THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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November 2021

December 2021

Thoughts at year end

It's easy to identify wrong choices after the event but it's important not to lose your life to regret. Every door you choose to open, leaves not one but many closed. Who is to say which of the others would have led to better paths? If real life gave us a video game's opportunities to go back and make other choices, even three lives might still not be enough.

At dark times in my marriage to the late Mrs P., I sometimes remembered a time at university when I considered ending our relationship to pursue another woman. In those fantasies, the alternate Mrs P. and I lived happily ever after in fairy-tale style. In truth, that potential relationship would have had its issues too. I might well have married the other lady and found myself fantasising that I had chosen Mrs P. instead.

In a way, the last six months of the late Mrs P's life were the best of our marriage. The problems that had often made us miserable were put into perspective. Faced with the real problem of her cancer, they hardly seemed worthy of the name. Just as we'd grown together in the struggles of our early lives, the shared focus on her survival brought us close. As I took care of her in ways she'd never imagined I could, her insecurities about my love disappeared. Focusing on her care made me, for a while at least, less selfish. Things that might once have made me angry suddenly seemed far too trivial to fret about. Some of that perspective never left me. I am a calmer man than I was if not a wiser one. 

When Mrs P. died, I discovered how complex grief is. Among many things, I grieved the loss of my hope that one day we'd solve the problems of our marriage. It may well have been a forlorn hope; clung to rather than embraced. Perhaps if she'd survived her cancer our new perspective might have made for a perfect marriage? But she didn't. In these matters, as in so may, you just can't tell, so why waste time speculating?

In the month since Mrs P. the Second left me, I have experienced grief again. I have wished I never met her. I have cast aside every happy memory in dark thoughts. Yet the truth is she may well have saved my life. In my grief at the time I met her, I was taking no care of myself. That I lived to experience this new loss is painful but without her I might not be here to experience it – or anything else.

We don't learn much from success in my experience. It tends to make us complacent and stale. It was the success of the Kodak company – proprietor of arguably the world's best-known brand – that made its leadership dismiss digital photography when one of its employees invented it. Off he went to a competitor and off they went into the dustbin of commercial history.

When I look back on my life, I realise it was the errors and losses that helped me grow. In fact all that was best in my career arose from my very worst mistake. I have often used that story when counselling friends and colleagues worried about career choices. I tell them "make the best choice you can, but don't worry too much. The bad choice might lead to great things too."

With that positive thought I wish you all, gentle readers, a very happy new year. I hope that 2022 will be a better year for all of us.


The uses of Law

In an interesting article in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Dan Hannan (arguably the British politician I least despise) makes some sensible points, which you can read yourself here

In the course of that he says indignation about #PartyGate is misplaced because, amongst other reasons, no-one strictly complied with last years COVID rules. Of the critics condemning the alleged “gathering” he says;

My point is not that they are hypocrites; it is that the rules are wrong. Laws that no one follows are, by definition, asinine laws. By all means blame politicians. But blame them for imposing these absurd prohibitions in the first place rather than for behaving like everyone else.

Hannan has a decent mind and sound instincts, but here he strikes me as naive. We tend to think of laws as rules proscribing bad behaviour or (less often) mandating good behaviour. Practising law for a few decades as I did will make a cynic of the best of us but even a politician should know there’s another use of law — to absolve a rule-maker of responsibility.

In the private sphere, if more of us read the “standard terms and conditions” we sign up to blind (often these days on a “click through” basis) when contracting for goods and services, we’d find rules the suppliers never plan to enforce. Their lawyers put them there to ensure that in myriad circumstances — foreseen and otherwise — where a problem might occur, their clients won’t be legally at fault.

If your child finds a website that encourages her to commit suicide for example, the company hosting it will point to a rule forbidding such use of its services. It didn’t make the rule so that it could enforce it. It has no employees combing its servers for breaches. It made the rule so it could point to it when your child dies. That’s a dramatic example, but there are millions of others to which you would probably say “fair enough.” Businesses couldn’t sell many goods and services economically if they were expected to take the blame for any wicked use of them.

The fact is that in the public sphere government uses law in similar ways to address what spin doctors call “the optics” of a situation. It feels that “something must be done” about a perceived harm and will often promote new legislation without even considering whether existing law covers the matter. How many of the thousands of new crimes created during and since the Blair years can you name? If it’s any consolation, I bet your MP can’t name any more than you.

The government didn’t make it illegal to visit your gran, hug your mum at your dad’s funeral or have sex with your new girlfriend with any expectation that you’d be so servile as to comply. It did it so that, if any of those ladies contracted COVID, it would be your fault. That’s why Number 10 staff partied, Cummings conducted motorised eye tests and Hancock and Ferguson shagged.

The intent of the law was neither proscriptive nor prescriptive but exculpatory. It was one rule for everyone, but no one was seriously (in those circles in the know) expected actually to comply. This is a subtler complaint than the angry “one rule for us and another for them” beloved of bar room ranters, but in its way it’s actually worse.

I have used this quote from Montesquieu so often that regular readers will be able to sing along in the original French;

If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary not to make a law.

He also said — and how this still resonates today;

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice

You’d expect a libertarian to be cynical about laws, but anyone should be able to see the damage that such “click through” criminalisation does to respect for Law itself. I suspect the British government was as surprised by the servility of its citizens as I was disgusted. I tremble to think of our future now that it realises how weak we mostly are.

That said, I hope the mishandling of the pandemic by democratic governments almost everywhere will lead even the most servile to an understanding that Law is a dangerous tool that is lethal when misused. Make too much of it too lightly and you make criminals of us all — with criminal attitudes to compliance rather like Captain Sparrow’s approach to the Pirate Code — or Dan Hannan’s approach to the Highway Code!


Grief, loss and hope

I apologise for posting once more about my personal life. It’s not in my nature, I hope, to overshare. The Oprah Winfreyite idea that everyone has a personal “truth” that it’s somehow brave or noble to bare disgusts me. It’s self-indulgent and morally-corrosive. Having begun a sad story here however, I didn’t want to let lie the impression it must have left.

I have felt sorry for myself since that post. Apart from two doctors’ appointments I’ve stayed home alone thinking dark thoughts and kept away from friends and family. There was perhaps an element of improper pride in that. I didn’t want the people who love me to see me broken. 

Today I had a drink and a meal with an old friend. A simple and yet a powerful thing. We touched on my grief and my reaction to it, but mostly we talked of things I blanked out in my self-pity. It was enough to help me see that, though I’ve suffered a blow, my life is still good.

We began, for example, to hatch a plan for a trip to Japan — for whose culture and food we share an affection. I would love to make that happen and document it here. COVID has put travel (and blogging about it) on hold but it would be good to do more. To take better photos, a wise man once advised, “stand in front of more interesting stuff”. It would be good to dust off my photography gear and do just that.

Yes it’s hard to be rejected by someone you love. It’s sad when a relationship breaks down, for whatever reason. Being dumped is certainly not good for that self-esteem the Winfrey-ites value above all but so what? How we feel about ourselves is often a poor guide. The Kray Brothers did not lack for self esteem, for example. The world might have been better if they’d had less of it. Amour-propre used to be considered a bad thing.

Ultimately there’s no value in being with someone who doesn’t want to be there. The only good human relationships are consensual. That consent having been unexpectedly and disappointingly withdrawn, a good libertarian must blink back his tears and move on. My soon-to-be-ex wife has her story and I love her enough to hope, in the end, it’s a good one. I’m sorry I won’t be in future chapters but hey ho.

Thank you, gentle readers, for your words of support and encouragement. They helped. I apologise to those of you (and those of my family and friends) who reached out directly and were ignored. I did not mean to spurn your help, I just wasn’t ready to handle it gracefully.

I am sorry to have troubled you here with problems that were no concern of yours. Please let’s say no more of it and move on with dignity.


Arthur – a child, betrayed

Ambush Predator: Maybe It's Time You Stopped Talking About 'Learning Lessons' And Actually Learned Them..?.

Julia M at Ambush Predator's heart is – as always – in the right place. Her scorn for the ritual public sector response to the cruel abuse, torture and death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes is palpable and justified. Our "servants" in the Deep State indeed played a role and their meaningless mantra of "lessons will be learned" is truly sickening.
 
Six year old Arthur was murdered by a wicked stepmother worthy of the Brothers Grimm. She was egged on in tormenting him by Arthur's father, who was besotted by her. The couple took good care of her children, so there's no question that they were capable of better. They alone are to blame for what they did, for their lies to social workers and for their exclusion of those (like the child's grandmother and uncle) who might have protected him.
 
Arthur's wider family blame Solihull Council's social workers. Perhaps those functionaries could have done more or better, but he might have had a better chance if they did not exist at all. This story illustrates perfectly how the British State has elbowed aside those in the family and community who would otherwise often have done a better job. The Welfare State's pledge to take care of us all from cradle to grave is, and always was, that most meaningless of all promises – an election slogan. 
 
Election slogans persuade voters to give up their rights and responsibilities to an all-caring, all-embracing, all-controlling state. They farm voters by creating "jobs" for those most likely to vote for an even bigger state and rewarding them with average pay in excess of that earned by the productive voters who pay for it all. The promise is that all these farmed voters will serve and protect us. Yet what do we actually get?
 
The social workers were easily sent packing with a stupid lie. Poor Arthur had an uncle who worried about him and wanted to intervene. Our "servants" in the police force service (there to protect us, right?) threatened him with arrest if he intervened. His grandmother feared for his welfare but the wicked stepmother was easily able to exclude her and the state would have supported the killer if she'd forced her way in. 
 
People who have to be paid to care for you don't. In this world, the best hope of help you have if you're in trouble is your family or your friends. The underlying evil of the Welfare State is that it displaces family, friends and neighbours. It reduces us all, psychologically, to children under its protection. It prevents the development of responsible adults who care naturally for others, without being paid to do so. It infantilises those who might have protected vulnerable infants like Arthur.
 
This is not to say that children weren't abused, tortured or killed before the Welfare State was invented. There were always evil people amongst us, but I wonder if more victims were not saved then than now.
 
My grandfather once asked my uncle's school friend about his black eye. When told that the boy's father regularly beat him when he tried to prevent him abusing his mother, my grandad didn't call the police or social services. He turned to my grandmother and said "make up a bed, he lives here now." When the boy's father turned up on the doorstep, drunk and raging, grandad (a war cripple, but still feisty) sent him packing. The boy grew up with my family.
 
Ask yourself how that story would end today. With my grandfather in jail, probably. Our modern police are tough with the law-abiding who pose them no threat and weak with the evil ones who do. More likely, conditioned by decades of Welfare State, grandad (hard though it is for me to imagine, knowing him as I did) would have just relied on the authorities to deal with it. I can't envisage – thinking of poor Arthur – that would have led to a better outcome.
 
Before the Welfare State, people knew that there was no-one but them to solve the problems they saw around them. Families, neighbours, vicars and priests were far more inclined to intervene and the police would not threaten them if they did. There were churches and charities staffed by volunteers motivated, not by an above-average salary, job security regardless of performance, and a pension guaranteed by state extortion taxes but by actual, honest caring. 
 
If Arthur's uncle or grandmother had not relied (as the law encourages them to do) on state "carers" and if they had ignored the police threats, he might live in safety today. Sadly given the woeful history of state children's homes in the U.K., he might also now be suffering abuse at the hands of other state employees.
 
How many times do we have to read such stories before we realise the Welfare State is a wicked con trick? It exists, not to serve us, but to provide jobs to the mediocrities we so regularly hear reciting the "lessons will be learned" mantra.  If we really care about vulnerable children like Arthur, we will demand changes to the law to allow access rights to wider family. We will give families back their confidence to intervene when children are suffering. The solution to the failings of the state cannot always – surely – be more state?