Sunday, 5 June 2016

Observing Taiwan's Nascent Totalitarians

Today I am staying home to do chores and run errands rather than make any new reservoir trips. A tidying up of the garage in particular is long overdue. Yesterday I had to make up an extra day of work due to the long weekend Dragon Boat Festival next week when I will have four days off (though the weather forecast is now looking bleak). At some point later this month I may also buy some additional furniture for the house, as Black & White has finally torn the old cream-coloured sofa. Having six dogs, but particularly Black & White, means that my sofas have a life expectancy of about two years before they must be replaced. The one I sit on myself is a red one that folds down so there is no back rest but more space for the dogs to lie on. I might buy another of these because it affords the dogs lots of space and it's relatively cheap.

Anyway, there have been several stories in the Taipei Times recently which I wanted to comment on and so now I have a little time...


First, there was this item from Friday's edition written by Chen Wei-han on a demand expressed by both conservationists and the new Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) that Taiwan's irrigation associations be nationalized and run by the government. The objection is that local farmers suffer water shortages because the irrigation associations sell irrigation water to industrial parks and factories...
"...The approval of irrigation associations is all it takes to use farm water for industrial purposes, and excessive water consumption by factories has led to water shortages. Environmental groups give full support to Su’s proposal so farms will no longer be robbed of water,” Taiwan Water Resources Conservation Union standing director Wu Li-hui (吳麗慧) said."
Yet what Wu Li-hui the conservationist and Chen Wei-han the alleged "journalist" do not say in this article is that the irrigation associations are run by delegates of the farmers themselves. So in theory the money made from the sale of the water should go back to the farmers. In which case it makes no sense to claim that farmers are being "robbed" of their water when they are the ones selling it via their irrigation associations. Now perhaps there is a complication whereby somehow the delegates who run the irrigation associations are receiving the money rather than the farmers they purport to represent, but if this is the case then it is conspicuously absent from the article.

If the farmers are themselves profiting from the sale of water to industrial users, then the real complaint cannot be the supposed plight of farmers. That leaves at least two possibilities, which dovetail with one another. First, the complaint is an environmental one; that agricultural use of water is preferable to industrial use of water. Second, the complaint is a bid for political power; that the irrigation associations should not be free to sell water if they wish, but should come under the heel of government with a different set of people - the conservationists no doubt - being the ones to decide whether and at what price water can be sold to industrial users. Although government control of the irrigation associations could ensure that more water is reserved for agricultural use, it is perhaps more likely that this will be a fig leaf to cover the expropriation of continued water sales with the conservationists profiting whilst claiming to be taking care of the environment. Either way, they must advertise their bullshit...
"The associations can sell water and groundwater because they have water rights, but it is not reasonable for them to profit by selling public resources while being outside of the government’s control, Wu said."
Wu simply assumes and asserts that water is a "public resource". But it isn't. It is a private resource to which the associations have the rights, as she herself admits. There is no more justification for claiming that water is a "public resource" than for claiming land is a "public resource". Yet both land and water are finite, just as almost every other resource is and as a result there must be some system of rationing or allocating water to different users. One way to achieve that is a market where certain people have private ownership over water resources, and then sell their water to organizations who then sell it on to end users (e.g. industrial or residential). Another system of rationing is via collective ownership with government distributing water to end users according to political criteria. What Wu is attempting to do is to claim the latter system be adopted without having to reason for it out in the open. Here is another activist making the same argument by force of mere assertion...
"Water is a public asset and should be managed by the government, but at present these groups can sell water and lease properties that were once irrigation channels, Huang said [Changhua Medical Alliance director Huang Chiu-feng (黃秋鳳) - ed]."
No it isn't a "public asset". Water is a private asset. The repeated refrain that water is a "public asset" is an attempt to deceive by directing attention away from the human work necessary to collect that water and prevent it from being taken away from us by nature. If I collect rainwater using a tub on the roof of my house, then that water is now mine. It is not a "public asset". Similarly, the irrigation associations who collect water by maintaining the infrastructure of irrigation canals, gates, small reservoir ponds and so on have a legitimate claim over that water since they used their own resources to perform the maintenance necessary to collect the water.

This is another warning; that another danger to Taiwanese freedom, in addition to that ghoulish regime in China, is Taiwan's home-grown collectivists ostensibly on the green side of Taiwan's politics.


Another story to grab my attention in the Taipei Times this week was the story about the Fu Jen Catholic University in Xinbei and the student protest against the curfews on female students...
"Fu Jen students said that female students are required to return to the dormitories by midnight, or they will receive a demerit barring them from participating in a draw for dormitory rooms the next semester and be required to perform two hours of chores for every half-hour they are late."
Personally, I think such curfews on girls staying out late are ridiculous, but then I am not a catholic. My own view is that young adults need freedom in order to both have fun and to learn to look after themselves. However, their club their rules and I would have thought that students attending a catholic university would not be shocked to discover that it was run by catholic nuns who think it proper to punish girls for staying out late at night. That's the whole point of it being a catholic university - that students develop in an environment that reflects catholic views and catholic values. Of course the students may not have chosen to attend Fu Jen university themselves, but were more likely pushed into it by their parents - which is one of two deeper problems here.

But the curfew itself - and the later lifting of it - is not what interests me about this story. Rather it is the arguments used by the students against the curfew.
"NCCU Wildfire Front member Lin Tsung-chih (林宗志) said the curfew is undemocratic and outdated... He said that gender equality is a universal value that should not be subordinated by the autonomy enjoyed by universities.He called on all college students to boycott universities that still implement curfews and the ministry to propose bills that would ensure gender equality on campus."
This is interesting because of the epistemological confusion of "gender equality" as a "universal" value; clearly, if it was indeed universal, then this whole controversy would not have arisen in the first place. It may simply be a translation error, but it occurs to me that it may be a tactic of sorts: to marginalize alternative and competing viewpoints by asserting one's preferred normative value in positivist terms as "universal", thus rendering any other viewpoint "beyond the pale".

There is a similar trend elsewhere in commentary about "human rights", whereby these "rights" are referred to as "universal" apparently in an attempt to elevate the premises from which they arise to an unspoken rhetorical status from which they will lie beyond questioning and examination. Of course the problem with the human rights convention is that the enumerated rights are not internally coherent, being a mixture of classical "negative" rights with modern "positive" rights, where the latter are really just an assortment of entitlements that necessarily infringe upon the former. Evading that reality may be what such rhetorical tricks are intended to accomplish.

Note also that Lin Tsung-chih was not satisfied with advocating that students leave and boycott universities that implemented a curfew (which is what I would have advised students to do), but he also advocated new legislation to render such curfews illegal. But such legislation would be an infringement on the private property rights of the university. Their university, their rules. In order to promote one supposed "human right" (gender equality), Lin Tsung-chih is happy to violate another (the right to private property - not over students, but over the university and its rules).


The third story to catch my eye was about discrimination under the gender equality act, which outlaws discrimination by employers against applicants on grounds of gender or sexuality.
"Chuan Lian was fined NT$300,000 because it refused to explain to a male job applicant, who told his interviewer that he identified as a woman, why he was not hired..."
He probably wasn't hired because either (a) the manager of the store felt personally uncomfortable in the presence of the applicant, or because (b) the manager felt that customers were likely to feel uncomfortable in his presence and thus to shop elsewhere. Or both. We don't know the answer, but it is worth pointing out that whilst the law punishes employers for such discrimination, it does not punish customers for potential discrimination. Personally, when I go to the supermarket I tend to discriminate against women on the checkout tills with nail polish. I just can't stand the sight of it, I find it revolting. I'll move to another check out till. I also tend to discriminate against male hairdressers when I want to get my hair cut - instead I'll go somewhere where I know there's a good chance of a beautiful girl cutting my hair rather than a man. I'm sure I'm not the only one who engages in what may seem like arbitrary discrimination, so there is a basic unfairness at work here in this legislation; punish the employer for discrimination, but not the customer.

Further, I don't see how the law could possibly attempt to stop such discriminatory behaviour on the part of customers, though I'm sure our new generation of nascent-totalitarians will eventually find a way.

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