The young Misses Paine say that I am not a cynic, but a disappointed idealist. As I think to reach middle age without cynicism is the mark of a fool, I am not sure that's the compliment I hope they intend.
I was reminded of this last week when chatting to an Indian friend about the divided loyalties of those British citizens fighting in the Syrian civil war or, worse, against British forces in Afghanistan.
I mentioned administering the oath of allegiance to immigrants, as I did on quite a few occasions as a young lawyer in Nottingham. I commented that it was touching for me how happy they were at reaching the end of the naturalisation process. I always made a point of shaking their hands and welcoming them to citizenship. If anything, I was rather flattered that they had chosen to be British, as well as amused that they accomplished it by swearing an oath I was not sure - as a republican - I could take myself.
I mentioned two friends from Russian immigrant families who are far more stereotypically English than I am, having embraced their new nationality with vigour. If anything, they rather overdo it - resembling PG Wodehouse characters in their speech and demeanour.
I told the story of a Jewish friend whose grandfather had brought his family to London before the war as refugees from Nazism. He had almost missed his chance because he was such a patriot; a frontkämpfer in the First World War and holder of the Iron Cross. When the Nazis were elected he told his family "Germany is the most civilised nation on Earth and these clowns won't last for long". When he realised his mistake he fled in the nick of time and - in gratitude to the country that gave his family refuge - became just as patriotic an Englishman.
I also mentioned an American lady I had chatted to long ago in a London bar. I recognised her name as Polish (I was living in Warsaw at the time) and spoke a few words to her in that language. She responded, testily;
I assume that was Polish but I don't speak it. My father forbade us to learn it when we were young because he said we had chosen to become Americans and should not be half-hearted about it.
I said I was surprised at the time but that, on reflection, I thought her father was right. Any problems we had with some immigrants' divided loyalties were - I argued - our own fault for not expecting as much.
Finally, I mentioned that a Russian friend had suggested - after I had lived in his country for some years - that I should apply for citizenship. He offered to support my application. He was patriotic so it was really quite a compliment but I concluded fairly quickly that (economically attractive though the idea was) I was not fluent enough in Russian to pursue it. I felt I could not be a citizen in a country where I was unable to play my full part. Also, although Russians don't play cricket, I would have had to pass Norman Tebbit's test in my own mind. Much though I like Russia, I didn't think I could. For example, there were many things about life there that did not concern me because they simply did not feel like my business, whereas I was still profoundly engaged in British affairs.
My friend thought the Tebbit test "ridiculous" and said I expected too much of people changing citizenship. In terms that might have made a BNP member blush, she said she thought our immigrants are facultative Brits at best. They had moved here to improve their economic circumstances but not otherwise to change who they are. She did not even think that was possible; being unable to imagine that anyone - despite the examples I had given - would willingly turn their back on their family and culture.
This is the logic of multiculturalism; legally British but not in any way expected to change. Rather the host culture is to consider itself enriched by its new additions. I asked if those ex-Indians and ex-Pakistanis I had welcomed in my youth would have laughed at me behind my back. She some of them would have been touched by my naiveté, but none would have understood the decision they had made in the terms I imagined.
I am all for open borders in principle. A libertarian state would have no welfare programmes, so our only immigrants would be those looking to add value. American was carried from backwardness to economic leadership by wave upon wave of people who chose to be Americans - and not to be half-hearted about it. Multiculturalism may be a mistake but I have always been inclined to welcome immigrants who want to be British, regardless of their origins.
Is this one more way in which I must now move from idealist to cynic?
...I would be hammering The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and the BBC for bombarding me with nonsense about the late Pete Seeger's 'idealism'. Even his ideological chums over at the New Republic acknowledge he had been a Stalinist stooge.
He and his musical colleagues sang anti-war songs in 1939-41 because, in the Soviet Union, Stalin had decided that an alliance with the Nazis was a good idea; and the order to support Stalin had gone out to every Communist Party in the world; and Pete Seeger was, in those days, a good Communist. And so, he picked up his banjo and leaned into the microphone, and his vocal warblings and his banjo plunks were exactly what Stalin wanted to hear from Pete Seeger.
"In those days" Really?! In an interview in 1995 he said;
I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.
Of course he backed off a little in his enthusiasm for Uncle Joe Stalin. Gosh darn it, he even wrote a song;
I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe
He ruled with an iron hand
He put an end to the dreams
Of so many in every land
He had a chance to make
A brand new start for the human race
Instead he set it back
Right in the same nasty place
I got the Big Joe Blues
(Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast)
I got the Big Joe Blues
(Do this job, no questions asked)
I got the Big Joe Blues . . .
That was in 2007 so Seeger may have been the last to notice that Stalin "ruled with an iron hand". I was living in Russia at the time and - trust me - the news had been out there for a while. He may also have underestimated his ex-idol's achievements. The world before Stalin may have been a "nasty place", but the world after was not "the same nasty place". The nastiness bar had been raised. Maybe, if you are inclined to see totalitarian power as a chance to make "a brand new start", it's best not to look to you for moral judgement?
Mark Steyn, before Seeger's death, commented drily on Seeger's propensity to be on the side of anyone at war with America at the time, but to recant later.
I can't wait for his anti-Osama album circa 2078
Mr Steyn also pointed me to the concise dismissial of Pete Seeger by James Lileks;
"'If I Had A Hammer'? Well, what's stopping you? Go to the hardware store; they're about a buck-ninety, tops."
That's rather Tom Lehrer's point in the video above, of course; "Ready. Aim. Sing".
I also found a highly-critical article by one of Seeger's fellow-leftists;
Who the hell was Pete? He came from a distinguished family of musicians and academics afflicted with self-conscious class-consciousness; his father, Charles Louis Seeger, although from an old Puritan patrician line, joined the radical Industrial Workers of the World in the 1930s, a form of ostentatiously slumming solidarity that predicted much about his son's future. Pete was a professional musician from a young age, Harvard dropout, assistant to folk archivist Alan Lomax, and dedicated political activist. He knew everything about folk music, except what it is.
No rebel then, our Pete. He was as in mindless a thrall to his parents' ideology as the most conventional Tory of the Shires.
The biggest smile I got from the Seeger tributes today was at the Leftist New York Times leaping to his defence by claiming that he had criticised Stalin “at least as early” as 1993. It rather reminded me of the moment a Russian colleague was asked by a client to whom he had complained of "Western exaggeration" about Stalin how many he thought he had killed. When he answered "no more than a couple of hundred thousand", the client paused meaningfully before saying "so that's OK then?"
Trust me, I know idealism when I see it - not least because I am old enough to be painfully self-aware. Idealism was far down the list of Pete Seeger's problems - some way below his lousy voice, poor musicianship and spoiled rich kid leftism. Tom Lehrer was, if anything, far too kind.
The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, 'This isn't fair dealing,' my son, leave the Saxon alone.
You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears;
But don't try that game on the Saxon; you'll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They'll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.
For most of our history, the greatest threat to our liberty was the Crown and we looked to Parliament to defend us. It did so pretty robustly at times, defining the constitutionality of our monarchy by the practical method of killing a King who insisted on his Divine Right. The monarch having been firmly put in his box, we seem to have taken our eye off the ball. In the end our protector has oppressed us as even the Normans couldn't.
As a young man, I recall reading of a Conservative MP out canvassing being asked by an elector whether permission was needed to cut down a tree in his garden. The MP reacted angrily; "It's your bloody garden man! It's your bloody tree!! Why the hell are you asking me?!" Can you imagine a politician daring, in these days of invasive busybodies, to say such thing now? Our land is built upon as the state directs. Our homes are heated, lighted and our sewage flushed, as the state directs. However competent we may be, we are not to do our own electrical work, by order of the state.
Even those of us who take a particular interest in these matters have lost count of how many state employees (and not just those with responsibility for law enforcement or fire-fighting) have the right come into our homes without our consent or that of a judge. I was not permitted to put security blinds (common in Continental Europe) on the windows of my former house in Chester because the state thought it would make our area look as though it had a high crime rate (it did). My late wife had to worry when druggie louts who had already tried to break in were about, because our political masters wanted to massage reality for electoral advantage. And of course she could not have a firearm to defend herself if they succeeded in breaking in the next time.
Rennard's reputation is shot, but his four women accusers stand disbelieved, with their claims not "beyond reasonable doubt". With QC Alistair Webster's report being secret, all we are left with is the impression that one man's evidence seems to have carried more weight than four women complainants, sharia style.
In her latest post she makes some observations that raise concerns about this affair;
Nobody, in so far as I am aware, has ever been the subject of a libel action as a result of walking into a police station and asking that a possible crime be investigated. All the media’s claims that ‘draconian libel laws’ (they do love that adjective) prevented ‘Savile’s victims’ from ‘obtaining justice’ are total nonsense. What the libel laws did do was prevent the media from publishing stories without the sort of evidence that would stand up in a court of law.
Even more controversially, she asks this question;
The ‘accused’ fall into one of three categories; right wing comedians, disc jockeys and those who unwisely raised their heads above the parapet to comment on the Yewtree progress. Now the music business has since the 60s been a major employer of the black community – and yet they are strangely unrepresented in the crop of ‘he was a monster but I was too scared to speak out before’ arrests. What is it that unites them? Are we to believe that no left wing comic, or black disc jockey, or black musician come to that, has ever had any contact with a young girl that she feels in hindsight was abusive?
It may be rash of her to write it in modern Britain. She will now attract a different, larger, and more violent mob but does she not have a point?
I am not one for conspiracy theories. Most people are too incompetent to organise a conspiracy or, having pulled one off, to keep it secret. Yet is it really too cynical to suspect that, amid the genuine distress of real victims, the lies of the compensation-seekers and the histrionics of the attention-famished, some scores are being settled?
A reader commented years ago that he liked my blog because, although my posts were about politics, there was usually a moral dimension. I confess, though I hope I accepted his compliment graciously, I was puzzled. How, I remember thinking, can a discussion about human relations lack a moral dimension?
I was reminded of this thought when reading today's Guardian.
The front page lead is about the intended sale of NHS patient records from its snazzy new database. The NHS has written to all of us recently to say that all our records will be included unless (as I have) we contact our doctor to opt out. It didn't mention that it planned to sell them.
There is an intelligent discussion of the pros (medical advances will be easier) versus the cons (no way for the public to know who has access to their data or how it will be used). Yet nowhere is there a reference to what I would consider to the the key issue of ownership. We tell our doctors things to enable him or her to take care of us. I think most of us would think we still own that information. We would be shocked, for example if the doctor wrote an episode of House MD based upon our case. If indeed there is another use to which our data can be put, surely we should expect to be asked? If there is a commercial use to which it can be put, surely we should expect to be paid? To me, the story is about theft. Apparently that's not how The Guardian sees it.
Their next front page story is about the LibDem peer alleged (but not proven) to have been a sexual harasser. In this story, there is an atmosphere of much moral indignation, but very little real morality. Lord Rennard's 'allies' accuse the complainants of conspiring to damage his career, which is not entirely news. They are clearly of the opinion that his career deserves to be damaged because of his - as they see it - misconduct.
At least one of the complainants is threatening to leave the party if he is allowed to resume his duties. One of his anonymous 'allies' tries to point out that his advances were not threatening and suggests the complainants are making too much of a fuss. The Guardian's take on that observation is that it does Lord Rennard 'no favours'. Yet surely it is the moral crux of the case? Surely the reason why the LibDem enquiry has exonerated him is that there was no finding of sexual aggression?
A human who would like to have sex with another must - if it is to be consensual - at some point alert them to this desire. The other human then has an opportunity to respond. Different eras and cultures have had different mores as to how far beyond a nod and a wink such an expression can or should go. I am happy to report that in my time I have been on the receiving end of advances less subtle than those reported of the gauche Lord Rennard. Not every woman is an adept in these matters, especially when a little drunk.
The key issue, surely, is how a suitor responds to rejection? By all accounts Rennard - not exactly God's gift to the fairer sex, though clearly a fan - has always cheerfully taken 'no' for an answer. His technique seems to have essentially been that of a long-ago teenage friend of mine who asked every girl he met and reported a 1 in 20 success rate.
It cannot surely be the case that every sexual advance is a gamble with one's career and reputation? An advancee is entitled to say no, but is surely not entitled to be angry to have been asked? How is the human race to breed under such a regime? Again, the key moral issue is not addressed in a fog of faux indignation.
The third front page story seems to take a very high moral tone, but again it seems to me to be false. There is a flurry of loaded language about 'loopholes' that are 'exploited' and about 'leakage of tax revenues' but the only facts reported are that some international companies have asked that long-established laws to which they have adapted their businesses be not changed.
The paper writes of 'tax avoidance' throughout as if it were obviously a bad thing, without making any real distinction from tax evasion, which is criminal. There is no balancing statement of the perfectly reasonable opposing view that if one legal structure results in less tax than others, it's unjust for businesses not to be able to restructure to the favourable basis enjoyed by competitors. Nor is there anywhere a discussion of the perfectly respectable view that the best way to ensure a fair balance of tax obligations across society is for the laws to be simplified and the number of taxes reduced.
I could go on. Please feel free to read the Guardian's website and continue the examples yourself in the comments. Like so much else in our political debate, morality now seems to be a synthetic product of tribalism. Maybe what my kind reader meant was that my moral stances echoed his?
I love a good Ted talk even though most share the leftist bias of Western academia. This one was particularly interesting. Consider this finding, in particular;
A year after losing the use their legs and a year after winning the Lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives.
It seems shocking but is really just a confirmation of President Lincoln's wisdom that 'most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be'. This homely thought is revolutionary. If happiness is up to the individual, how can you justify the use of force to compel behaviours you think (by definition, wrongly) will make him or her happier?
The defectiveness of our pre-frontal cortex's 'experience simulator' when predicting 'hedonic impact' may explain why so many people buy lottery tickets despite being more likely to die in an accident on the way to the newsagent than to win. Perhaps the power of our 'experience simulator' may also explain why political debate changes so few minds?
For example, the NHS is - to me - clearly a life-threatening failure, yet a majority of Brits have synthesised such happiness around it they are convinced benighted foreigners live in miserable envy of its death factories. During the murderous, oppressive life of the Soviet Union, many of its citizens synthesised plenty of happiness too - and who can blame them? Yet how do we persuade people to support change if they are busy synthesising happiness around whatever outcome they are enjoying or enduring?
Consider also Professor Gilbert's conclusion that freedom of choice is the friend of 'natural happiness' but the enemy of the 'synthetic' variety. I would be worried about that, but perhaps I should just decide to be happy?
I am confused.