The Importance of Blasphemy

https://quillette.com/ | by Brian Stewart

Anyone who thought the age of plague might have banished the specter of religious fanaticism was disabused last week when a middle school teacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an Islamist fanatic for displaying caricatures of the prophet Mohammad during a class discussion about free speech. The assailant, a teenager of Chechen origin, murdered and then decapitated his victim before being killed by French police. Less than a fortnight before, there was a stabbing outside the Parisian offices formerly occupied by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which France’s interior minister also described as an “act of Islamist terrorism.”

The stubborn persistence of Islamist terror speaks to the durability of ferocious faith-based dogmas, one of which seeks to reintroduce secular Western democracies to the long-forgotten notion of “blasphemy.” This will only come as a surprise to those with short memories. Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa suborning the murder of Salman Rushdie for merely writing a novel reignited the old debate about the place of tolerance in an age of religious hatred. More than 30 years later, theocratic forces have grown more diffuse but also tenacious.

Religious pluralism has long been understood as the best means of suppressing and overcoming dangerous religious passions. “If there were only one religion in England,” remarked Voltaire, “there would be danger of despotism, if there were two they would cut each other’s throats, but there are thirty and they live in peace and happiness.” It would be delusional to believe that Voltaire’s native land is approaching despotism, but it isn’t quite living in peace and happiness either. (One suspects the author of Le Fanatisme, ou Mahomet le prophète might have expected this disharmony between the republic and its Muslim citizens.) France is not a country of one religion or two, but of many and none. Its secular state sits atop a largely post-Christian society that is increasingly contending with a phenomenon of what Emanuel Macron recently described as “Islamic separatism.” France is hardly alone among European democracies in housing a swelling and poorly integrated Islamic population, but its condition is advanced since a non-trivial number of the country’s six million Muslims risk forming what Macron calls a “counter-society.”

Around the world, numerous societies are beset by the spasms of violence produced by radical Islam. A new form of religious fanaticism, fueled by Islamist passions and enabled by progressive idiocy, holds what Timothy Garton Ash calls the “assassin’s veto” over what materials may be published and consumed. It has led to vicious and sometimes lethal attacks on freethinkers far and wide, while producing a climate of fear and self-censorship among those who would ordinarily criticize religious ideas without apology.

This is an intolerable state of affairs. The brazen intimidation of free expression and the innocent blood actually being shed (the vast majority of which is Muslim blood, as it happens) is evidence of a severe problem within the Islamic faith that requires criticism. It demands that a battle of ideas be waged against Islamism and on behalf of free expression. It is imperative that every government that claims to belong to the civilized world be fully engaged in this effort. This will not be easy. Such an open confrontation with Muslim totalitarianism will not merely elicit outrage among the most bloodthirsty factions of those believing Mohammed to be God’s last messenger on Earth. It will also be condemned by what the British Muslim writer and activist Maajid Nawaz dubs “the regressive Left,” which regards any scrutiny of Islam and Islamism as an act of “Islamophobia.”

In the weeks after the assassination of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, the liberal writer Jonathan Chait summarized the apologetics of this faction as follows: “On the one hand, religious extremists should not threaten people who offend their beliefs. On the other hand, nobody should offend their beliefs. The right to blasphemy should exist but only in theory.” He continued: “The line separating these two positions is perilously thin. The Muslim radical argues that the ban on blasphemy is morally right and should be followed; the Western liberal insists it is morally wrong but should be followed. Theoretical distinctions aside, both positions yield an identical outcome.”

It has been said often before, but in the aftermath of the two Parisian attacks, it bears repeating—both Islamists and their ostensibly secular defenders must be resisted. They must understand that the defense of universal human rights is not a provocation, much less a “phobia,” but a moral obligation. The campaign of undisguised menace against artists and writers and cartoonists who question or mock revered scriptures and religious figures is granted too much credence in certain quarters that proclaim to merely be respecting “Muslim sensibilities.” What these peace-at-any-price observers don’t grasp, however, is that it is only recently (with the rise of Wahhabism) that the portrayal of Mohammad has been deemed blasphemous. In any case, scrutiny of religious texts and prophets is a foundational element of the Enlightenment. Surrender that keystone principle, and what remains of the larger edifice?

The consequence of failing to prosecute this struggle in defense of freedom of religion and freedom of speech will be the steady erosion of tolerance and inquiry in the name of good manners. It could lead to what the British writer Kenan Malik has called an “auction of victimhood,” with offended groups competing to see if they can receive special exemptions and get their taboo images removed from the public eye. A decade after Jyllands-Posten published the Danish cartoons of Mohammad in 2005, it chose not to republish the Charlie Hebdo drawings, citing its “unique position” of vulnerability. Flemming Rose, the editor who commissioned the original cartoons, told the BBC, “We caved in.” “Violence works,” he added, and “sometimes the sword is mightier than the pen.”

The cycle of Islamist intimidation and secular surrender is fraught with risk. France faces the prospect of being split into rival nations: one that lives in a secular republic and another one that lives in the shadow of sharia and blasphemy codes, even if the Islamic law is de facto rather than de jure. If this fate is permitted to come to pass, the cause of civilization will lose a vital foothold in Europe, with repercussions far beyond the old continent.

The rising secularism and pluralism of modern societies has been a crowning achievement of the West. It need not become a problem so long as there is a staunch and pervasive belief in the legitimacy of the liberal creed. Without such belief, however, societies around the globe will be poorly equipped to cope with a confident and militant faith in their midst. And as long as this faith enjoys exaggerated deference and intellectual immunity, nobody’s throats will be safe.

Brian Stewart is a New York-based political writer primarily focused on US foreign and defense policy. You can follow him on Twitter @bstewart1776.

We are capitalists – you’re welcome!

https://iea.org.uk/ | Kate Andrews

I was asked on a podcast this week if capitalism and communism can co-exist.

The short answer is, yes: capitalism has created wealthy, liberal and diverse societies, which tolerate a range of ideologies – even ones as fanciful and hazardous as communism.

But the similarities end there. The freedom that capitalism inspires and the force that communism requires will forever be at odds.

Yet despite overwhelming historical evidence that the former leads to flourishing, and the latter to disaster, sympathies for the hammer and sickle seem to be on the rise.

Take Novara Media editor Ash Sarkar, who made waves recently, after announcing proudly on Good Morning Britain that she was a full-blown communist, and chiding the host Piers Morgan for assuming her to be your average left-winger.

The result has been weeks of debate on the merits of an economic order whose attempted implementation has resulted in nearly 100m deaths worldwide.

It seems almost farcical that this tried, tested, and catastrophically failed system of belief could rear its ugly head once more. But it has, and we can’t ignore it.

Young people are increasingly sympathetic towards communism compared to older generations. According to one record poll, “a third of millennials (32 per cent) falsely believe more people were killed under George W Bush than under Joseph Stalin”.

It doesn’t help that communism often eludes the historical scrutiny applied to other economic orders, with defenders claiming that the problem with Marxism is simply that “it’s never really been tried”.

Ask them how they’d implement their system differently to the USSR – or East Germany, or Venezuela, or North Korea – to ensure utopia instead of mass murder, and you rarely get more than catchphrases or buzzwords about “economic democracy” and “ownership by the people”.

The very simple answer is that there is no answer: structuring an economy to prioritise the collective in every circumstance cannot be done without brute force.

There is also a strange sympathy given to the intentions of communism, despite the horrific realities of the outcomes it wreaks. Communism gets an easier ride than its far-right equivalent – fascism – because its goals are seemingly kinder, well-meaning, and rooted in a sense of equality.

Yet even its intentions, when properly analysed, become deeply sinister. There is nothing fair or noble about stripping individuals of their autonomy and freedom. Prohibiting people from acting as traders and profit-makers is an attempt to destroy an innate sense of entrepreneurship and ambition that is fundamentally engrained in humanity.

But perhaps the biggest boost for communism has come from our failure to make the case for capitalism – an ideology that, though by no means perfect, is by far the best elevator we’ve created to lift people into prosperity.

I’ve been making my way through the latest primer to be published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, written by one of the UK’s most renowned experts on capitalism, Dr Eamonn Butler. His simple and honest assessment of capitalism’s strengths and weaknesses provides plenty of food for thought, but even more importantly, reasons to remain extremely optimistic about the future.

While communism has sent tens of millions to their deaths, capitalism has lifted over one billion people out of poverty in a quarter of a century alone. Free enterprise has raised our standard of living in miraculous ways, and allowed for individualism to thrive alongside a world that is becoming increasingly connected.

Millennials are the generation of AirBnB and Deliveroo – the biggest consumers of what capitalism has to offer. Perhaps one day, our stated preferences will line up with our revealed preferences. Until then, I hope my peers enjoy purchasing “I’m a Communist, You Idiot” T-shirts for £20 a pop. We are Capitalists, You’re Welcome.

A version of this article first appeared in City AM. 

Kate Andrews

100 Times Jeremy Corbyn Sided with Terrorists

https://order-order.com/ | Guido Fawkes

 

  1. Invited two IRA members to parliament two weeks after the Brighton bombing.
  2. Attended Bloody Sunday commemoration with bomber Brendan McKenna.
  3. Attended meeting with Provisional IRA member Raymond McCartney.
  4. Hosted IRA linked Mitchell McLaughlin in parliament.
  5. Spoke alongside IRA terrorist Martina Anderson.
  6. Attended Sinn Fein dinner with IRA bomber Gerry Kelly.
  7. Chaired Irish republican event with IRA bomber Brendan MacFarlane.
  8. Attended Bobby Sands commemoration honouring IRA terrorists.
  9. Stood in minute’s silence for IRA gunmen shot dead by the SAS.
  10. Refused to condemn the IRA in Sky News interview.
  11. Refused to condemn the IRA on Question Time.
  12. Refused to condemn IRA violence in BBC radio interview.
  13. Signed EDM after IRA Poppy massacre massacre blaming Britain for the deaths.
  14. Arrested while protesting in support of Brighton bomber’s co-defendants.
  15. Lobbied government to improve visiting conditions for IRA killers.
  16. Attended Irish republican event calling for armed conflict against Britain.
  17. Hired suspected IRA man Ronan Bennett as a parliamentary assistant.
  18. Hired another aide closely linked to several convicted IRA terrorists.
  19. Heavily involved with IRA sympathising newspaper London Labour Briefing.
  20. Put up £20,000 bail money for IRA terror suspect Roisin McAliskey.
  21. Didn’t support IRA ceasefire.
  22. Said Hamas and Hezbollah are his “friends“.
  23. Called for Hamas to be removed from terror banned list.
  24. Called Hamas “serious and hard-working“.
  25. Attended wreath-laying at grave of Munich massacre terrorist.
  26. Attended conference with Hamas and PFLP.
  27. Photographed smiling with Hezbollah flag.
  28. Attended rally with Hezbollah and Al-Muhajiroun.
  29. Repeatedly shared platforms with PFLP plane hijacker.
  30. Hired aide who praised Hamas’ “spirit of resistance“.
  31. Accepted £20,000 for state TV channel of terror-sponsoring Iranian regime.
  32. Opposed banning Britons from travelling to Syria to fight for ISIS.
  33. Defended rights of fighters returning from Syria.
  34. Said ISIS supporters should not be prosecuted.
  35. Compared fighters returning from Syria to Nelson Mandela.
  36. Said the death of Osama Bin Laden was a “tragedy“.
  37. Wouldn’t sanction drone strike to kill ISIS leader.
  38. Voted to allow ISIS fighters to return from Syria.
  39. Opposed shoot to kill.
  40. Attended event organised by terrorist sympathising IHRC.
  41. Signed letter defending Lockerbie bombing suspects.
  42. Wrote letter in support of conman accused of fundraising for ISIS.
  43. Spoke of “friendship” with Mo Kozbar, who called for destruction of Israel.
  44. Attended event with Abdullah Djaballah, who called for holy war against UK.
  45. Called drone strikes against terrorists “obscene”.
  46. Boasted about “opposing anti-terror legislation”.
  47. Said laws banning jihadis from returning to Britain are “strange”.
  48. Accepted £5,000 donation from terror supporter Ted Honderich.
  49. Accepted £2,800 trip to Gaza from banned Islamist organisation Interpal.
  50. Called Ibrahim Hewitt, extremist and chair of Interpal, a “very good friend”.
  51. Accepted two more trips from the pro-Hamas group PRC.
  52. Speaker at conference hosted by pro-Hamas group MEMO.
  53. Met Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh several times.
  54. Hosted meeting with Mousa Abu Maria of banned group Islamic Jihad.
  55. Patron of Palestine Solidarity Campaign – marches attended by Hezbollah.
  56. Compared Israel to ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.
  57. Said we should not make “value judgements” about Britons who fight for ISIS.
  58. Received endorsement from Hamas.
  59. Attended event with Islamic extremist Suliman Gani.
  60. Chaired Stop the War, who praised “internationalism and solidarity” of ISIS.
  61. Praised Raed Salah, who was jailed for inciting violence in Israel.
  62. Signed letter defending jihadist advocacy group Cage.
  63. Met Dyab Jahjah, who praised the killing of British soldiers.
  64. Shared platform with representative of extremist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
  65. Compared ISIS to US military in interview on Russia Today.
  66. Opposed proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
  67. Attended conference which called on Iraqis to kill British soldiers.
  68. Attended Al-Quds Day demonstration in support of destruction of Israel.
  69. Supported Hamas and ISIS-linked Viva Palestina group.
  70. Attended protest with Islamic extremist Moazzam Begg.
  71. Made the “case for Iran” at event hosted by Khomeinist group.
  72. Photographed smiling with Azzam Tamimi, who backed suicide bombings.
  73. Photographed with Abdel Atwan, who sympathised with attacks on US troops.
  74. Said Hamas should “have tea with the Queen”.
  75. Attended ‘Meet the Resistance’ event with Hezbollah MP Hussein El Haj.
  76. Attended event with Haifa Zangana, who praised Palestinian “mujahideen”.
  77. Defended the infamous anti-Semitic Hamas supporter Stephen Sizer.
  78. Attended event with pro-Hamas and Hezbollah group Naturei Karta.
  79. Backed Holocaust denying anti-Zionist extremist Paul Eisen.
  80. Photographed with Abdul Raoof Al Shayeb, later jailed for terror offences.
  81. Mockedanti-terror hysteria” while opposing powers for security services.
  82. Named on speakers list for conference with Hamas sympathiser Ismail Patel.
  83. Criticised drone strike that killed Jihadi John.
  84. Said the 7/7 bombers had been denied “hope and opportunity”.
  85. Said 9/11 was “manipulated” to make it look like bin Laden was responsible.
  86. Failed to unequivocally condemn the 9/11 attacks.
  87. Called Columbian terror group M-19 “comrades”.
  88. Blamed beheading of Alan Henning on Britain.
  89. Gave speech in support of Gaddafi regime.
  90. Signed EDM spinning for Slobodan Milosevic.
  91. Blamed Tunisia terror attack on “austerity”.
  92. Voted against banning support for the IRA.
  93. Voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act three times during the Troubles.
  94. Voted against emergency counter-terror laws after 9/11.
  95. Voted against stricter punishments for being a member of a terror group.
  96. Voted against criminalising the encouragement of terrorism.
  97. Voted against banning al-Qaeda.
  98. Voted against outlawing the glorification of terror.
  99. Voted against control orders.
  100. Voted against increased funding for the security services to combat terrorism.

Quite something when you put it all down in one place…

Karl Marx Was An Intellectual Godfather of Adolph Hitler

http://policydynamics.net | 

It’s often argued that National Socialism’s roots partly lie in Friedrich Nietzsche’s notions of “God is dead”, master and slave morality, and the Übermensch. But when it comes to the Nazi’s anti-Semitism, Karl Marx provided a lot of intellectual firepower.

Disturblingly, one rarely hears about Karl Marx’s anti-Semitism. Modern-day champions of Marxism never bring it up. Professors sympathetic to Marxism don’t assign reading material on the subject. The media never talk about it.

But it’s there. And perhaps no greater evidence of this lies in Marx’s essay, “On The Jewish Question”. Following, in all their repugnance, are excerpts therefrom.

“What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money.”

“In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.”

“What was, in itself, the basis of the Jewish religion? Practical need. Egoism”

“The god of practical need and self interest is money….The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world.”

“The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew.…As soon as society succeeds in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its conditions – the Jew becomes impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object.”

“The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.”

There’s a reason for the word “socialism” in National Socialism. That becomes clearer when the full name of the party is written out: The National Socialist German Workers Party.

To quote Adolph Hitler, “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.”

Planks in the Nazi party platform fell right in line with those of conventional socialism/communism. The Nazis demanded:

  • the abolition of all unearned income, and all income that does not arise from work;
  • the nationalization of businesses involved in cartels;
  • the communalization of department stores, to distribute to small business;
  • land reform, confiscation from owners without compensation any land needed for the common purpose, the abolition of ground rents, and the prohibition of land speculation.

So Nazism was much like conventional socialism, with its anti-business and anti-financial attitudes, and demonization the affluent. Nazism particularly demonized a subset of affluent people (many of whom weren’t even affluent), the Jews. Envious Germans prior to and during the Nazi period hurled accusations exactly in line with Karl Marx’s slanders, smearing them as swindlers and worshiping money. Never mind that their hard work, high levels of education, willingness to take risks, and willingness to be merchants early on (upon which other members of society looked down) tended to have a positive effect on income. Success breeds contempt.

Socialism/communism blames the world’s ills on economically better off people. But in some societies those people tend to be members of a certain religion or ethnic minority group – be they Jews in Nazi Germany, Armenians in early-twentieth-century Turkey, Chinese in Indonesia, or Tutsis in Rwanda. That makes them easy to identify and pick out. The minority group becomes synonymous with the wealthy class. By scapegoating the rich, they’re scapegoating the minority group.

So Marx in the nineteenth century helped sow the seeds for both Nazism and Communism in the twentieth.

Some say Marx was the most influential thinker who ever lived. If you measure that by totaling the number of deaths resulting from Nazism and Communism – over a hundred million – then yes, he was the most influential.


Patrick Chisholm is editor of PolicyDynamics.

 

Safe spaces and ‘ze’ badges: My bewildering year at a US university

www.spectator.co.uk |

Fear of causing offence on campus is stifling free thought – as I’ve found to my cost

The student in front of me, an Australian, found this hilarious: ‘Last time I checked, I was a girl.’ Her joke was met with stony silence. Later I realised why: expressing bewilderment at the obsession with pronouns might count as a ‘micro-aggression’. Next stop, ‘transphobia’.

It was soon obvious to my fellow students that I was not quite with the programme. In a class discussion early in my first semester, I made the mistake of mentioning that I believed in objective standards in art. Some art is great, some isn’t, I said; not all artists are equally talented. This was deemed an undemocratic opinion and I was given a nickname: the cultural fascist. I’ve tried to take it affectionately.

After a year on campus, on a course entitled ‘Cultural Reporting and Criticism’, I still feel unable to speak freely, let alone critically. Although it doesn’t apply to my own course, friends have told me about ‘trigger warnings’ that caution they are about to be exposed to certain ideas; the threat of micro-aggressions (i.e. unintended insults) makes frank discourse impossible. Then there is the infamous ‘safe space’ — a massage-circle, Play-Doh-making haven — where students are protected from offence (and, therefore, intellectual challenge).

During class discussions, I’ve learned to discreetly scan my classmates’ faces for signs that they might be fellow free-thinkers. A slight head tilt at the mention of Islamophobia, a gentle questioning of what exactly is meant by ‘toxic masculinity’. I was thrilled to see a scribbled note — ‘This is utter shit’ — on someone’s copy of one of the reading requirements, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (an introduction to queer theory). In this way, I found the members of my secret non-conformist book club.

We met in a disused convent in Hell’s Kitchen and discussed campus-censored ideas. We read Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus and Walter Benn Michaels’s The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. We were a diverse group: a Catholic woman, a black conservative man, an anti-theist neoconservative, a Protestant libertarian, and a quick-witted Spanish contrarian. We were united in agreeing that we should be free to disagree. We made our own unsafe space, and at the end of each meeting, we were invigorated and parted on good terms.


 

US has 11 separate ‘nations’ with entirely different cultures

businessinsider.com | | Jul. 27, 2015

 

11 Nations Colin Woodward and Tufts/Brian Stauffer

In his fourth book, “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America,” award-winning author Colin Woodard identifies 11 distinct cultures that have historically divided the US.

“The country has been arguing about a lot of fundamental things lately including state roles and individual liberty,” Woodard, a Maine native who won the 2012 George Polk Awardfor investigative reporting, told Business Insider.

“[But] in order to have any productive conversation on these issues,” he added, “you need to know where you come from. Once you know where you are coming from it will help move the conversation forward.”

Here’s how Woodard describes each nation:

Yankeedom

Encompassing the entire Northeast north of New York City and spreading through Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, Yankeedom values education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment, and citizen participation in government as a shield against tyranny. Yankees are comfortable with government regulation. Woodard notes that Yankees have a “Utopian streak.” The area was settled by radical Calvinists.

New Netherland

A highly commercial culture, New Netherland is “materialistic, with a profound tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity and an unflinching commitment to the freedom of inquiry and conscience,” according to Woodard. It is a natural ally with Yankeedom and encompasses New York City and northern New Jersey. The area was settled by the Dutch.

new york city New York City is located in Woodward’s New Netherland. Flickr / Andrés Nieto Porras

The Midlands

Settled by English Quakers, The Midlands are a welcoming middle-class society that spawned the culture of the “American Heartland.” Political opinion is moderate, and government regulation is frowned upon. Woodard calls the ethnically diverse Midlands “America’s great swing region.” Within the Midlands are parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.

Tidewater

Tidewater was built by the young English gentry in the area around the Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina. Starting as a feudal society that embraced slavery, the region places a high value on respect for authority and tradition. Woodard notes that Tidewater is in decline, partly because “it has been eaten away by the expanding federal halos around D.C. and Norfolk.”

Greater Appalachia

Colonized by settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands, Greater Appalachia is stereotyped as the land of hillbillies and rednecks. Woodard says Appalachia values personal sovereignty and individual liberty and is “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers alike.” It sides with the Deep South to counter the influence of federal government. Within Greater Appalachia are parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois, and Texas.

Louisville Louisville, Kentucky, is located in Woodward’s Greater Appalachia. Flickr / Peter Dedina

Deep South

The Deep South was established by English slave lords from Barbados and was styled as a West Indies-style slave society, Woodard notes. It has a very rigid social structure and fights against government regulation that threatens individual liberty. Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina are all part of the Deep South.

El Norte

Composed of the borderlands of the Spanish-American empire, El Norte is “a place apart” from the rest of America, according to Woodard. Hispanic culture dominates in the area, and the region values independence, self-sufficiency, and hard work above all else. Parts of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California are in El Norte.

The Left Coast

Colonized by New Englanders and Appalachian Midwesterners, the Left Coast is a hybrid of “Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration,” Woodard says, adding that it is the staunchest ally of Yankeedom. Coastal California, Oregon, and Washington are in the Left Coast.

San Francisco City and Homes San Francisco is a natural fit for Woodward’s Left Coast. Shutterstock / prochasson frederic

The Far West

The conservative west. Developed through large investment in industry, yet where inhabitants continue to “resent” the Eastern interests that initially controlled that investment. Among Far West states are Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. 

New France

A pocket of liberalism nestled in the Deep South, its people are consensus driven, tolerant, and comfortable with government involvement in the economy. Woodard says New France is among the most liberal places in North America. New France is focused around New Orleans in Louisiana as well as the Canadian province of Quebec.

First Nation

Made up of Native Americans, the First Nation’s members enjoy tribal sovereignty in the US. Woodard says the territory of the First Nations is huge, but its population is under 300,000, most of whose people live in the northern reaches of Canada.

Woodard says that among these 11 nations, Yankeedom and the Deep South exert the most influence and are constantly competing with each other for the hearts and minds of the other nations.

“We are trapped in brinkmanship because there is not a lot of wiggle room between Yankee and Southern Culture,” Woodard says. “Those two nations would never see eye to eye on anything besides an external threat.”

TEd Cruz filibuster In 2013, Ted Cruz infamously held the Senate floor for 21 hours in an attempt to filibuster Obamacare. AP

Woodard also believes the nation is likely to become more polarized, even though America is becoming a more diverse place every day. He says this is because people are “self-sorting.”

“People choose to move to places where they identify with  the values,”  Woodard says. “Red minorities go south and blue minorities go north to be in the majority. This is why blue states are getting bluer and red states are getting redder and the middle is getting smaller.”

How Americans Became So Sensitive to Harm

www.theatlantic.com | Slight to moderate liberal bias

A recently published paper explains how “concept creep” in the field of psychology has reshaped many aspects of modern society.

A mother leaves her son in the car while popping into a store at a strip mall. She is charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A high school senior complains to her Facebook friends about a teacher and is suspended for “cyberbullying.” Students at Wellesley start a petition calling for the removal of a statue of a man in his underwear, claiming that the art piece caused them emotional trauma. So many residents of Santa Monica, California, claim to need emotional support animals that the local farmer’s market warns against service dog fraud.

Conor Friedersdorf / The Atlantic

How did American culture arrive at these moments? A new research paper by Nick Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, offers as useful a framework for understanding what’s going on as any I’ve seen. In “Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology,” Haslam argues that concepts like abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice, “now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before,”expanded meanings that reflect “an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm.”

He calls these expansions of meaning “concept creep.”

Although critics may hold concept creep responsible for damaging cultural trends, he writes, “such as supposed cultures of fear, therapy, and victimhood, the shifts I present have some positive implications.” Still, he adds, “they also have potentially damaging ramifications for society and psychology that cannot be ignored.”

Two stories illustrate how concept creep can be a force for good or ill.

Story 1: During the 1950s, third graders would climb into their parents’ cars and ride around without seatbelts. When stopping short, fathers and mothers would use their right arms in hopes of keeping their little ones from hitting their heads on the dashboard. These kids lived in houses slathered with lead paint and spent hours in family rooms thick with cigarette smoke. Today, there are laws against letting children ride around without seat belts, lead paint is banned, and there is such a powerful stigma against exposing children to second-hand smoke that far fewer kids suffer from poor health outcomes related to such exposure. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for the better.

Story 2: During the 1950s, third graders could walk to school, play alone at the park, or bike 10 minutes to a friend’s house without anyone worrying or objecting, so long as they came home for supper or before the street lights came on. Today, though kidnapping is just as rare, a parent who allows that same behavior is at risk of arrest or even losing custody of their children to their state’s child protective services bureaucracy. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for ill. In Hanna Rosin’s words, it  “stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”

Expanding notions of harm have transformed many parts of society for good and ill.

Concept Creep and Abuse

How did a working-class mom get arrested, lose her fast food job, and temporarily lose custody of her 9-year-old for letting the child play alone at a nearby park?

The concept of abuse expanded too far.

Classically, psychological investigations recognized two forms of child abuse, physical and sexual, Haslam writes. In more recent decades, however, the concept of abuse has witnessed “horizontal creep” as new forms of abuse were recognized or studied. For example, “emotional abuse” was added as a new subtype of abuse. Neglect, traditionally a separate category, came to be seen as a type of abuse, too.

Meanwhile, the concept of abuse underwent “vertical creep.” That is, the behavior seen as qualifying for a given kind of abuse became steadily less extreme. Some now regard any spanking as physical abuse. Within psychology, “the boundary of neglect is indistinct,” Haslam writes. “As a consequence, the concept of neglect can become over-inclusive, identifying behavior as negligent that is substantially milder or more subtle than other forms of abuse. This is not to deny that some forms of neglect are profoundly damaging, merely to argue that the concept’s boundaries are sufficiently vague and elastic to encompass forms that are not severe.”

Students of philosophy will recall Aristotle’s belief that virtue is a mean state between extremes—for every virtue, there are corresponding vices of both deficiency and excess. That conceit could inform how a society conceives of abuse. Seeing nothing wrong with a parent who verbally berates, mocks, and frightens a 7-year-old, or fails to take her to the doctor, the dentist, or the schoolhouse, merely because there is no physical or sexual abuse, suggests a vice of deficiency.

On the other hand, consider a parent who screams at their 13-year-old in a moment of anger, “You’re behaving so selfishly that I’m ashamed to be your mother!” To construe that isolated incident in an otherwise loving home as emotional abuse would be a vice of excess, and if it led to the child’s removal by child protective services, or an overzealous psychologist convincing the child that they are a victim of abuse, it could harm all involved as surely as could a vice of deficiency.

What Counts As Bullying

How does an honor student engaged in the oldest student pastime, complaining to peers about a teacher, wind up suspended with a “cyberbullying” mark on her record?

“The concept of bullying has spread from its original meaning to encompass a wider range of phenomena,” Haslam writes. “It has expanded horizontally into online behavior, into adult workplaces, and into forms of social exclusion that do not directly target the victim with hurtful actions, as distinct from hurtful omissions.” (For example,being excluded from a group of friends is dubbed bullying.)

Bullying has expanded vertically, too.

“Behavior that is less extreme than prototypical bullying now falls within its bounds,” Haslam observes, adding, “in some circumstances bullying behavior need not be repeated or intentional, and it need not occur in the context of a power imbalance as traditionally conceived.” This “concept creep” might square with our intuitions if, say, a “bullying” college student posted, on one occasion, a “revenge porn” video of a powerful pop star a few years his elder who he dated in high school.

Yet the same “concept creep” produced this excess, as reported by the New York Times:

Katherine Evans said she was frustrated with her English teacher for ignoring her pleas for help with assignments and a brusque reproach when she missed class to attend a school blood drive. So Ms. Evans, who was then a high school senior and honor student, logged onto the networking site Facebook and wrote a rant against the teacher. “To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred,” she wrote. Her posting drew a handful of responses, some of which were in support of the teacher and critical of Ms. Evans. “Whatever your reasons for hating her are, they’re probably very immature,” a former student of Ms. Phelps wrote in her defense.

A few days later, Ms. Evans removed the post from her Facebook page and went about the business of preparing for graduation and studying journalism in the fall. But two months after her online venting, Ms. Evans was called into the principal’s office and was told she was being suspended for “cyberbullying,” a blemish on her record that she said she feared could keep her from getting into graduate schools or landing her dream job.

One rant, reasonably mild, one time, by a teen against an adult in a position of authority. By this low standard, I’ve been “cyberbullied” over Twitter and email most days.

Expanded Notions of Trauma

Trauma originally referred to a physical injury to the body. In bygone wars, many who experienced what World War I soldiers called “shell shock,” and what is now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, were denied sympathy, care and treatment for their condition.

Thanks to “concept creep,” today’s veterans are treated better. Meanwhile, the concept of trauma generally, and PTSD particularly, is expanding to include lesser harms.

Haslam writes:

In recent years, trauma theorists and practitioners have proposed including childbirth, sexual harassment, infidelity, and emotional losses such as abandonment by a spouse or loss or a sudden move or loss of home within that range. These extensions are sometimes justified empirically by research showing that these events can precipitate PTSD symptoms (e.g., Carlson, Smith, & Dalenberg, 2013). Nevertheless, they represent a lowering of the threshold of severity for traumatic events.

A recent definition of trauma produced by the U.S. Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration exemplifies this lowering:

Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

This definition abandons most of the restrictive elements of DSM’s Criterion A.

A traumatic event need not be a discrete event, need not involve serious threats to life or limb, need not be outside normal experience, need not be likely to create marked distress in almost everyone, and need not even produce marked distress in the traumatized person, who must merely experience it as “harmful.” Under this definition the concept of trauma is rendered much broader and more subjective than it was even three decades ago.

Indeed, by the government’s definition, a Wellesley student who saw that statue of a man in his underwear, perceived the event as “emotionally threatening” and experienced “lasting adverse effects” on her “spiritual well-being” is a trauma victim. Since the same designation also encompasses victims of torture and brutal sexual assaults, and people who experience adverse effects as extreme as suicide, an inevitable effect of this “concept creep” is to leave us without language to distinguish classic trauma, even though isolating such cases might be useful or necessary.

Mental Disorder And Its Treatment

Creep in the concept of “mental disorder” has been much debated in elementary education. Are boys displaying normal restlessness in school classrooms being diagnosed with attention-deficit disorders and medicated so that they’re more sedate for teachers?

“Ordinary vicissitudes of childhood now find shelter under the umbrella concept of mental disorder,” Haslam writes, and with regard to the whole range of mental disorders, “recent editions of DSM sometimes loosen the criteria for determining where normality ends and mental disorder begins. This quantitative easing allows milder, less disabling psychological phenomena to qualify as disordered. Sometimes this relaxation of criteria takes the form of recognizing less severe ‘spectrum’ conditions, as with cyclothymia, a less impairing variant of bipolar disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome, a less impairing variant of autistic disorder, which has recently been reincorporated in the latter diagnosis, thereby vertically expanding it.”

Once again, alongside potential benefits of “concept creep” are significant pitfalls. Haslam worries, “By misrepresenting normal sadness, worry, and fear as mental disorders, the mental health professions overmedicate, exaggerate the population prevalence of disorder, and deflect resources away from more severe conditions.”

These trends within psychology have influenced the larger culture, and in doing so have raised another concern about “concept creep.” There are suffering people in the world for whom emotional-support animals really do prove vital companions. But the new ethic of never questioning anyone’s subjective assessment of their own psychological needs, in combination with a surfeit of people willing to game any system that allows (say) a beloved pet to accompany them, is unsustainable.

This was best illustrated by Patricia Marx, who wrote in the New Yorker about her successful attempt to get “an emotional support turtle” into a fancy Upper East Side art museum.

She succeeded in part because she had a letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

RE: Patricia Marx

Ms. Marx has been evaluated for and diagnosed with a mental health disorder as defined in the DSM-5. Her psychological condition affects daily life activities, ability to cope, and maintenance of psychological stability.

It also can influence her physical status.

Ms. Marx has a turtle that provides significant emotional support, and ameliorates the severity of symptoms that affect her daily ability to fulfill her responsibilities and goals. Without the companionship, support, and care-taking activities of her turtle, her mental health and daily living activities are compromised. In my opinion, it is a necessary component of treatment to foster improved psychological adjustment, support functional living activities, her well being, productivity in work and home responsibilities, and amelioration of the severity of psychological issues she experiences in some specific situations to have an Emotional Support Animal (ESA).

She has registered her pet with the Emotional Support Animal Registration of America. This letter further supports her pet as an ESA, which entitles her to the rights and benefits legitimized by the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It allows exceptions to housing, and transportation services that otherwise would limit her from being able to be accompanied by her emotional support animal.

The backlash to America’s “ever-increasing sensitivity to harm” is about a lot of diffuse, sometimes contradictory things, but it is partly about an aversion to being scammed.

Changing Views of Prejudice

Prejudice is perhaps the most controversial subject that Haslam tackles, tracing its evolution in the field of social psychology. Classically, “the prejudiced person holds hostile attitudes toward members of an outgroup.” Is that definition sufficient?

He writes:

Early social psychological researchers began with an understanding of prejudice as blatant bigotry, examining endorsement of hostile and derogatory statements about African Americans, Jews, and others. However, as rates of endorsement of these statements began to wane later in the 20th century, the understanding of prejudice was broadened.

McConaghy (1986) drew a distinction between “old-fashioned” racism, exemplified by endorsement of explicit bigotry, and a subtler and more prevalent “modern” racism. Modern racists, like so-called “symbolic” racists (Sears, Henry, & Kosterman, 2000), do not endorse direct hostility to traditional targets of prejudice but instead denied the continuing existence of racism and expressed opposition to affirmative action policies. It was possible to score high on a questionnaire measure of modern racism, and later sexism, without agreeing with any derogatory evaluations of the target group. Nevertheless, such scores were taken to indicate prejudice because they were conceptualized as revealing tacit negative evaluations and were associated with other indicators of prejudice, such as discriminatory behavior.

Within academia, “concept creep” expanded what counted as prejudice “from direct, expressed antipathy…to inferred antipathy,” and then the concept was expanded in two more ways. “The concept of aversive prejudice (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004) applies to liberally minded people who deny personal prejudice but hold aversions, sometimes unconscious, to other-race people,” Haslam writes. “These aversions are not based on hostile antipathy but on fear, unease, or discomfort.” And the idea of implicit bias—that subconscious attitudes and beliefs could shape actions—entrenched the notion that prejudice included negative racial sentiments held by people even if they were unaware of harboring them.

In yet another evolution, prejudice was no longer restricted to negative group evaluations. “The concept of benevolent sexism (Glick & Fiske, 1996) extended prejudice to include group evaluations that were at least superficially warm and positive,” Haslam writes. “Benevolent sexists idealize women as pure creatures who are too delicate and morally superior to inhabit the hurly-burly public world of men.”

And the concept of prejudice as understood in the academy would not be complete without mentioning the rise of the controversial microaggressions framework:

…some research implies that prejudice exists at least in part in the eyes of the target. Research on microaggressions (Sue et al., 2007), for example, takes the target’s perceptions of prejudice as clear evidence of its existence: If a target perceives a slight as evidence of prejudice, then it is taken as such, even if the slight is ambiguous and its author denies it.

Of course, many prejudiced acts are unambiguous, target perceptions may tend to be accurate, and denials of prejudice are frequently not credible.

Nevertheless, to count perceived discrimination and ambiguous microaggressions as unqualified instances of prejudice is to subjectivize the concept. In addition to this subjectivity, the concept of microaggression extends the concept of prejudice by encompassing acts of omission and phenomena that reflect anxiety rather than hostility.

Proposed examples include the faltering speech, trembling voice, and mispronunciation of words by anxious White therapists discussing racial issues with minority clients, and “the sheer exclusion of decorations or literature that represents various racial groups” in environments that they inhabit.

The scholarship behind each step traced above has generated too much debate to summarize let alone engage here. But it seems reasonable to presume that, as in every other realm, “concept creep” around prejudice includes both salutary improvements in understanding and expansions that could be perilously excessive.

What strikes me, considering controversies I write about within this framework, is that the “vertical creep” of prejudice isn’t necessarily the core reason people are at loggerheads.

Large majorities in America believe that there should be a powerful stigma against prejudice, as classically defined. If you’re overtly hostile to members of a racial or ethnic group, I don’t want you in my home or working for my company or living next door. Like most people I know, there is no group for whom I feel more aversion than racists and few political causes that I feel as strongly about as opposing prejudice.

Nor do I object to the academics who study lesser kinds of prejudice.

It’s useful to understand and study the fact that there are people “who deny personal prejudice but hold aversions … not based on hostile antipathy but on fear, unease, or discomfort.” I think that phenomenon is damaging and worthy of remedy.

I’m grateful for the scholars who are studying implicit bias, too.

But it seems like there ought to be clearly distinguishable words and concepts for klansmen and demagogues who deliberately stoke racial anxieties, on the one hand, and college students who take a test that suggests that they have mild, negative associations about a racial group, without harboring any animosity toward people in that group, acting badly toward any members of that group, or advocating for anything but full equality on the other. Those college students may be labeled “prejudiced” or “racist,” but few people will be inclined to exclude them from their homes or their workplaces.

When social-justice progressives on college campuses call for peers to be punished, socially or administratively, for “microaggressions,” like saying the word “fútbol” instead of soccer, or donning a tiny sombrero at a tequila party, or chalking Trump 2016 on a sidewalk, I wonder if part of what’s going on is that the punishment-seekers are saying, “That’s prejudiced” or “That’s racist,” and meaning, “That’s racist, the category that we all agree should be maximally stigmatized.” Whereas their critics reply, “No, that isn’t racist,” or “You’re wrong,” meaning not that the behavior at issue is or isn’t coherently objectionable in a way worth interrogating, but that, “Right or wrong, that behavior clearly doesn’t fall into the category of things that should, almost all of us have agreed, be maximally stigmatized.”

In this telling, “concept creep” exacerbates failures to communicate.

When a concept is stretched to include “milder, subtler, or less extreme phenomena than those to which they referred at an earlier time,” any earlier judgment or consensus about how best to respond to that concept no longer applies.

Why Are So Many Concepts Creeping In the Same Direction?

Concept creep is inevitable and vital if society is to make good use of new information. But why has the direction of concept creep, across so many different concepts, trended toward greater sensitivity to harm as opposed to lesser sensitivity?

Haslam endorses two theories.

One concerns the field of psychology and its incentives. “It could be argued that just as successful species increase their territory, invading and adapting to new habitats, successful concepts and disciplines also expand their range into new semantic niches,” he theorizes. “Concepts that successfully attract the attention of researchers and practitioners are more likely to be applied in new ways and new contexts than those that do not.” The other theory posits an ideological explanation. “Psychology has played a role in the liberal agenda of sensitivity to harm and responsiveness to the harmed,” he writes “and its increased focus on negative phenomena—harms such as abuse, addiction, bullying, mental disorder, prejudice, and trauma—has been symptomatic of the success of that social agenda.”

A third theory occurs to me.

Consider criminality, bullying, and racism. As fights against crime or bullying or racism intensify, crooks, bullies and racists try to hide their misdeeds; enforcers react—if a thief starts “innocently forgetting to pay,” a crackdown on the tactic is needed; if a bully starts kicking his victim under the table rather than punching him in the face, a definition of bullying as “open aggression” is shown to be flawed and insufficient; if racists no longer use racial slurs in public, but persist in using dog whistles, the latter are stigmatized. But efforts to encompass covert bad behavior tend to target increasingly minor acts, and more alarmingly, to rely on opaque or subjective assessments that capture some non-crooks, non-racists, and non-bullies. More innocents are thus searched or arrested or dubbed racists or bullies.

Invariably, this triggers a backlash and an ensuing debate that is muddled in a particular way. When critics of the criminal-justice system or progressive anti-racism suggest that society is now punishing some people wrongly or too severely, defenders of the status quo accuse them of acting as apologists for criminals or racists. The core of disagreement actually concerns whether concept creep has gone too far.

Jonathan Haidt, who believes it has gone too far, offers a fourth theory. “If an increasingly left-leaning academy is staffed by people who are increasingly hostile to conservatives, then we can expect that their concepts will shift, via motivated scholarship, in ways that will help them and their allies (e.g., university administrators) to prosecute and condemn conservatives,” he writes. “We can expect academic concepts to ‘creep’ in ways that increase the number of victims and the damages those victims suffer, and in ways that make it ever harder for anyone to defend themselves against ugly moral charges. Such politically motivated scholarship may sometimes originate in humanities departments rather than in psychology, but it draws heavily on psychological concepts and research, and it feeds back into the six streams of creeping psychological research that Haslam reviewed.”

For liberals who are skeptical of that explanation, he adds:

Suppose that the FBI was traditionally a right-leaning organization, like most law enforcement organizations. Suppose conservatives outnumbered liberals by about three to one from its founding in 1908 through the 1990s.

But suppose that during the administration of George W. Bush the agency began to lean much further to the right. After the 9/11 attacks, the agency’s culture became extremely hostile to liberals and Democrats, who were widely associated with the gravest threats to the nation. By 2012 the ratio of conservatives to liberals was fourteen to one. Do you suppose this transformation might affect the way the FBI did its job, or would you trust the agency’s professionalism to keep politics out of law enforcement?

Might the agency shift its resources toward conservative priorities, such as fighting terrorism and moral decay, while ignoring liberal priorities such as abortion clinic bombings, civil rights infringements, and environmental crimes? And might we begin to see law enforcement concepts creeping to the right, such that more and more citizens fall under suspicion of entitlement cheating, abetting illegal immigration, or subverting American values? Perhaps we’d even see the creation of brand new legal concepts such as “micro-treasons,” defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward the United States of America.”

The Harms of Excessive Concept Creep

Concept creep “broadens moral concern in a way that aligns with a liberal social agenda by defining new kinds of experience as harming and new classes of people as harmed,” Haslam writes, “and it identifies these people as needful of care and protection. As an expansion of the moral circle into new and milder forms of harm, concept creep might appear to be an entirely beneficial sign of moral progress. It defines previously tolerated forms of abusive, domineering, and discriminatory behavior as problematic, and extends professional care to people who experience adversity.”

However, he adds,  there are many reasons to be concerned about excessive sensitivity to harm:

  • “by applying concepts of abuse, bullying, and trauma to less severe and clearly defined actions and events, and by increasingly including subjective elements into them, concept creep may release a flood of unjustified accusations and litigation, as well as excessive and disproportionate enforcement regimes.”
  • “…concept creep can produce a kind of semantic dilution. If a concept expands to encompass less extreme phenomena… then its prototypical meaning is likely to shift… If trauma, for example, ceases to refer exclusively to terrifying events that are outside normal human experience, and is applied to less severe and more prevalent stresses, it will come to be seen in a more benign light.”
  • “…by increasing the range of people who are defined as moral patients—people worthy of moral concern, based on their perceived capacity to suffer and be harmed—it risks reducing the range of people who see themselves as capable of moral agency.” There is a tendency “for more and more people to see themselves as victims who are defined by their suffering, vulnerability, and innocence…The flip-side of this expanding sense of victimhood would be a typecast assortment of moral villains: abusers, bullies, bigots, and traumatizers.”
  • Expanding mental disorder “can pathologize normal experiences, generate over-diagnosis and over-treatment, and engender a sense of diminished agency.”

While Haslam and Haidt appear to have meaningfully different beliefs about why concept creep arose within academic psychology and spread throughout society, they were in sufficient agreement about its dangers to co-author a Guardian op-ed on the subject.

It focuses on how greater sensitivity to harm has affected college campuses.

“Of course young people need to be protected from some kinds of harm, but overprotection is harmful, too, for it causes fragility and hinders the development of resilience,” they wrote. “As Nasim Taleb pointed out in his book Antifragile, muscles need resistance to develop, bones need stress and shock to strengthen and the growing immune system needs to be exposed to pathogens in order to function. Similarly, he noted, children are by nature anti-fragile – they get stronger when they learn to recover from setbacks, failures and challenges to their cherished ideas.”

They continued:

A university that tries to protect students from words, ideas, and graffiti that they find unpleasant or even disgusting is doing them no favors. It is setting them up for greater suffering and failure when they leave the university and enter the workplace. Tragically, the very students who most need the strength to face later discrimination are the ones rendered weakest by victimhood culture on campus.

The unrest on university campuses has not just been caused by creeping concepts. Black and Muslim students, in particular, must endure ignorant questions and other indignities that other students rarely face. Diversity is difficult, and more must be done to make all feel welcome on campus. But universities should be careful not encourage victimhood culture, looping effects and greater fragility.

While I agree with the potential harms identified by Haslam and Haidt, I am less inclined than they are to see concept creep and increased, sometimes excessive sensitivity to harm as exclusively liberal phenomena. Within U.S. police departments, there are many examples of creep in what constitutes probable cause, as illustrated by the thousands of black and brown men thrown against walls and frisked in New York City after cops said that they made “furtive movements.”

Unlike postal employees and meter readers, police officers fearing harm from dogs kill them by the hundreds or perhaps thousands every year in what the DOJ calls an epidemic.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration and many Americans grew increasingly sensitive to harms, real and imagined, from terrorism. Bill Maher was fired from his show, Politically Incorrect, for saying that the al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the suicide mission were not cowardly. Dick Cheney declared, “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.” The invasion of Iraq was predicated, in part, on the idea that 9/11 “changed everything,” and that America could no longer afford to contain Saddam Hussein. The drone war illustrates creep in what is said to constitute an “imminent” threat.

Before 9/11, the notion of torturing prisoners was verboten. After the Bush Administration’s torture was made public, popular debate focused on mythical “ticking time bomb” scenarios, in which a whole city would be obliterated but for torture. Now Donald Trump suggests that torture should be used more generally against terrorists. Torture is, as well, an instance in which people within the field of psychology pushed concept creep in the direction of less sensitivity to harm, as the profession became complicit in the Bush Administration’s effort to get away with “enhanced interrogations.”

Concept creep can be necessary or needless. It can align concepts more or less closely with underlying realities. It can change society for better or worse. Yet many who push for more sensitivy to harm seem unaware of how oversensitivty can do harm. The insight that concept creep spurs progress and problems alike is important, especially for those averse to doing harm in the name of sensitivity to harm. If you’ve got dissents or insights to add on this subject, email conor@theatlantic.com

 

College students are hostile toward free speech

www.washingtonpost.com | Catherine Rampell

A chilling study shows how hostile college students are toward free speech

Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants “safe spaces,” or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech.

Just ask college students. A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”

That’s one finding from a disturbing new survey of students conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor.

In August, motivated by concerns about the “narrowing window of permissible topics” for discussion on campuses, Villasenor conducted a nationwide survey of 1,500 undergraduate students at four-year colleges. Financial support for the survey was provided by the Charles Koch Foundation, which Villasenor said had no involvement in designing, administering or analyzing the questionnaire; as of this writing, the foundation had also not seen his results.

Many of Villasenor’s questions were designed to gauge students’ understanding of the First Amendment. Colleges, after all, pay a lot of lip service to “freedom of speech,” despite high-profile examples of civil-liberty-squelching on campus. The survey suggests that this might not be due to hypocrisy so much as a misunderstanding of what the First Amendment actually entails.

For example, when students were asked whether the First Amendment protects “hate speech,” 4 in 10 said no. This is, of course, incorrect. Speech promoting hatred — or at least, speech perceived as promoting hatred — may be abhorrent, but it is nonetheless constitutionally protected.


Results based on online survey of 1,500 undergraduate students at U.S. four-year colleges and universities, all U.S. citizens, conducted Aug. 17-31. For a confidence level of 95 percent, the margin of error is between approximately 2 percent and 6 percent, depending on the group.

There were no statistically significant differences in response to this question based on political affiliation. But there were significant differences by gender: Women are more likely than men to believe hate speech is not constitutionally protected (49 percent vs. 38 percent, respectively).

Students were asked whether the First Amendment requires that an offensive speaker at a public university be matched with one with an opposing view. Here, 6 in 10 (mistakenly) said that, yes, the First Amendment requires balance.

The most chilling findings, however, involved how students think repugnant speech should be dealt with.

Villasenor offered a hypothetical that may sound familiar to those who recall recent fracases at California State University at Los AngelesMiddlebury College Claremont McKenna College and other institutions:

Let’s say a public university hosts a “very controversial speaker,” one “known for making offensive and hurtful statements.” Would it be acceptable for a student group to disrupt the speech “by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker”?


Results based on online survey of 1,500 undergraduate students at U.S. four-year colleges and universities, all U.S. citizens, conducted Aug. 17-31. For a confidence level of 95 percent, the margin of error is between approximately 2 percent and 6 percent, depending on the group.

Astonishingly, half said that snuffing out upsetting speech — rather than, presumably, rebutting or even ignoring it — would be appropriate. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to find this response acceptable (62 percent to 39 percent), and men were more likely than women (57 percent to 47 percent). Even so, sizable shares of all groups agreed.

It gets even worse.

Respondents were also asked if it would be acceptable for a student group to use violence to prevent that same controversial speaker from talking. Here, 19 percent said yes.


Results based on online survey of 1,500 undergraduate students at U.S. four-year colleges and universities, all U.S. citizens, conducted Aug. 17-31. For a confidence level of 95 percent, the margin of error is between approximately 2 percent and 6 percent, depending on the group.

There were no statistically significant differences in response by political party affiliation. Men, however, were three times as likely as women to endorse using physical force to silence controversial views (30 percent of men vs. 10 percent of women).

None of this bodes well for the alt-right’s Berkeley Free Speech Week events next week.

Judging from the lineup — which includes professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich — the apparent goal of this event is not to help students face hard truths or grapple with thoughtful conservative viewpoints. It’s to say disgusting things in an attempt to provoke liberals into doing something stupid, surrendering any claim to moral high ground. If that happens, President Trump’s “both sides” comments will ring a little truer, while liberals and colleges are further cemented as whataboutist bogeymen for the right.

In truth, lefties can do more to call out threats to civil liberties perpetrated by their ideological allies. And colleges can do more to promote freer debate. But many of Villasenor’s results — like those from other data sources — show that the right is also astonishingly open to shutting down speech.

What’s more, colleges alone are not to blame for these findings. Other data suggest that freshmen are arriving on campus with more intolerant attitudes toward free speech than their predecessors did, and that Americans of all ages have become strikingly hostile toward basic civil and political liberties.

Colleges provide a crucible for America’s increasingly strained attitudes toward free discourse. But they are just the canaries in the coal mine.

The Myth of Moral Equivalence

imprimis.hillsdale.edu |

Harold Lasswell, a rather unlikely source for an argument against the doctrine of moral equivalence, said in his book, World Politics and Personal Insecurity:

The object of revolution, like war, is to attain coercive predominance over the enemy as a means of working one’s will with him. Revolutionary propaganda selects symbols which are calculated to detach the affections of the masses from the existing symbols of authority and to attach their affections to challenging symbols and to direct hostilities toward existing symbols of authority.

He went on to say that constituted authorities perpetuate themselves by shaping the conscience of those who fall within their sphere of control. Hence, great revolutions are always deep ruptures of conscience. We are living today in a revolutionary era in which the force which purports to be the great world revolution of our times, Marxist/Leninism, seeks, by a variety of means, including skillful semantic manipulations, to extend its own hegemony.

The Soviets have made extraordinarily great progress in extending their own influence and projecting their own semantic rules upon the rest of the world. There was a time when an educated person found it persuasive to see important differences between the conceptions of civilization embodied, for example, in the U.S. Constitution or the British Constitution or the United Nations Charter, on the one hand, and the conception of civilization embodied in the theory and practice of the Soviet Constitution in any of its multiple mutations, on the other. And the conception of a bipolar political world has been similarly replaced by a prevalent worldview which rests on the belief that the world is in the grip of a contest between two superpowers. These superpowers contend for dominance and resemble one another in key respects. This image of moral and political symmetry has gained a wide acceptance not only in the Third World, but also among our allies and ourselves. Of my own statements about the false nature of this image, a colleague has said, “She talks about the moral differences between the superpowers, and when we fail to find any moral difference between Afghanistan and Grenada she makes it clear that we are dimwitted.” I believe that anyone who fails to see a difference between Grenada and Afghanistan is not only seriously mistaken but very seriously confused, and that their confusion is a direct consequence of the Soviets’ colossally effective assault on the realms of value and meaning which our civilization holds dear.

That assault has, it must be underscored, had many successes. In the speech which I delivered at Chatham House in London in 1984 on moral equivalence, the question was, “Is there a moral difference between the superpowers?” I quoted a number of English commentators on the United States and I did not name them. That was a demonstration of both restraint and diplomacy on my part. While a Washington Post columnist suggested that I had outdone myself in finding esoteric figures to quote to make my point, I can assure you that the persons whom I quoted were anything but esoteric. They are leading representatives of the major parties of our perhaps closest friend and ally, the United Kingdom. One of those persons, who will remain nameless here (I called him simply, an MP), asserted that there was an uncanny resemblance between the superpowers. Another charged that if governments assign to themselves the right to change the governments of other sovereign states, there can be no peace in this world and that this is perhaps the most dangerous age which the human race has ever known. And, he said, it is quite improper for honorable members to condemn, as we have, the violation of international law by the Soviet Union in its attack on Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan if we do not apply the same standards to the United States’ attack on Grenada. In a recent debate at Oxford our Secretary of Defense barely won. He squeaked through to a victory on the question of whether there is a moral difference between the superpowers. In another debate Congressman Newt Gingrich, comporting himself brilliantly, lost on the question of whether U.S. policy in Central America was consistent with the moral values and traditions of Western civilization. He lost that debate, of course, to a Nicaraguan government official.

To destroy a society it is first necessary to delegitimize its basic institutions so as to detach the identifications and affections of its citizens from the institutions and authorities of the society marked for destruction. This delegitimization may be achieved by attacking a society’s practices in terms of its own deeply held values, or it may be achieved by attacking the values themselves. The latter course was undertaken by the fascists and Nazi movements which rejected outright the basic values of Western liberal democratic civilization. They rejected democracy, liberty, equality, and forthrightly, frankly, embraced principles of leadership, obedience and hierarchy as alternatives to the hated basic values of democracy. Unlike the fascists, Marxists, of course, do not attack our basic values forthrightly. Instead, they denounce our societies in terms of our own values. They do not postulate alternative values; they postulate a radical critique of our societies and institutions by expropriating our language, our values. Thus democracies are attacked as not truly democratic, because they cannot guarantee economic equality. The argument follows that this makes political equality impossible and in the absence of political equality, it has been asserted that there cannot be free elections or freedom of any sort. Or the absence of perfect political equality in an electoral system means that the elections are a fraud. Their point is that a regime whose practices systematically betray their basic values is obviously a failed regime. If our practices betray our own deepest values then we fail; we are a failed regime. If we pretend to hallow values which our practices do not perfectly achieve, then we are guilty of falsification. So we are both a failure and a fraud. Obviously, such a regime does not deserve the loyalty or affection of either its citizens or its friends. Thus, if the United States is a fraudulent, falsifying society which exploits its workers and subjugates all in a facade of democracy, then it is obviously not worthy of respect.

The Soviet assault on liberal democratic legitimacy involves a very complex, comprehensive, multifaceted strategy. First, it involves a demonstration of the failure of Western democracies to meet their own standards which are regarded as utopian measuring rods. Second, it proceeds by continuous falsification of Soviet practices and assertions of Soviet loyalty to basic Western values. At the same time that it is suggested that we do not respect our own values, it is claimed by the Soviets that they do. Our flaws are exaggerated, theirs are simply denied. Third, the conclusion is, of course, inexorably arrived at, that there is, at best, not a dime’s worth of difference between these two regimes.

Marxism incorporates, at the verbal level and the intellectual level, the values of liberal democracy in its assault on liberal democracy and this is precisely why it entraps so many Western intellectuals who are themselves serious liberal democrats. Thus the slightest restriction on, let’s say, the presumption of innocence of the accused is said to demonstrate the absence of the rule of law. The slightest failure of an electoral system demonstrates contempt for political equality. Any use of force in international affairs establishes the lawless character of the society. Now, it is a short step from having demonstrated that a country like the United States is not a law-abiding society to demonstrating that it is lost and that it is like any other lawless society. The Soviets can always claim “We are no worse than you. Even if we are a lawless society, you too are a lawless society, we are no worse than you.” This is the “logic” of the doctrine of moral equivalence.

If practices are measured by abstract, absolute standards, practices are always found wanting. The communists who criticize liberal democratic societies measure our practices by our standards and deny the relevance of their practices to judgments concerning the moral worth of our own society.

An alliance among democracies is based on shared ideals. The process of delegitimization is, therefore, an absolutely ideal instrument for undermining an alliance, as well as for undermining a government. The NATO alliance among democracies simply cannot survive a widespread conviction among its members that there is no difference between the superpowers. It is not necessary to demonstrate that the Soviet Union is flawed, or deplorable. To destroy the alliance, it is only necessary to deprive the citizens of democratic societies of a sense of shared moral purpose which underlies common identifications and common efforts.

When our democratic allies can see no difference between American and Soviet behavior, then obviously there is no moral basis for a continuing association. There may be grounds in wartime under extreme duress for democracies to ally themselves with countries which are morally reprehensible, but there cannot be, for democracies, adequate justification for long-range peacetime association. It’s perfectly clear that the tendency to self-debasement, self-denigration which has been so brilliantly commented upon by the French scholar Jean-Francois Revel and others recently is rooted in this practice of measuring Western democratic societies by utopian standards. There is simply no way that such measurements can result in anything but chronic, continuous self-debasement, self-criticism, and finally, self-disgust. The problem of dealing with this is complicated by the fact that the values in question are our own values. The response, of course, must be that it is not appropriate to judge actual social practices by utopian standards of political values. So, we must simultaneously affirm our values and accept their relevance to our practice while denying that they are the measuring rods that the Soviets claim they are. That is the challenge which confronts us, and is by no means an easy one.

Another major dimension of the Soviet assault on our values takes place through the systematic redefinition of the terms of political discourse. George Orwell, as usual, has said it very well in his Epilogue to 1984. He said the purpose of “Newspeak” was not only to provide a medium of expression for the worldview and mental habits proper to devotees of “Ingsoc,” but to make all other modes of thought impossible. A heretical thought would literally be unthinkable so far as it is dependent on words. The systematic redefinition of terms of political discourse is very far advanced, making it very difficult to think thoughts other than those indicated by the definition. In real life, nowhere is this clearer than in the concept of human rights. Human rights, enshrined as the purpose of the United Nations Charter and at the heart of the American and the Western democratic tradition, have been redefined in contemporary international discourse and utilized by the great human rights organizations in their new definitions.

According to their new definitions, human rights violations are failures of governments, vis-a-vis their citizens. Terrorist groups do not violate human rights in the current vernacular; only governments violate human rights. Thus the government of El Salvador is continually attacked for gross violations of human rights in responding to terrorist assault. Guerillas are not attacked for violations of human rights, although they may massacre half of the inhabitants of a hamlet, dragging them from their beds in the middle of the night. That is not a violation of human rights by definition: That is a protest of a national liberation movement. The guerillas, by definition, are a national liberation movement. National liberation movements do not violate human rights. They have their human rights violated. National liberation movements assault societies and when governments respond, they (the governments) are criticized vigorously as repressive and unethical. I once encountered in a public presentation the assertion from an earnest young man that the government of El Salvador was guilty of the murder of 50,000, and this was proof, obviously, of gross violations of human rights and a sufficient demonstration that the government of El Salvador was unworthy of U.S. support. The fact is, of course, that approximately 50,000 people have died in El Salvador as a consequence of a guerilla war. But the government is simultaneously held responsible for maintaining order, protecting its citizens, and for responding to violence, so it is responsible for all the deaths in the society.

The semantics of human rights and national liberation movements are extraordinary. It is necessary only to look at the sober discussions of human rights in such places as the Amnesty International Reports or the Helsinki Watch discussions to see that those organizations and most of the people who discuss the subject today are using skewed vocabulary which guarantees the outcome of the investigation by definition. The “newspeak” of human rights morally invalidates the governments by definition and morally exculpates the guerillas by definition. The theft of words like genocide and the language which appears in documents like the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Convention are other examples of systematic comprehensive effort at semantic rectification.

In the United Nations, of course, genocide is regularly charged against Israel and only Israel is regularly described as violating the Geneva Convention. Along with the terms go the documents in which the values are enshrined and codified. What further complicates this is the effort not only to redefine values but to eliminate any epistemological standard—any standard of proof—by which events might be objectively observed and through which we might have appeal to the double bind in which the semantic falsification puts us. Totalitarian ideologies, including Marxism, are inevitably, invariably, anti-empirical. Not only do they deny that there is any sort of objective truth, they deny effectively empirical verification and procedures of empirical verification because they make truth, and not only truth, but reality, dependent on power relations, i.e., truth and objective reality are ultimately defined in a totalitarian ideology by those people who hold power. There is an elaborate ideological justification for this, according to which only Marxists are capable of seeing through the layers of obfuscation with which the existing exploiting powers have shrouded reality. Only the bearers of the totalitarian ideology have the capacity to de-mystify and define reality.

The totalitarian ideology, of which Marxism is the supreme example in our times, makes truth a function of power which is finally enforced by terror. Truth and reality are continually readjusted to serve the purposes of power at any given time. This is the reason that in 1984, history is continually re-written. It isn’t just re-written once; it’s re-written on a daily basis. And it is re-written from week to week and year to year to fit the requirements of the moment. Words, relationships, and events are redefined, and reality becomes a sub-category of politics. There is, then, no appeal from the arbitrary definitions of the revolutionary ideology. The redefinition of reality in the United Nations is dramatic. The first and most memorable examples which I witnessed were the attacks (they are annual, I later discovered) of Andrei Gromyko on the United States for intervention in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and for destroying the possibilities for peace in Afghanistan. While that charge might not be too serious if it were uttered by someone in a position of less influence and power than Andrei Gromyko, it is very serious indeed when it is backed by the full power, in an organization like the United Nations, of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc. The charge that the United States is guilty of preventing peace in Afghanistan has now become a part of the negotiating position of the Soviet Union in which they suggest that the principle obstacle to the pacification of Afghanistan is American support for resistance forces in Afghanistan. That is an argument which one can hear in the United Nations anytime the question of Afghanistan is discussed. It is an argument which representatives of the mediators come and whisper quietly to us at the U.S. Mission or the State Department: Couldn’t we try harder to understand that perhaps the biggest obstacle for peace is American support for the resistance movement?

Conceptions of reality are continually manipulated as part of the process of redefinition. There are many examples, but none more blatant than in the case of Nicaragua where the first symbolic redefinition/theft took place in the appropriation of the name of Augusto Sandino. Actually, Sandino was a nationalist and a patriot who was explicitly hostile to communism and who broke with the Salvadoran communist leadership precisely on grounds that the communists could betray the nationalist character of the revolution that Sandino stood for. There is a colossal theft and redefinition in the very name Sandinista. It matters because the name of Sandino has great prestige; he is a great national symbol in Nicaragua, a symbol of independence. It is a theft which both falsifies and confuses—confuses the Nicaraguans initially and confuses international observers about whether this government is nationalist, the bearer of authentic nationalist aspirations, or whether it is something else.

Semantic obfuscation in Nicaragua also proceeds apace with regard to the Catholic Church. The Nicaraguan government is probably the first to attempt, systematically, to incorporate the symbols of Christianity into a comprehensive fashion into state ideology. The establishment of a “popular church,” a so-called parallel to the Catholic Church, is but one artifact of that effort to incorporate the symbols of Christianity. Most of the major rallies in Nicaragua today include the symbol of a soldier with his arms outstretched. It is a novel attempt to identify the Sandinista revolution with the cross. Christ is depicted on the cross and in the background there is a sort of shadow with its arms outstretched in the form of a cross. He is a guerilla with a rifle.

Along with this kind of redefinition, falsification, and utopianism goes something and that is a simply colossal historical denial, especially on the part of the Russians. Their systematic continuous denial of their own history and practices is epitomized by their denial of the Ukrainian famine, which was denied for decades successfully and is still denied today. The Ukrainian famine is a non-event in the view of Soviet interpreters of reality. But not only is the Ukrainian famine a non-event like the infamous Kaytn massacre in 1939, but the current shipment of arms from Nicaragua to El Salvador is a non-event as well. The experience of confronting a spokesman for the Nicaraguan government in a public arena and listening to him deny that the Nicaraguan government is engaged in the shipment and transshipment of arms in a deliberate attempt to destabilize the government of El Salvador is simply an extraordinary experience.

There is no more misleading concept abroad today than this concept of superpower rivalry and the concept of superpower equivalence. The concept of superpower rivalry is the first premise in a syllogism in which moral equivalence is the conclusion. Once you view the United States and the Soviet Union as contending for the world, you have already suggested a symmetry between their goals: to dominate the world.

The fact is, of course, that we do not seek to dominate the world. We do not seek colonies. We do, in fact, seek to foster a world of independent nations. But whenever anyone suggests that the world is dominated by superpower rivalries, they imply that we have some goal other than fostering and preserving a world of independent nations. Otherwise the concept of superpower rivalry makes no sense. But if there is only one power which seeks to undermine and subvert the independence of nations, then there is no question of superpower rivalry, and there isn’t even a question of a contest between the United States and that imperialistic power. There is a contest between the imperialistic power and all other countries who desire to preserve their independence.

The very notion of superpower rivalry undermines, at the epistemological level as well as the political level, the notion of a serious distinction between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and also undermines the reality of the opposition of Soviet goals to the goals of all independent nations and the desires of all independent nations. It is very important to understand that not only are questions of politics involved here, but also the most basic questions of morality and meaning. In a very interesting little book, Ethics of Rhetoric, Richard Weaver said, “It is the nature of the conscious life of man to revolve around some concept of value.” So true is this, Weaver added, that where the concept is withdrawn, the human being suffers an almost intolerable sense of loss. As our lives revolve around values, they also revolve around meaning and epistemological stability. We must recognize and defend a concept of meaning to which that concept of value is, of course, absolutely essential: a concept of epistemological stability, if you will, a concept of reality which is not, in fact, a function of power and does not shift from day to day to fit the political needs of a totalitarian group.

Everything you might want to know about the UK’s trade with the EU

fullfact.org | And when they say everything they mean everything…

Trade with the EU matters a lot, but slightly less than it used to

About 44% of UK exports in goods and services went to other countries in the EU in 2016—£240 billion out of £550 billion total exports.

That share was declining until 2013, when exports to other countries increased at a faster rate. Since then the share has held steady.

The EU’s share of the world economy has been declining too. In particular, the developing world has been growing faster than the developed world and is expected to continue doing so.

53% of our imports into the UK came from other countries in the EU in 2016. That proportion has fallen by a few percentage points over the past 16 years.

It’s sometimes argued that these statistics overstate the proportion of UK exports that go to the EU, because a lot of goods pass through ports like Rotterdam before being shipped to a final destination outside the EU.

Both the Office for National Statistics and the government’s review of our EU membership have concluded that it’s hard to quantify the extent of this ‘Rotterdam effect’ or establish whether it’s a serious problem for the statistics.

The ONS has estimated that it may account for around 2% of all exported goods and services to the EU.

Trade after we leave

Assuming the UK leaves the EU, the future rules on trade will depend on what kind of agreement, if any, the UK reaches with the EU after its departure. Trade in services will be particularly important, because about 80% of the UK economy comes from providing services.

The future trade rules on services for a country outside the EU are particularly difficult to predict. We’ve got more on this here.

After the UK leaves the EU we will still continue to trade with EU countries. The government wants to negotiate a new trade agreement to make that trade easier.

If no new trade deal is negotiated and trade took place under World Trade Organisation rules, we would have to pay tariffs and face other barriers to trade.

How much is UK-EU trade worth to each party?

There’s lots of different ways to look at how much UK-EU trade is worth to each party, and what that means for who will be most keen to agree on a post-Brexit trade deal .

The three main ways that are used are:

  • The value of trade to the UK and the rest of the EU—we exported about £230 billion worth of goods and services to the rest of the EU in 2015, according to UK data, while the rest of the EU exported somewhere around £290 billion to us. These figures differ if you use EU data. What this means is that the rest of the EU sells more to us than we sell to it.
  • What those exports are as a proportion of all exports—by this measure about 46% of the UK’s exports go to other EU countries, while somewhere between 8-17% of exports from other EU countries go to the UK (depending on how you measure it).
  • The value of that trade to the UK and other EU countries’ economies—exports to the rest of the EU are worth about 13% of the UK’s economy, and exports from other EU countries to the UK are worth about 3-4% of the value of those countries’ economies taken as a whole.

Now for the detail…

Other EU countries sell more to us than we sell to them

It’s often claimed that other EU countries sell more to us than we sell to them. Taking other EU countries as a bloc, that’s correct.

The rest of the EU sells about £60 billion more to us in goods and services than we sell to them, according to UK data—so the UK runs a “trade deficit” with the rest of the EU.

Exports of goods and services to other EU countries were worth £230 billion in 2015, while exports from the rest of the EU to the UK were worth about £290 billion.

Those figures differ if you look at EU data, and the Office for National Statistics told us that this is because EU countries collect data about services in different ways.

For example, EU data suggests goods and services exported from the rest of the EU to the UK could have valued up to £350 billion in 2015—higher than the £290 billion the UK data. Either way, the rest of the EU as a whole sells more to us than we sell to it, and that’s the case for the majority of EU countries.

Within that overall picture, there’s a lot of variation in the trade that each individual country does with us. Germany has the biggest trade deficit with us— in 2015 it sold about £25 billion more to us than we sold to it, according to UK data.

8% of EU exports go to the UK is one possible estimate

You might have heard the claim that only 8% of the EU’s exports go to the UK, compared to the well over 40% of UK exports that go to other EU countries.

Whether the 8% is correct depends on how you treat exports between EU countries. Looked at another way, you can get 17%.

About 8% of the EU’s goods and services exports to EU and non-EU countries went to the UK in 2014. That includes exports from EU countries to other EU countries, as well as to non-EU countries.

The other way to look at it is to say that what we’re really interested in is how important the UK would be to the EU’s trade with countries outside of the EU only, if it were to leave the EU. Looked at that way, about 17% of the EU’s goods and services exports to non-EU countries went to the UK in 2014, according to EU data.

The UK is the EU’s largest single export market for goods, but only just

It’s also often claimed that the UK is the EU’s largest single export market for goods.

That’s just about the case if you treat the UK as if it were not in the EU and focus on EU goods exports to non-EU countries. The UK is very slightly ahead of the USA, with 16.9% of EU exports going to the UK, compared to 16.5% going to the USA in 2015.

If you’re counting EU countries too then Germany receives the largest amount of goods exports from other EU countries.

It’s more complicated to work this out for services due to the variation between each country’s data.

UK-EU exports are a bigger part of the UK’s economy than the EU’s

Although fewer of our exports are now going to other EU countries, these exports are still just as important to our economy.

The £230 billion exports of goods and services to other EU countries were worth about 12% of the value of the British economy in 2015. It’s been at around 13-15% over the past decade.

Exports from the rest of the EU to the UK were worth about 3-4% of the size of the remaining EU’s economy in 2015. The exact number depends on whether you use the £290 billion figure from UK data, or £350 billion from EU data.

The sources we’ve used

As we’ve mentioned, the figures for trade vary depending on whether you look at UK data or data from other EU countries. If we used all the variations for every time we used a figure, we’re not convinced anyone would make it to the end of the article.

If you’re unclear which we’ve used when, we have used UK data whenever we have focused only on the UK’s exports or imports, and EU data where we focus only on the EU’s exports or imports. Where we make comparisons, we either use UK data only, or use both UK and EU data.

Correction 23 March 2017

We originally said in the first section of this article that:

“The European Commission itself says that “over the next ten to 15 years, 90% of world demand will be generated outside Europe”.”

While this was quoted from the Commission’s website, it has since been removed.

The Commission told us that this should have read: “90% of global economic growth by 2015 is expected to be generated outside Europe”, from a working document. This was based on IMF forecasts in 2012 for GDP growth worldwide up to 2015.

We’ve replaced this with the paragraph about the EU’s declining share of the world economy.