to be good people. But not everyone agrees what it takes to be good. Religion makes that simple. Follow our rules, and you're good! It requires no further intellectual thought. It's that easy.
  6. Religion claims ownership of spiritual bliss. Sure, a lot of things can make you happy now. But what's going to happen with your soul? Don't you want to be okay in the afterlife? Religion steps in and says it'll make us happy in the one place we have zero control over: the afterlife. It's hard not to sign on to that deal.
  7. Religion gets us while we're young. There's a reason most people don't switch from one religion to another later in life. You're taught to believe this stuff before you're old enough to question it.
  8. Religion makes you think you can control the uncontrollable. Life is unpredictable. Shit happens. But isn't it nice to think that your prayers might change the course of things?
  9. Money. Churches convince you to give them 10% of your income. They don't have to pay taxes because they're considered non-profits. If you took the money we spent perpetuating religious lies and put it almost anywhere else, we could get pretty far in solving a lot of the world's problems. In fact, it'd be way more effective than the prayers offered by people in churches.
Finally/The Culture/Gender Wars
  • London's Camden council, prior to erecting a bike shed, has sent out a questionnaire to residents. It's 12 pages long and offers 5 genders and 9 possible options regarding the state of your same-sex civil partnership, including separated, but still legally in a same-sex civil partnership. All this, says the council, will ensure people with protected characteristics are not adversely affected. Beyond parody.
  • Time to re-read the second article below, from Jordan Peterson


1. Why Albert Einstein could not be a teacher in Spain: Carlos Martínez Gorriarán

To understand the state of public universities I propose a small mental experiment carried out by a teacher in the subject, Albert Einstein. The experiment is as follows: Could Albert Einstein today win a position as an official professor (Titular o Catedrático) at one of our universities?

Einstein received his doctorate in physics in 1904, at the age of 25, with a thesis of 17 pages (remember that fact) entitled A new determination of molecular dimensions. His subsequent career was rapid: in 1913 he was appointed to the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and in charge of directing the Physics department of the prestigious and avant-garde Kaiser Wilhelm Physics Institute, in Berlin. His fame began after receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics of 1921 for three of the four articles he published in his annus mirabilis of 1905, while still working at the Federal Office of Intellectual Property of Switzerland, in Bern.

The first article dealt with Brownian movement, the second with the photoelectric effect, the third with special relativity, and the fourth with the mass-energy equivalence; the Nobel Committee dismissed the third because it was too complicated. In 1932, alarmed by the rise of anti-Semitism and Nazism, Einstein left Germany to emigrate to the United States, where his fame and popularity ended up forging a popular icon of modern culture despite the extreme difficulty of his scientific work. Except for the Nazis, any country in the world would have given anything to have Einstein in one of its university centers.

The tribulations of the young Einstein with the Spanish ANECA

Now let's go to the experiment. Let's imagine that Albert Einstein is our contemporary, he is 26 years old and, for some obscure reason, he tries to obtain a position as Associate Professor in some Spanish Physics Department (Einstein visited Spain in 1923, being received by the highest authorities). The academic baggage of the young doctor is his thesis of 17 pages and four sensational articles, but also brief (an unusual brevity in a verbose university system, where an End of Degree Project demands40 pages).

Mr. Einstein was informed that in order to compete for a position as an official professor in Spain, that is to say a Titular or Catedrático, he should first pass the accreditation filter of the ANECA (National Agency for the Evaluation of Quality and Accreditation), or one of the regional agencies replicated in their image and likeness. That filter requires certain requirements.

To aspire to a position of Titular, have published at least 50 articles in journals indexed in the JCR (Journal of Cited Reports), that is, international journals cited in other journals of their level. Other merits also required are having directed at least one competitive research work of at least three years duration; Being a Principal Investigator of a recognized group or agency for at least four years; demonstrate leadership in international research networks with public funding; stays in international centers other than your university for at least three years; to have been invited to give at least three conferences in prestigious Congresses, and a long etcetera.

Only adding the necessary years not already to publish fifty weighty research articles, but for the total of stays and officially recognized investigations that are required, since naturally the research career begins at the base and not at the top, Albert Einstein I should wait until well into his 30s or 40s just to qualify for accreditation.

The real Einstein took 7 years to get to publish 50 articles, and at the end of his long, fertile and highly sought-after researcher's life he had published 320 articles, many of them addenda to previous articles and very brief notes like this, which would not be considered publication of impact in the JCR. Einstein would have it very difficult, if not impossible, and at least he should wait until he was 33 years old to aspire to be accredited.

But the obstacle course would have just begun. The Spanish accreditation does not guarantee access to a place, and also has expiration period. Einstein would have to wait for a department or research center to take a place in a public contest. And then present and entrust to all the saints in heaven to avoid the usual trap of an endogamy frame created to fit the in-house candidate (which takes many years to collect the bulky and expensive CV required by the ANECA). On the other hand, offering these places does not depend on the University but on the necessary economic endowment of the national or regional government, which has been cut for years and shows no signs of recovery, extinguishing chairs and titles replaced by hourly labor contracts.

Thus, the merits of Albert Einstein which served for a Nobel Prize in the golden age of physics are not enough to obtain the indispensable accreditation to compete in any Spanish university department. The conclusion of the experiment is that although the Spanish universities do not manage to enter the first hundred or two hundred positions of the famous world university rankings, at least they have concerned themselves with, or rather, the State has, ensuring that coveted positions of official professor are completely unavailable to researchers with baggage as light as Einstein's in 1905, although that was the basis of the revolution of modern physics. Nothing if measured in kilos of paper, which is what is requested here. If any new and young genius wanted to be a university professor, it would be good to go to any university free of asphyxiating bureaucracy and absurd governance, like any of the American, European or Asian universities, which dominate the world rankings.

The rest of the world will thank us, as would the engineers, mathematicians or well-trained health personnel that Spain can not use. Despite all that, the fact that 80% of the all Spanish basic research is still done in universities and in public centers can be considered almost miraculous. The university has been turned into a tangle of agencies, evaluators, managers, administrators, informants, strategists, planners, inventors of forms, and political and trtade union commissioners devoted to stifling all life not controlled by them.

In which direction are our public universities being taken?

The modern university has had two historical functions: transmission of knowledge, and expansion of knowledge through research. To these two have been added in Spain to serve as a laboratory for political experiments, and as an ecosystem tailored to an invasive technocratic bureaucracy. But these "new functions" are largely incompatible with the transmission and expansion of knowledge.

An implicit recognition of this fact, as evident as it is unpleasant, is that in recent years public investment in advanced research has fallen on institutes and entities that are not part of the university, and that therefore are not subject to its arbitrary norms, crazy and anticompetitive. If someone shines in Artificial Intelligence, physics, genetics or any advanced field, these centers will be able to hire you - if you have funds - while that same researcher will find it very difficult and extremely tiring to obtain the position of official professor.

Therefore, the sense of the delirious increase of the academic requirements to accede to the condition of Holder or Professor is not to improve the academic level, but to restrict the access to a body of officials that, like bullfighters or lion tamers, seems doomed to extinction. There is, in the first place, the sacrosanct technocratic argument of austerity and savings. A holder or professor with seniority can earn around €45,000-60,000 per year, but in his/her place you can put two temporary and precarious much cheaper hirees, not totalling €10,000 a year and, of course, much more submissive for the jobs given to them. And this is, right now, a systematic policy in public universities.

All the labor and academic promotion policies of the last fifteen years have been oriented towards this mix of labor exploitation and academic degradation: this article explains it very well. It has motivated protests even from the very conservative Rectors, since with the new contracts, cast with the excuse of the crisis, working in the university no longer guarantees surviving to the end of the month, no matter how thrifty one is, least of all if you have a family to maintain. It is estimated that in some universities 40% of current teachers - a much higher percentage among those under 40 years of age - have precarious jobs with insufficient salaries for a normal life. As in times that were thought to be happily overcome, teachers are forced into multi-employment, bringing the inevitable loss of quality and professional competence.

The system imposed by the Decree in the Official State Gazette has created an unstable and precarious profession which, for sheer survival, must dedicate itself to accumulating abusive, academically unjustified merits, only to be able to aspire to one day getting a full-time place with job stability. Degradation has other consequences. Thus, the urgent need to obtain publications, positions in research groups, international stays and other demands serves as an inevitable source of corruption, since many of these achievements depend on arbitrary favors - including the risk of sexual abuse - subject to the law of correspondence - "Today for you, tomorrow for me". To historical evils such as endogamy and provincialism, is now added precariousness of employment, falsely justified by a pretense of apparent meritocracy.

Universities have become too many cases in continuations of the baccalaureate for long-term adolescents without much interest in what they study, or in polytechnics more similar to third-grade vocational schools than to higher education centers. There is nothing wrong with that if it is a thoughtful decision, after public and rational debate. But the fact is that real university education is happening at the level of postgraduate masters and doctorates, which expensive and necessarily only forminority. Meanwhile, elite research quietly migrates off university campuses at the price of normalizing a precarious and unstable research career. Even this migration is limited to science and technology: the humanities do not produce obvious economic benefits and thus are almost excluded from this form of financing.

A government may decide to give something for an investigation in epigenetics, but not if if the project is of paleosemite philology or something like that. And this cheapening of the humanities, in addition to jeopardizing the transmission of knowledge in history, philosophy and related fields, has greatly facilitated the conversion of the classrooms into laboratories of ideological engineering where nationalism and, now, populism have triumphed. The paradigm is Podemos, conceived and delivered in the privatised Department of Political Science of the Complutense University. But this is another issue that we can address another day. Like that of whether the abandonment of the humanities has negative economic consequences or not: I anticipate a Yes. Many.

2. The right to be politically incorrect: Jordan Peterson

Why I refuse to use genderless pronouns.

A month ago, I posted three videos to my YouTube channel, as a means of speaking out against our culture’s politically correct insanity. I specifically objected to Bill C-16, a bill that has now passed second reading in the House of Commons, which adds “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of attributes protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, and to similar legislation already in place in Ontario and other provinces.

To say that the videos attracted a lot of attention is to say almost nothing. They produced two demonstrations at the University of Toronto, where I teach psychology, including a free-speech rally where the misbehaviour of social justice warrior counter-demonstrators was caught on cellphone videos that have now been watched by millions of people. They have been the subject of articles written by Canada’s most famous journalists. They have been covered extensively by CBC, CTV and TVO, as well as internationally. My story has been making headlines for more than a month, and the furor is not dying down. After writing me two cautionary letters, and then requesting my silence, the University of Toronto has agreed to host a public debate about the issues I raised.

One of the more controversial things I said in the videos was that I would not use what have come to be known as “preferred pronouns” to refer to people who believe that their gender does not fit neatly into the traditional categories of male and female. The gist of the counter-argument was: “Why won’t the mean professor change the way he speaks, if doing so would spare some vulnerable peoples’ feelings?” (A National Post columnist described me as a “jerk.”) There are a few reasons why I took this stand.

First, I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words “zhe” and “zher.” These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.

These words are at the vanguard of a radical leftist ideology that is frighteningly similar to Marxism.

I have been studying authoritarianism on the right and the left for 35 years. I wrote a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, on the topic, which explores how ideologies hijack language and belief. As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs. I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.

Second, I am not happy with what is happening in this country in regards to gender — even to discussions about gender. Bill C-16 is predicated on absolute nonsense: sex is a biological fact that is determined by anatomy and chromosomes. Independent of biological sex, there is gender identity (which, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, is the personal sense of being “a woman, a man, both, neither or anywhere along the gender spectrum”). Independent of that, there is gender expression (how a person “publicly expresses their gender,” including their fashion choices, such as “dress, hair (and) makeup”). These exist and manifest themselves purely as subjective choices. This is an axiomatic part of the new legislation, by the way, mandating social constructionism as the legally sanctioned scientific doctrine of the land. Look out, evolutionary biologists. The PC police are coming your way.

Let’s examine these claims. First, more than 99 per cent of the population has a gender identity that’s identical to their biological sex. So much for independent variation. Second, there is overwhelming evidence indicating that men and women differ greatly, for biological reasons, in their gender identity, defined most accurately as their personality and interests. Biological sex and gender identity are therefore strongly and causally linked, and no legislation is going to change that. In fact, the differences between men and women are so great, that if you add them up, there is almost no overlap: you can almost completely differentiate (biological) men from (biological) women on the basis of their hypothetically independent gender identities.

Are these just differences in socialization? Well, no, they’re not. The differences are largest in the Scandinavian societies where the most extreme efforts have been made over the last three decades to remove the legal, social and economic distinctions between the sexes. Technically, this is because men and women differ in their psychology for social and biological reasons and, if you remove the social influence, the biological influence becomes stronger. Thus, not only have the attempts made in Scandinavia to eradicate the differences between men and women failed, they’ve backfired. And these aren’t studies of a few hundred people, either: tens of thousands of participants provided personality information and descriptions of their personal interests. But who cares what the science has to say, when there’s ideology at stake?

Finally, it is absurd to insist that each person should have the right to, or could practically, choose their own pronouns. Those who have been complaining about my rigid and parochial viewpoint argue that the word “they” (a possible alternative to he or she) has been used in a singular sense in the English language for centuries. So, the argument goes, why can’t everyone just use “they,” like Shakespeare did? Well, “they” has never been used in the manner indicated by those who advocate for its revised use. It’s been used to indicate the singular in very restricted cases, and certainly not as a simple replacement for “he” or “she.” But let’s give the devil his due, and imagine that I agreed to that. Would the demands stop there? Absolutely not.

Consider the case of New York, which now protects 31 genders, including “gender gifted” (look it up) and “gender fluid” (a boy one day and a girl the next). The Big Apple is prepared to fine businesses up to US$250 million ($335 million) if owners or employees refuse to speak to each other properly. And New York’s list of 31 genders is just a drop in the bucket compared to the number some would like us to use — I found lists online that contain more than 70. And the fact is that for every person whose feelings are respected and whose identity is somehow validated because of the use of such pronouns, there are going to be 20 already mixed-up and unhappy adolescents whose chaos will be multiplied 10-fold because of all these new choices.

Bill C-16 is dangerous legislation. Those who formulated it and who are pushing it and its sister legislation are dangerous people. I’m not going to use their words. Read the Ontario Human Rights Commission website dealing with such things. Formulate your own opinions. Decide for yourself — while you still can.

Jordan Peterson is a tenured research and clinical PhD psychologist who teaches at the University of Toronto.  

Colin Davies, Pontevedra 11.3.18


Maria said...

I agree with Jordan in that language cannot be changed by decree. Out of that comes only a philological curiosity which has no basis and no support in society. Besides, English has the masculine, the feminine, and the neuter. If any are to be added, let it be done by public use over a long period of time. Then, it will be real, and feel right.

As for all the different genders popping up, I don't know much what to think. I don't know anyone who identifies as fluid or anything other than masculine or feminine. My daughter, however, does. I contend that this is psychologically affecting more young people who are not sure of who they are. Modern life is not helping. Increasingly, the usual slots for men and women in society are disappearing. People must make their own slots, which is good. But it also involves thinking, and learning to understand oneself and who one is. That is still not encouraged. And so youngsters are increasingly confused. Above all, respect for different opinions.

Colin Davies said...

Yes, Maria, I agree. My younger daughter - now married with 2 kids - had a gender crisis at 15. Assisted by a shrink, she got through it. I hate to think what would happen now, 20 years later. What advice she'd be given, what modern, 'sensitive', empathetic treatments she'd be recommended, etc. How confused she'd end up. . . .

You can understand, I'm sure, my scepticism about today's trends. And why I think we were lucky.

Perry said...

First there is this:

If Bisphenol-A is not a problem as the site below claims, then gender fluidity is cultural & another stupid example of a declining western civilisation.The peoples of Europe are like sheep surrounded by wolves. Worse; their governments have removed the fences.

A example from history: