THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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July 2012
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September 2012

August 2012

Government "savings" in perspective

Government savings infographic in perspective | Burning Our Money | The TaxPayers' Alliance.

This (click to enlarge) is the tool we need in our everyday conversations with the Thoughtless. The method to show them, in terms they can understand, that there are no cuts. No austerity. Just a fractional slowing in the rate at which the government spends the money it takes by force from the productive - or their posterity.

Surely they must understand it now? Mustn't they?

Justice vs Social Justice 2

One of my old posts most found from Google et al is this one. People are curious about what "social justice" really means and rightly so. It is one of the most dangerous and deceptive phrases in current use and it pains me when even a "Conservative" like David Cameron uses it approvingly.

I heard a story recently that made me think of it. It involved some disgraceful behaviour by a man I had never met. The details were told me in confidence so let's just say he conducted himself to a lady in a distinctly unchivalric manner. Trust me, this is a massive understatement even by English standards.

What has this to do with social justice? Well my first reaction, as someone educated by Socialists in a British state school and regularly exposed ever since to BBC/Guardian collectivism, was to be embarrassed on behalf of all men by this stranger's behaviour. This is, of course, nonsense. He is a bad person who happens to be of the same sex as me. Respectable men who would never conduct themselves thus are not to blame for his wicked conduct.

This reaction made me think however. If ladies from the anglosphere read my second paragraph and the word "sexist" went through their minds, they were guilty of the same error. Because social justice is really nothing more than blaming and penalising groups for the misconduct (real or imagined) of individuals. It is collective punishment, than which there are few greater injustices. It is also scapegoating as a basis for hate-based ideology and - most often - as a justification for redistribution of wealth or "privilege". It is insidious because it appeals to the tribalism deep in our natures. The exact same tribalism in fact that makes for petty nationalisms, racism and other things that social justice merchants denounce as evil (when they are not exploiting them).

If you have thought nastily about all bankers on the basis of the misconduct of some, or exclaimed "men!" or "women!" in exasperation at one individual's behaviour, or dislike people because of their family background, their accent or the school or university they went to  (as opposed in each case to judging an individual human on the content of his or her character) you are a collectivist practising social justice and therefore committing injustice.

I respectfully suggest it's not a good idea.

In intellectual exile?

I have been wondering if I am really a libertarian at all. Don't worry. I am not going to join the army of people who think they know better than you how to live your life. I have just been thinking about my thinking. A holiday gives a chap time for such intellectual spring cleaning. Let me share these doubts, so that you can (I hope) shoot them down.

If I try to imagine a clean slate "start up" libertarian society, it's difficult - especially as there are no virgin territories on Earth to which a group of like-minded people could migrate to found one. Unless such a group could leave behind the addicts of state dependence and the power-crazed thugs of statist politics all the vices that have led to the world's current depressing assortment of pork barrel democracies and totalitarian states would persist. Unless one was prepared (as one is emphatically not) to contemplate a libertarian version of Lenin's Red Terror. Let's just accept, based on history, that if an imagined better society needs a Terror, it's not really better.

Even if they did find another New World to colonise, our libertarian founding fathers and mothers would find those vices rising again in their offspring (or immigrating opportunistically across their open borders). They are, after all, part of what it is to be human.

A libertarian democracy would be at constant risk of degenerating into statism as the feckless banded together to vote themselves goodies at others' expense. If not a democracy, the temptation of power would be too much for the thugs amongst us. Indeed can any of us really know we are not thugs until that temptation has been presented and resisted?


History suggests even the founding idealist might find the temptation too much. Did Lenin spurn a state-funded Rolls-Royce? No more than Soviet Russian bears started to use public conveniences.

Every emergency in the new polity would lead to a call for "action" from the intellectually-challenged. "Action" that is by someone other than, and at no direct or immediate expense to, themselves. So I fear that my imagined small state would, one way or another, grow.

My imagining of a better society therefore involves not just a more free, but a more moral, population. There's the rub. Almost any political fantasy works with better people. The real test of a political philosophy is that it works with defective human material.

It seems to me that the only sets of historical circumstances that have ever led to a free (or at least free-er) society have involved communities with solid shared values of self-reliance evolved into unchallenged custom (or enshrined in canonical founding documents drawn up in reaction to the overthrow - or as in the case of Magna Carta, putting back within his bounds - of a tyrant). Typically those values have also been protected by some supernatural authority (real or imagined) capable of largely suppressing base human urges. That sounds more like a Conservative than a Libertarian society, doesn't it?

What a pity Britain doesn't have a Conservative Party any more. Or a God. Discuss.

Inequality causes stabbings. Really?!

Chinese teenager stabs 8 people to death - Telegraph.

Almost everything good, encouraging and promising about modern China can be traced to Deng Xiaoping's unleashing of market forces. Almost everything bad, distressing and depressing about it can be traced to the totalitarian rule of the Communist Party.

Yet the Daily Telegraph glosses its report of the stabbing by a teenager of eight people with an implied leftist narrative that inequality is one (if not the only) cause of crime.

Violent crime has been on the rise in China in recent decades as the nation's economy has boomed and the gap between rich and poor has expanded.

In what sense, precisely, is this now a "Conservative" newspaper? What kind of "Conservative" journalist makes such egregious use of the post hoc fallacy in his writing to serve such a clearly leftist analysis? Does Mr Philips perhaps imagine that China in the days of the Cultural Revolution knew no violence? Or is he at least intellectually consistent enough to suggest that enormous inequality between the political elite of those days and the oppressed masses "caused" the airplanings and other atrocities?

Oh but wait. To a former Guardian correspondent, those acts of violence were probably not crimes but the righteous dictatorship of the proletariat. Which just leaves the question, why is a "Conservative" newspaper recruiting from the ranks of the Guardianisti?

The weaponisation of politeness

Libertarians, classical liberals, whatever you choose to call us accept that others differ in their lifestyles and opinions. Whether we approve of their choices or not, we respect their right to make them. Unless that is, and until (and to the precise extent), they impede those of others. So why do so many of us come over as harsh, inflexible and rude? Why do we play into the hands of our political foes who love to depict us - with no shred of justification - as misanthropic?

Socialists and other statists are of course annoying. They accept no limits to their claim to tell others how to live. Living under the tyranny of their thought, as we do, it's not surprising that we bridle at their constant hectoring interference in every aspect of our life. But if we resort to angry condemnation, abuse or even the witty swear blogging that many have come to identify us with, perhaps we are missing a trick?

When your child is a child you embrace, protect and defend him. You shield him from all threats. It's a wonderful, satisfying time but its true goal is to get that child to the point where he no longer needs it. The true test of parental love is not the fierceness of the protection, but the trust to let it go when it's no longer needed. Statists say we do not care for our fellow man because we resist their use of state violence to protect him from himself. In fact we love him enough to let him live - and screw up - in his own way.

Reading statist newspapers and blogs every day what strikes me hardest is how very rude these people are. The sneering, carping, superior tone of The Guardian is particularly offensive and upsetting. Statists'  contempt for other views is boundless in its ferocity. They do not descend to name-calling when their patience runs out. Oh no, it is their first and often only resort. Great swathes of the country think "f******g Tory c**t" is an unanswerable political argument. The notion of dancing (or worse) on the grave of a dead opponent when a frail old lady dies is seen as "right on" humour. Firmly in the Nye Bevan tradition of regarding  those who argue peaceably for a different political view as "vermin", these are not only misguided but deeply unpleasant people. They are the political descendants of the witch-burning puritans of old.

If we fight fire with fire however we do our cause no favours. Consider affable, dishevelled Boris, for example. Hanging laughably from a stuck zip wire he is able, as the unloved boy David ruefully observed, to do well from it. Is it perhaps because he does not stand on his dignity or bemoan his plight but chats affably with his amused onlookers, even as they film the makings of numerous YouTube pisstakes? The man's invincible because he displays no obvious killer instinct. He appears to pose no threat. And when he criticises an opponent's view he is taken all the more seriously because he does not attack for attack's sake. He is every bit as posh, rich and privileged as Dave or Gideon, but he is loved. They are obviously Macchiavelli's children and are not.

More widely-read libertarian bloggers may say, with some cause, politeness is not working for you, Tom, why should we try it? But they, like me, are mostly preaching to a choir as small as it is tuneful. If we want to reach Boris's audience, maybe we should all take a leaf from his songbook? In the end, our argument is based on loving and trusting our fellow-men. We except only those who use force and fraud to deny others the fruits of their labours or their civil rights. Socialists on the other hand propound a hate and envy based ideology (National Socialists hating whole races and International Socialists hating whole classes). It shows on their clenched and angry features and in the shrill keening of their discourse. Why distract from such helpful self-condemnation? Brits instinctively distrust fanatics. Can we not let that work in our favour?

We "real liberals" judge others solely on the content of their characters as evidenced by their behaviours. We seek individual justice, not social justice. We hold people accountable for their acts and omissions, not for being part of a group they didnt choose to join or for having gone to a school they had no part in selecting. Not for us then mass condemnation by class, race or sex. So can we perhaps accentuate the unpleasant fanaticism of our statist, authoritarian opponents by differentiating ourselves - not just by our arguments - but the way we present them?

Quotes of the day, from the extremes of modesty and arrogance

I am no sports buff and find cycling - quite literally - a pain in the proverbial, but it's hard not to like our Wiggo. His down to earth modesty is affecting and what spin doctor could better his wife's answer to a journo's question about family sacrifices made for the great man's success?

“Sacrifices? Well not really," says Cath. “As a wife or partner where’s the sacrifice in helping your other half fulfil their dreams? And it’s not forever, it’s short term. It’s not like we are a services family who are apart year after year. They don’t earn Olympic medals for their efforts although they bloody well deserve to."

Well said, Mrs Wiggo. Meanwhile, from the other end of the modesty spectrum I enjoyed a quote from literary genius, conspiracy theorist-going on nutjob and patrician-American Democrat Gore Vidal. Knocked down by Norman Mailer after a heated debate, he is said to have looked up from the floor and observed;

I see words fail Norman Mailer, yet again.

I was much amused by the reaction of a BBC interviewer to being told by Vidal (on a show re-screened on BBC World last night) that writing novels was much more important than politics. Of course it bloody well is, but to a media running dog of the political classes, this was clearly quite incredible. The BBC was at it this morning too, saying on a BBC World news broadcast that this was just sour grapes after Vidal's failure to get elected.

What does it say for the dons of Oxbridge that the arts graduate leftists they send to man the BBC believe that politics matter more than literature?

How to deal with Twits

Let Twitter twits stew in their own juice | John Kampfner | Comment is free | The Guardian.

John Kampfner's linked article refers to trolls as "the green ink brigade." This made me smile. Before there was a 'net people used to communicate (sometimes maliciously) by analogue means. There were letters (like emails), postcards (like Facebook messages) and telegrams (like tweets). If you wanted to "blog", you could have pamphlets printed or write a letter to a newspaper. It was all terribly interactive in its way, but the interaction was tediously slow.

I had a letter published in The Times when I was 19 and every bit as handsome (If not quite as ripped) as a certain Olympic diver in the news. I was surprised over the following days to receive letters from mad people all over the world who had read it. In those simpler times, the papers printed enough of your address to let people write to you. Not all the letters I received were in green ink, but enough were to suggest a correlation between that colour and a lunatic desire to tell strangers you hate them. Hence "the green ink brigade."

I did not consider myself "harassed". I did not call the police. Had I done so, they would have told me to get lost. Had I persisted, they would have prosecuted me for wasting their time. Nor did I go to a copy shop and make copies to send to everyone in my (analogue) address book with a covering note whingeing about how unfair they were. Had I done so, I would not have expected my friends, family and other contacts to send them in turn to their friends. Still less would I have expected them to write to the mad people concerned in abusive terms.

I simply took the letters and (after giggling over them with my girlfriend) threw them in an analogue of the digital bin on my desktop. I was so little traumatised that I have never thought about them again until today.

Ah, but you say, those were olden times and everything is different now. You are right. Not only have electronic means made both fair and foul communications faster and easier, they have vastly enhanced the analogue trash can. Not only can I delete hate mail with a keystroke, I can also block the author from writing to me again. So useful and effective are these defensive technologies that I often wish they existed in meatspace. How wonderful to reach out and right click the pub bore to mute him.

My post yesterday provoked a debate on a reader's Facebook page, where I was dismissed as a witless reactionary for defending free speech. My antagonist applauded the arrest of said idiot and thought hate speech and threats of violence (however implausible from a pathetic, inarticulate little boy) should have criminal repercussions. Even as she agonised over what should, and should not, be permitted she failed to understand how her difficulties illustrated the futility of the exercise. How much simpler to insist on the absolute freedom of everyone to express their ideas, however obnoxious and ridiculous, and then get on with one's life.

Mr Daley received his abuse in a direct tweet to him. Only the abusive fool's foolish followers could read it at that point. He could have blocked the fool in less time than it took him to retweet him. He could then have continued to luxuriate in the warm bath of twittery idolatry that his looks and athletic talent have earned. Instead he chose to go to the cheap, easy and instant modern equivalent of the copy shop and post office so that his outraged idolaters could become an angry and abusive electronic mob and the Dorset Police could have their fifteen minutes of ill-deserved fame.

Christian blogger Cranmer is taking heat over his controversial suggestion that Daley should have turned the other cheek. He didn't even need to be so noble. Had he published his telephone number or address in the old days, he would have received fan mail/calls and hate mail/crank calls in about the same proportions (if not the same numbers, because of the cost of paper, envelopes, stamps and phone calls) as he received gooey/abusive tweets. The analogue versions would have been far harder to deal with. By setting up a Twitter account he similarly invited communications, but at least he doesn't have to hire secretaries to sift through the mail bags or security guards to bar access to his home. He can just block the idiots and bask in the fanmail.

So why all the stupid laws? Why the waste of precious police time? Why the unnecessary expenditure on Crown Prosecutors who - to the precise extent they think about such matters - are plainly surplus to requirements? Why are we wasting the time of learned judges? And why oh why did Parliament think it clever to make "malicious communication" a crime punishable by six months imprisonment or a £5,000 fine? Have none of these people anything useful to do? If not, great. Let them get off the public payroll and spare the overburdened taxpayers all these costs.

Oh, and MP's? Before you get your coats, please repeal this stupid law.