As a subscriber to your magazine, I am concerned by the general trends evident in the statements made by a number of your contributors. For example, in the last issue Mr Wyant complained about “whinging leftists”, while Dr Welch claimed that “our own welfare state is a classic illustration of this problem” (i.e., assumed dependency).

While I understand that these and other similar views are the writers’ personal opinions, the general impression is that your organisation is biased towards the ideology of the “New Right”. Is this true and can you assure me that you have no links to political groups such as ACT?

M. Muir, Auckland

Diversity Reigns

From my experience at conferences and meetings of the Skeptics, I am reasonably assured that our organisation represents a diverse range of views, most of which tend to be volubly expressed.

Like all organisations, the main impression one may get of the Skeptics stems from the public face the organisation presents through the newsletter and through media commentary by our officers. Our diversity is celebrated even here, with Owen McShane (Skeptic editor) being an ACT supporter and Denis Dutton (the previous editor and our media spokesperson) being a founding supporter of Future New Zealand. As for the Chair-entity (yours truly), I remain skeptical of party politics and loath to vote along party lines, so will probably exercise my rights and responsibilities in becoming a McGillicuddy Serious list voter, in the belief that they, at least, will bring a little humour into the House.

Politically, NZCSICOP members as a whole range from traditional socialists to those I consider slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun, the major exception being a lack of ultra-orthodox politically correct adherents. It’s much the same as the religious/spiritual expressions in the society, which seem to lack only the true fundamentalists. I believe that both exceptions are a result of the tendency for the ideologies involved to discourage their followers from thinking critically. That (and a sense of humour) seem to be the only common factors amongst members of the Skeptics.

Vicki Hyde Chair-entity, NZCSICOP

NaCl PC?

“I believe that this data sheet [urging stringent precautions in the use of NaCl] does not represent a simple error of judgement but unfortunately reflects an ideology which holds that all ‘chemicals’ are bad…” — PC Chemistry in the Classroom, Skeptic 35.

Well, I’m still a skeptic. What is the evidence for this belief? How about a mistake? Ian Milner of Carina Laboratories (source of the original story) told me the precautions for a variety of chemicals are identical, and he thinks what looks like hyper-caution is just the result of “sloth”. After all, even the most airheaded New Ager has handled table salt in the home (before they saw the light and switched to kelp) without absurd precautions. For the life of me I can’t see how both the ideology that all “chemicals” are bad and the mainstream science that warns of global warming can both be “PC”. I find my thinking a lot clearer if I don’t use the wretched expression at all.

In his reply to my letter in the same issue, Owen McShane quotes me as saying there has been “a long and significant silence on the subject of plunder etc.” A glance at my letter will show I was referring to rape and plunder. Will Mr McShane deny that there has been a long and significant silence on the subject of rape? Or that there was a long silence about the plunder of Aotearoa/New Zealand from the Maori? Mr McShane gives a long list of notables who have “thundered against tyranny, slavery and despotism in all its forms.” Can we have chapter and verse from Aristotle, Epictetus (Who?), Aquinas or Plutarch against slavery? From any of them for equality of the sexes or against homophobia? I know that’s unreasonable, but he did say “all its forms.”

Mr McShane offers new unsupported allegations: that he might lose his job if he made a particular statement, that “US…universities now accept and even encourage so-called scholarship which seeks to rewrite history so as to deny that there are any good tales to be told.” History is always being rewritten as new facts come to light and earlier historians’ prejudices become clear, and in my limited understanding of history, its study is more than just the telling of “good” or bad “tales”. The University of Michigan’s Speech Code seems to have been intended to prevent abusive speech in the classroom. Is there something wrong with that? If it went beyond that brief, well, the court seems to have put it right. Mr McShane wants to rely on “tolerance, good manners and the normal standards of civilised behaviour”. So do I, but nowadays, whenever these are extended towards minorities more than they were in “the good old days”, the effect is derided as “Political Correctness” as a sneaky way of doing those minorities down without seeming to.

Hugh Young, Pukerua Bay

The Editor Replies

(About NaCl)

You are quite right; I was expressing no more than a personal belief, which is why I asked for some evidence from our readers, such as my suggested example that Sea Salt is regarded as more benign than NaCl.

The point regarding PC is also nicely made. It may be more accurate to propose that promoting chemophobia is Politically Correct, while criticising the science which warns of global warming is Politically Incorrect. (As our Minister of Science made clear when he attacked the “Centre for Independent Studies” for sponsoring the visit of Professor Lindzen, because it would confuse the public.)

(About rape and plunder)

I confess to reading Mr Young’s reference to “rape and plunder” in the sense of “pillage and plunder”. However sexual rape has been a crime through most of history even if some verses of the Old Testament seem to take a lenient view of it. In recent years the courts and legal system have taken a much more enlightened view of the reality of rape but this contemporary movement towards justice and equity began long before the current PC movement — I remember lively arguments in the late fifties. And I am sure earlier generations have made their own contributions.

Similarly I have been reading about the plunder of Aotearoa/ Maori for as long as I remember. Dick Scott wrote his Ask that Mountain — the Story of Parihaka twenty years ago in 1975, while Eric Schimmer’s symposium The Maori People in the Sixties (published in 1968) records King Tawhuai saying “Truly I am this day seeking wherein the Maori has been at fault. The Pakeha on the other hand has done one misdeed after another against the Maori. He, the Pakeha, has indeed made me suffer. Tomorrow will come his day of reckoning and great will surely be his distress.” There was never a silence. It’s just for many years there were no Maori lawyers to transform such thoughts into action.

I suspect that even Mr Young knows that I was not claiming that each and every one of these dead white (or tinted) males thundered against each and every form of tyranny. But in total they have. For example, Euripides thundered against rape, pillage and plunder in The Suppliant Women, The Trojan Women, Hecuba, and Andromache back in the sixth century BC. More recently, John Stewart Mill (with his wife Harriet) wrote On the Equality of Woman. Homophobia will surely be recorded as a curious and temporary aberration when considered against the total course of human history; hence many philosophers of the past never felt the need to thunder against something which they never experienced.

My point about the Michigan State University was that it should not take a district court to remind a University of its need to protect free speech.

Some red-necks might deride the extension of good manners towards minorities as Political Correctness. Such behaviour is as despicable as using such good intentions to cloak suppression of legitimate questioning and debate. We should put up with neither.

De Tocqueville made the point that the best intentioned reforms are often seized upon by others with less noble intent. I genuinely believe that if Mr Young and I were exposed to both expressions of political correctness we would find ourselves in agreement as to which were which.

Owen McShane, Editor

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