On Western Civilization

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To judge from Rick Salutin’s op-ed in the Toronto Star yesterday, the culture wars may have reached their zenith. The intellectual left in Europe and North America—which is to say, the well-educated and world-weary progressives behind the lecterns rather than the idealistic young acolytes listening intently in the front row—now routinely accuse the likes of Donald Trump, Victor Orbán, Germany’s AfD, and now Québec’s CAQ of using the defence of Western civilization as rhetorical cover for racism and xenophobia. The logical end point of this critique is to dispose of the “trope” of Western Civ altogether—along with the “toxic” idea that there are, or ever were, civilizations of any description.

If you are one of those unregenerate dinosaurs still labouring under the delusion that the founding ideals of Western civilization—reason, rights, the rule of law—are worth not only preserving but fighting for, then Professor Salutin wants to set you straight. Western Civ, he avers, was never anything more than a “fabrication” built by Europeans to rationalize their conquest of other stereotypical civilizations, including the Orient and Arab world.

The sleight-of-hand at work in Salutin’s thinking—which is now so de rigueur on the left as to pass unnoticed—is to reduce the concept of Western civilization to something ethnic, and thus to position it as the antithesis of multiculturalism. “Of course there are human groupings, but they’re a huge, intersecting mishmash, hybrids and mongrels all,” Salutin writes. “Trump’s racist response is to call for Norwegian, not Arab, immigrants—a sure sign of his logical western inheritance.”

Prof Salutin has, to his immense credit, always been one of Canada’s most resolutely anti-nationalist pundits—even when his deep-seated aversion to “atavistic, race-tinged nationalism” has landed him on the wrong side of the Canadian left. In this respect, as he well knows, his is part of a distinguished and world-leading Canadian intellectual tradition whose essential aim is to imagine how cultural and ethnic difference can flourish in a free and democratic (i.e. rights-based) society.

This is no time for Salutin and others who think as he does to relent. The bastardization of the highest ideals of Western civilization by the populist right is no reason for the left to follow suit. The Salutin of old would have known this.

Bill Gates Ponders Extreme Poverty

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Bill Gates—the founder of Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, and now the second richest person in the world with a net worth of $91.9 billion—is so worried about extreme poverty in Africa that he’s proselytizing from the pages of the New York Times.

Philosophically, Gates is on the right side of history. He celebrates the extraordinary success of the “new agricultural techniques and technologies” that brought us the Green Revolution and demolished the doomsday prophecies of neo-Malthusians like Paul Ehrlich. And he’s right to argue that the need for investment in health and education in sub-Saharan Africa is urgent because the baby boom now underway in that region will produce the future leaders who will “transform subsistence farms into profitable small businesses, provide a bank account for every adult on their mobile phones, [and] eradicate malaria and other neglected diseases.”

But even so.

One needn’t be any sort of wild-eyed class warrior to see the monstrous irony in Gates’ latest public-relations gambit. If Oxfam is right and the eight richest people in the world today have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity (i.e. four billion or so people), maybe—just maybe—we could do with a bit more o’ that ol’ global wealth redistribution.

Butterfly Derangement Syndrome™ Update

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Britain’s Guardian newspaper, normally the most redoubtable fount of environmental apocalypticism in the Anglosphere, is this morning reporting that “a previously extinct* butterfly, the large blue, has enjoyed its best UK summer on record thanks to the lovely weather and a determined conservation effort on hills in the West Country of England.”

Another piece in today’s Guardian gushes about the anticipated splendor of the coming fall. “Autumn colour is perhaps the most striking of nature’s seasonal displays,” writes Professor Alistair Griffiths, “but the vividness of the annual spectacle is largely dependent on good environmental conditions. This year, following a fine summer and with an Indian summer predicted, we look to be on course for a dazzling display that could trump recent years and extend well into November.”

Lovely weather? Good environmental conditions? Wow.

A month ago, i.e. at the height of Prof Griffiths’ “fine summer,” the Guardian was only too happy to regale readers with prophesies of “persistent and dangerous” heat waves, crop losses due to the rising “number and appetite” of insect pests, “world-ending” Cat 6 hurricanes, the “threat of tropical disease outbreaks” in Europe, and the extinction of Britain’s biggest butterfly, the swallowtail, from rising sea levels. “Global warming has contributed to the scorching temperatures that have baked the UK and northern Europe for weeks,” Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s environment editor told us in late July. “The extreme heatwaves and wildfires wreaking havoc around the globe are the face of climate change.” Indeed, even this morning, alongside the miraculous de-extinction of the large blue butterfly and the imminent glory of the autumn colours, the Guardian is promoting a “people’s manifesto for wildlife” via which broadcaster Chris Packham and 17 “independent experts and scientists” warn the hapless Brits that they are “sleepwalking into an ecological apocalypse.”

Mr. Carrington and his colleagues on the Guardian’s global-warming desk have not yet pontificated on the record September snowfalls in Alberta, but surely it’s only a matter of time. Snowbound Canadian connoisseurs of journalistic excess will at least have that to look forward to.