THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Previous month:
October 2008
Next month:
December 2008

November 2008

God save the mark...

The media are all over this story, understandably. Columnists and bloggers are opining right and left. To me, the most interesting aspect is that no-one can mention the BNP (even classical liberals or right-wingers who could not possibly be suspected of sympathy with that party's ultra-left command economy policies) without disassociating themselves. Every comment that BNP members have the right to hold and express their opinions is hastily followed by some piety like "...however odious those opinions are..." The phrases used are ritualistic. It rather reminds me of superstitious people averting the evil eye. It is not how free men should go  about their business.

250px-HorseshoeWhat are these people afraid of? Do they fear that some future political policeman will find a published record of sympathetic words for enemies of the state? Without even introducing formal censorship, has the left-liberal establishment succeeded in putting a chill on freedom of thought and expression? Surely not.  After all, no-one feels the need to utter ritual phrases when writing about people who have done more harm than the BNP will ever have chance to do; e.g. Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Guevara or Castro. For that matter, if I comment that a Communist or an Islamist is entitled to his opinions, I don't feel the need parenthetically to say that I think said opinions are evil and/or nonsensical. Freedom of speech is only really an issue when the opinions expressed are unorthodox or controversial. Your right to say "Nice day, isn't it?" was not much under threat even at freedom's lowest point in the great totalitarian regimes of the 20th Century.

In fairness, many have written in this context that it is wrong to punish people for holiding or expressing political opinions. Many have written that employers, public and private, have no right to set permitted parameters to their employees thoughts. I just want to be the first to say so (as I hereby do) without uttering the modern equivalent of "God save the mark!"

A libertarian view

Jane Galt–A Libertarian View « Beetle Blogger.

On the face of it, the linked post (referencing a rather elderly one, by a now-lapsed blogger) is about the fundamentally uninteresting (to me) question of "gay marriage." In truth, it is about the second most important law, which is that of unintended consequences. Reformers who tinker with long-established institutions often cause devastating changes, far more important than those they intended.

The piece was flagged up (off-topic) by "Libertarian Thought" in the comments to my last post. Normally I find such comments annoying, but in this case I am genuinely grateful. In particular, I enjoyed the following quotation from GK Chesterton;

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease.

Do please follow the link. It may make you think unaccustomed thoughts.

Cocaine kills the planet?

Cocaine users are destroying the rainforest - at 4m squared a gram | World news | The Guardian.

CocaAm I alone in reacting to this story with a smile? Not that I am pleased that the rainforest is being destroyed, you understand. I smiled at the thought that so many of the people doing the damage are the very urban Guardianistas who do such unremitting ideological damage to our society. The idea of the British Left being denied its recreational drugs because of "green guilt" is appealing and not merely because misery-mongers don't deserve any pleasures. Many of their wilder ideas in the last 11 years must surely have been conceived while high. Surely only cocaine could have given them the misplaced confidence in their abilities, which has been so devastating? After all traces of cocaine have regularly been found in lavatories off the corridors of power.

Being an optimist by nature, I briefly nurtured the hope that the Left without cocaine might be less of a threat; that it might even return to its former ineffectual, beer-addled tedium. Then the horrible thought dawned that the comrades might switch to LSD. If they did, presumably our society would progress beyond an increasing resemblance to Orwell's "1984" towards Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World"

Perish the thought.

In the wilds (by my standards)


Looking for information about the place where my colleagues and I are spending the weekend (on one of those awful "away days" modern businesses use for "bonding") I found the interesting account in the linked article by Henry Kissinger of the first visit by westerners to what was then "the Politburo hunting lodge" or "the Soviet Camp David".

Putinblair I grew up in the countryside next to my grandfather's farm, but I am a city boy now. I have had all the nature I need for my lifetime. While I respect and defend the rights of hunters (Man is a hunter-gatherer, and I have no sympathy for those sentimentalists and inverse snobs who would deny our nature) I have no personal desire to kill my own food. While I have enjoyed a Finnish sauna in the past, physical modesty precludes my trying a communal Russian banya. The waters of the Volga and the Shosha are far too cold right now for me to risk falling into them from a boat. So the attractions of this place are not really for me. Still, it will be interesting to walk where Kissinger, Nixon and Brezhnev once did.

Art in Second Life

My longest-running Second Life project is the Limoncello Art Gallery. It is in a 120-metre long airship (named after the Blogpower member Welshcakes Limoncello) moored 700 metres above my land. It houses my collection of Second Life art on one of three floors. On the other two are 12 smaller galleries which I provide free of charge to artists I like. Yesterday, I found an artist for the last of those rooms and so the gallery is finally complete after 16 months. The new artist, an Italian who goes by the Second Life name of Gleman Jun, has made this promotional video.

The same river a second time

Two economists at the conference I attended yesterday in London gave a sombre assessment of the current situation. Depressing as it was, they warned that;

as things are, as soon as you finish a forecast, you need to begin again. This analysis is fresh, but it may already be too optimistic.

One stood before a graph comparing Britain to the other G8 nations and said “Gordon Brown says we are well placed to come through this. Yet quite clearly we are the worst-placed developed economy.”

Through presentation after presentation, it gradually dawned on me that - even though what we must now think of as "the old days" in economic terms are over - Labour has still succeeded in rewriting the political agenda in Britain. It has even changed the vocabulary of ordinary businesspeople who express themselves now (and presumably think) in terms that almost make it impossible for them to be conservative. These were educated, articulate and (until recently) successful people. Yet they still clung to Alistair Campbell's miraculously effective presentation of Gordon Brown as the man to solve the problems he has so very largely caused.

Attendance at the conference was 50% down on last year. Many of those who attended were in fear of losing their jobs and their companies in fear of their future. Yet still there was the obligatory session on promoting “diversity” in the workplace and a consultant assuring us that “the Green agenda” was no “luxury item” to be dispensed with in a downturn. There would be “no escape,” she said, from compliance with tough legislation. Indeed mere compliance was not enough, she argued - a cold gleam in her eyes. I felt rather sorry for her. As things are, no developers can afford to pay her to advise them on how to load their buildings with "green" costs. It can only be a matter of time before she tearfully carries her possessions from her desk to her hybrid car in a recyclable cardboard box.

Throughout the debt-fuelled phony boom, the government has stealthily raised taxes to an extent equivalent to doubling income tax. It has also - even more dangerously - loaded "compliance" costs onto businesses. Costs that, as the rest of the capitalist world strives for efficiencies, will make it harder for our companies to recover. Such is the fervour of Labour's puritanism that no-one doubts it will continue to do so. No-one at the conference even considered hoping that the government might scale down costs or taxes. This, even as business after British business fails - including one established in 1770 that has survived World Wars, recessions and the Great Depression. As President-elect Obama sets out to change America, we have to recognise that Labour has already changed Britain, perhaps irreversibly.

 Certainly electing a Conservative government will not reverse it. Except perhaps during the Thatcher years (and David Cameron is no Margaret Thatcher) it never has. For the real change is not happening in the political arena. It is happening in the places of education, where the brightest and best of each British generation have consistently been indoctrinated with leftist ideas since the 1930s and where the Misses Paine are currently experiencing a regime which marks down any essays which stray from the standard left-liberal view. Miss Paine the younger is studying Plato at present, for example. I recommended Volume One ("Plato") of Professor Karl Popper's "The Open Society and his Enemies" (Volume Two is of course titled "Marx"). She immediately told me that her professor had announced that "if anyone quoted Popper with approval on the subject, their essay would get an 'F'. He has been utterly discredited."

The same sort of standardised left-liberal thinking is to be found in the BBC and throughout the rest of the British mainstream media. The academics and the journalists they indoctrinate are the source of the change, not the mayfly politicians whose self-serving careers they facilitate. Thatcher may have dismantled the trade union "closed shop", but she didn't have the slightest impact on the closed shop of thought in Britain's academia and media. That failure is what has set all her efforts at naught.

Some who participated in that change, such as the Times leader-writers, may even have an inkling of what they have done. This morning one of them wrote;

“This newspaper has never shared David Cameron’s view that Britain is ‘a broken society.’  But we do believe that this country has broken communities. The story of Baby P provides a glimpse into the colossal failure of community, in which dependency on the State is a way of life...

The story of Baby P is one that will haunt Britain for years to come. But for some, its message is already all too clear. That this has become a country where the State’s largesse can be a lifelong livelihood; where parents can have as many children as they like with as many partners as they please without feeling obliged to care for any of them; and where the maximum penalty for a campaign of torture and sadism against a defenceless child is 14 years in prison. This message is pernicious and deadly. It mocks every claim this country has to social progress and the civilised majority must now work unceasingly to prove it wrong.”

In many ways, this is the usual “it must never happen again” blather one expects in such circumstances. It also says that this is only the message "for some" and urges all who consider themselves "civilised" to prove the analysis wrong. But the headline gave the game away, stating;

...The welfare state has created some communities with no morality.

Those of us who come from the real Britain (as opposed to to the gentrified bits where the ruling elite lives) could have told the author that years ago. Not far from my childhood home - near the stadium of the football club I used to support every Saturday - is an enormous sink estate where children grow up knowing no-one who works for a living. Children whose parents don't work, whose grandparents didn't work and whose peers are all raised in similar circumstances. People who never took jobs, even when - in recent years - the British economy was sucking in millions of immigrants to satisfy employers' needs.

It's not fair to blame the Baby P case on the social workers alone. The politicians who, in corrupt pursuit of bought votes, have engineered a system which provides a free house and benefits to every single girl who gets pregnant and then increases the benefits for each unsupported child to which she gives birth are also to blame. As are the academics who construct theories to justify such corruption and the journalists who gloss it over. The Baby P case is different only because of the savagery of the vile boyfriend who sadistically "trained" the poor child like a dog and then tortured him to death. He's unusual (thank goodness), but the useless, neglectful mother and the absent, unsupportive father are almost the norm in such places.

The face of BritainNot only does the welfare state create perverse incentives to feckless breeding, it also divorces people from the need to care personally for the young, the sick and the elderly. Practical caring for others involves skills that need to be learned and maintained by practice. When every widowed grandparent incapable of looking after him or herself moved in with their family, the children of the house learned both to value them as humans and to help take care of them. They were family, after all. Nothing could be more natural Now they are looked after in state nursing homes, where “carer” is just a job title; usually with as much relation to reality as most modern job titles. An old school-friend works in just such a home and routinely starts her shift by cleaning up residents who have been allowed to sit in their own filth by "carers" who couldn't be bothered because "they will only do it again." Tellingly, she reports that residents are only really cleaned up (other than by her) when relatives are due to visit - for fear that the families will "make trouble." The very families who would, if the welfare state did not exist, be looking after their old folk themselves.

You can’t outsource love and care to a bureaucracy without dehumanising consequences. The Prime Minister’s viciously inept response yesterday to David Cameron’s question about the Baby P case, revealed just how far Labour’s welfare state has deadened natural sensibilities. I doubt King John, still less any past Prime Minister, would have been so out of touch with his humanity as to react as Brown did.

Back at my conference, the economists were standing before another damning graph. This one showed all the sectors of the British economy in recession; output down and jobs lost - except one. The public sector, amazingly, is still recruiting. Richard Littlejohn took up that story in this morning’s Daily Mail.

Yesterday’s Guardian carried more than 30 pages of adverts for assorted project managers, facilitators, co-ordinators, support workers and general factotums, as it has done every week for at least the past two decades... all new positions... We are now two nations - those who have to make a living in the real world and the army of subsidised public ‘servants’ guaranteed their jobs and index-linked pensions, regardless of cost.
While millions of us in the competitive sector of the economy stare down the barrel of redundancy, the feather-bedded inhabitants of Brown’s bloated client state are insulated from the realities of his economic mismanagement.

Among them, of course, the odious, emotionally-deadened, leader 0f Haringey's social workers (see picture and note Rosa Klebb-like expression). The arrogance with which she has refused to accept any responsbility for Baby P's death, or to consider that any of her staff might be at fault, says - more than anything above - that Labour has changed Britain for good, or rather - permanently - for ill.

Of friendship, trust and the internet

The internet - like life itself - is wonderful, dangerous and bound to end badly. The German language has a precise way of categorising friendships. Only a real (will be there at your funeral even if it rains) friend qualifies as a "freund." Others may be merely a "geschäftsfreund" or "sportfreund" (someone you do business or play sports with).

We certainly need a way in English to distinguish real friends from "blog friends," "Facebook friends," "LinkedIn" or "Second Life" friends. English-speakers have always been too casual about conferring the great honour of "friendship" on each other and in consequence often don't know who their real friends are. The confusion that causes and the time is wastes is tragic.

We can meet the likeminded far more readily in cyberspace than "meatspace", which is wonderful. It's particularly so if you happen to belong to an endangered minority, like libertarians or those who care about grammar! But there are many pitfalls along the virtual road.

Often it seems that people (especially shy people) get carried away with the unrestricted possibilities of online life, but real friendships need time to mature wherever they are formed. And cyberspace is a particularly dangerous place to form them. 80% of human communication is non-verbal. No matter how slick your use of smiley faces and internet acronyms, you are stuck with the other 20% online

Cyberspace is wonderful because you meet people whose paths would never have crossed yours in real life. You can get to know and exchange your thoughts with a much wider range of people than you would normally meet. Worryingly, you can also end up in the virtual company of people you find - too late - you would have crossed many a wide street to avoid.

I have misjudged many people in my life - to my cost and sometimes to theirs. I have so often misplaced my trust that it becomes difficult as I get older to keep trusting. Yet little of value can be achieved in this life alone. And nothing of value can be achieved with others without trust. So I keep trying and keep advising others - however difficult it must sometimes seem - to do the same.

From their own mouths... :: Labour - the hope for change.

This, from "a site devoted to developing internet based resources for Labour Party members and supporters";

Labour's organisational crisis is deep. We have no money. We have too few experienced organisational staff. The real level of our membership is barely more than half that of the Tories. But the crisis of the left is deeper still. The organising idea of the mainstream left - socialism defined as the abolition of, or the severe curtailment of, private ownership has proved both to be a failure and, worse still, a route to repression. Too few on the left are yet prepared to admit this in public but the facts show that over the last half-century the capitalist countries and not the socialist ones have been the most progressive and have done most to liberate their citizens.

Dizzy is adding value by pointing out the kind of "internet based resources" is "devoted to developing" for the Labour Party. That Labourites are buying up websites with Tory names, presumably to be used for deception (why else would they want them) should be front page news. They have been detected in preparation for the digital equivalent of Watergate-style "dirty tricks", which should tell voters everything they need to know about them. As Dizzy says;

Suddenly an attack blog appears that uses the name "toryparty" ..., and it's set-up, hosted, and pointed to the site of one of Draper's former rapid rebuttal colleagues from Millbank. You do the maths. If I was in CCHQ I would be starting domain dispute proceedings...

I have to ask, given his political leanings and his technical skills, why ISN'T Dizzy working at the Conservative HQ? He would be a valuable asset in what is clearly going to be a dirty election.