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

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Book Review – In Focus: The case for Privatising the BBC

In Focus: The Case for Privatising the BBC – Institute of Economic Affairs.

I have been reading another of the books I snagged at the recent Think! conference organised by the IEA. You can read it too, online for free. It's a well-researched, well-reasoned piece of work. It won't please those on the Right or Left who rage at Auntie's perceived bias because it reaches a nuanced conclusion. Yes, the BBC has a bias but it's not a crudely political one. It's the predictable bias of the kind of middle class professional person who chooses to work in a public service broadcaster. In the chapter "Why is the BBC biased?" written by Stephen Davies of the IEA, he explains why people with views as radically divergent as, say, Owen Jones and I all feel that the BBC is against us;

...certain views are marginalised and either misrepresented or even ignored. It is not a straightforward matter of either left or right views being treated in this way. Rather, all views that are not in the conventional wisdom are slighted, even if they are widely held among the public. Examples from the right would be support for radical reform of the welfare system or the NHS; from the left, it could be the popularity of public ownership of utilities ... Certain views are clearly represented as being uninformed or exotic, such as scepticism about man-made climate change, hostility to immigration or doubts about the benefits of formal education. Sometimes this judgement may be true, but to simply ignore and disregard a view is actually counterproductive if your aim is to inform. 
 
In addition there is an intensification of the structural tendency of the modern media to see political and intellectual divisions in binary terms. This leads to many perspectives being simply ignored or misrepresented. In the last 30 years for example, it has become part of the conventional BBC view that opposition to the EU is definitively located on the right. This means that the continuing and at one time prominent socialist critique of the EU is simply not represented. On the other side, opposition to immigration is thought to be associated with other views conventionally placed on the right, so that left-wing opposition to labour migration is airbrushed out, despite being common among many Labour voters. At the same time, the strong support of most free-market advocates for freer immigration is ignored and glossed over. In other words, the very existence of certain kinds of combinations of views is simply ruled out, and they are not even considered, despite being perfectly coherent intellectually and widely held.
The last discussion I had on immigration, for example, was just this week with a new friend who is an active member of the Labour Party. He is of the same vintage as myself and is a "Old Labour" socialist from the provincial working class that founded the Party. He is uncomfortable with the "Metropolitan elite" now in charge and is more scathing about identity politics than any Tory I know. He is firmly in favour of restricting immigration; believing that it has reduced working class wages. I, on the other hand, would be in favour of open borders if we could first abolish the welfare system that distorts the labour market and attracts unproductive immigrants. For so long as that system exists, I favour a liberal immigration policy that actively encourages skilled workers to come here, regardless of their origins, but offers no welfare benefits to first generation immigrants unless and until they have paid a minimum contribution into the system.
 
Neither of us fit the simplistic right/left BBC narrative, so our views never feature. He and I haven't talked about the BBC yet, but it would be perfectly understandable if we both thought it was biased. That wouldn't matter so much if the BBC was not (a) funded by state force and (b) the provider of 75% of all television news viewed in the UK. Though the internet is undermining its near-monopoly it still shapes the views of most voters, who rarely ignore its narrative. Hence Auntie's conniptions at the result of the EU Referendum. A decision was made on the basis of opinions outwith her conventional wisdom. It's from "out of left field" as our cousins across the pond say and must be wrong, or mad, or both.
 
So who are these people who choose to work for a public service broadcaster, bringing their unconscious biases with them? 
The initial factor is the very narrow and restricted background of BBC staff, both of presenters and producers. The proportion who are privately-educated (and, by extension, upper-middle class) is several times the national average (Milburn 2014). Generally they come from professional backgrounds rather than commerce or business, much less from working-class households. Much of the critical comment on the narrow base from which the BBC draws its senior staff emphasises the lack of ethnic or gender diversity; but, while there is undoubtedly something to this, it is swamped by the social origins phenomenon. The women and ethnic minorities who do work for the BBC in roles such as producer, presenter and senior manager are likely to come [my emphasis] from the same kind of educational and social background as their white, male colleagues.
 
What this naturally leads to is a common shared set of beliefs and attitudes, deriving from common or shared experience. In a very real sense the conventional wisdom referred to earlier is the shared outlook of a specific social group or formation. The problem, of course, is that, in the absence of challenges or dissent from people from a different background, all kinds of beliefs remain unquestioned, with the status of 'obvious truth' or 'common sense' attached to them. These kind of unexamined assumptions exist at the level of general principles rather than particular issues. Examples might be that it is always good to help the less fortunate or that most social problems should be understood as having structural causes rather than being explicable through individual agency or action, or that business activity is a zero sum game. Moreover, once a particular set of attitudes becomes widely shared within any organisation, it tends to attract people who share them, and so the situation becomes self-perpetuating and reinforcing. 
Then there is the fact that no-one who disapproves of an organisation funded by force would dream of applying for a job there. This is a problem for all state organisations, not just the BBC. I could not live with knowing that every penny I "earned" had been taken by force from my fellow men. I would be as ashamed of working for the Government or the BBC as I would be to work for the Mafia – and for the same moral reasons. I derive my self-respect from taking care of myself and my family and from being a burden to no-one. I am proud of the fact that every penny I have earned came from voluntary transactions with clients who had plenty of other choices. That is why it's difficult to get classical liberals of any stripe into Parliament, Whitehall or the BBC. The self-selected political and administrative classes comprise people who have no moral objection to living parasitically on their fellow-men. We can't expect such people to favour a smaller government, privatisation of the BBC or less state intervention in private life. If they did, they wouldn't be there.
 
Some may go into politics, the Civil Service or the Beeb with the honourable goal of relieving the burdens of oppressed taxpayers. Few stick to that objective. They will find most of their colleagues bemused by them while they are junior, fearful when they are senior and downright hostile if they come near the levers of power. If not independently wealthy (and why would they work in such mundane roles if they are) they will find themselves under financial as well as social pressure to conform. Their advancement is very likely to depend upon the approval of people who share the conventional wisdom.
 
This is an interesting book and worth a read. I would love to hear your views on it, gentles all. 

On being a dispirited activist vs being Pamela Geller

I am reading one of the books I snagged at the Think IEA conference last weekend. It's called A U-Turn on the Road to Serfdom and it contains practical suggestions, based on the 2013 Hayek lecture by Grover Norquist, as to how we might effectively work towards a smaller state. In it Norquist remarks on the electoral effect of the Tea Party movement in the US.

There have been some very good studies about how this affected the voter turnout in places where you had rallies, compared with places where they planned a rally, but it rained, so it was cancelled. You could see that we gained between three million and six million voters in 2010 because of increased political activism: the idea of showing up, seeing other people, realising you weren't alone and that you weren't crazy was very important.

This struck a chord. I am an activist by inclination. In my youth, I was regional chairman of a Maoist school students organisation, Chairman of the Conservative Association at my university, marched to legalise homosexuality in Scotland and Northern Ireland and campaigned on political issues. Once my career became serious and I had a family to take care of, however, I eased off and became politically very isolated. I fell prey to the propaganda of the Left-Establishment orthodoxy. With only the BBC and the mainstream media to guide me, I came to believe that I was – if not alone – part of an unfashionable minority.

Then came the "War on Terror". The Islamic terrorists were rank amateurs compared to the IRA whose campaign I had lived through without once feeling civilisation was in danger. The Irish Republican terrorists were highly-trained (by the Soviets), well-funded (by Irish-Americans) and well-protected (by the Kennedy dynasty in the US, by judges in Germany refusing to deport them, by the Catholic Church refusing to excommunicate them and by its priests providing them with safe houses). The Islamic terrorists have money from their Arab and Iranian sponsors and some of the older ones were trained by the CIA during the Russian campaign in Afghanistan but mostly they are laughable InCel losers. Films like Four Lions and plucky Glaswegians like John Smeaton ("We're from Glasgow, we'll just set about ye") constitute an adequate societal response while law enforcement deals with them as the simple (in all senses) criminals they are.

I mourned the losses of my American friends in 9/11 but feared (presciently as it turned out) the nature of their likely response. I feared (even more presciently) that authoritarian opportunists would cynically use 9/11 as cover to attack civil liberties. How was one classical liberal with a family to take care of and a demanding career to take on Tony Blair, George W. Bush et al. as they – by appearing to respond manfully to panicked calls to "do something" – set about dismantling our freedoms? So, my activism revived a little and I started this blog.

I know. It's hilarious. One man writing from Moscow about the PATRIOT Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other such legal euphemisms, was going to make a difference, right? Well, I wasn't quite that dumb. I knew I was lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. I had no real hope that I would make a difference but I felt a moral obligation to chip in my two cents' worth. To be honest, I didn't want to die having stood silent while the civilisation I believed in was damaged. I don't believe that I have changed the world for the better but I have changed me

I have experienced the warm feeling Norquist describes, of realising that I was neither alone in my views nor crazy to hold them, through fellowship with the readers of this blog and of others like it. I am not sure I have illuminated much with it, but I have kept that "little candle" alive and with it the hope that one day it will pass to someone who will be able to make the difference I have not. I hope the fellowship that has helped me so much has also helped my little band of readers. We have huddled together in the darkness and, at worst, we are still here and still thinking freely.

Though my little candle has not started any fires, those of other bloggers have. To light a fire you need – it seems – more incendiary views than mine. I have just finished reading Fatwa : Hunted in America by Pamela Geller for example. Her blog Atlas Shrugs, now renamed as The Geller Report, found a readership large enough for its advertising to fund campaigns that made a real world difference. She has become enough of a threat to merit (and I do regard it as a high honour) an ISIS attempt to assassinate her. Her security team killed both of her attackers. Her blog revenue also paid for those trained professionals to be there and do that. I envy her that.

Geller is not afraid. She is a feisty, aggressive, Jewish lady and will not back down in the face of what she fears is an embryonic Shoah, instigated by jihadists and supported by the Left/Liberal Western Establishment. She goes too far with her conspiracy theories. I no more believe that the Blairs and Merkels of this world are secretly plotting the downfall of the West than I believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Blair and Merkel do exist, alas, and their conduct does threaten the West but they are greedy fools, not traitors. Despite her imaginative excesses, Geller does great work in exposing the weakness of the West's leadership and the bias of the West's media. Her reward has been for ISIS to try to kill her and for mainstream journalists to "victim blame" her for that! Even President Trump publicly wondered in the aftermath of the assassination attempt (and this really is a compliment from him) why she was so provocative!

Meanwhile the social media giants seek to demonetize her online publications and to smear her relentlessly. Yet she remains, and this I can only admire, a spirited activist. I would be proud if I had pulled just one of her stunts: the one in which she put up two near-identical "hate sites" on Facebook. Every word on the sites was the same, except that one said "Kill the Jews" and the other said "Kill the Palestinians". Then she reported both pages to Facebook's team monitoring compliance with its Terms of Service. The "Kill the Jews" page remains, Facebook having ruled that it was free speech in compliance with its ToS. The "Kill the Palestinians" page was (but of course, did you ever doubt it?) taken down. She has cleverly proved the sinister bias in not just "The" Social Network but all the social networks. For another small example of that bias, I use an aggregator called Feedly for my daily reading list of news and blogs. I can't add the Geller Report to that list because Feedly doesn't recognise its existence. Yes, her website is there. Yes, her free speech is unimpeded. But I have to remember to visit her site because Feedly silently declines to accept it. Yet it would (and quite rightly) let me aggregate any number of hateful anti-Western sites.

Geller's book is not well-written. It is in her authorial voice, which is a tiring high-pitched scream. It's repetitive and just a wee bit narcissistic but it's really worth a read. Her career, whether on any given point she was right or wrong, illustrates clearly the anti-Western bias of the West's political, intellectual and journalistic leadership. While most of our citizens remain proud of the West's achievements, it really seems our elites are are subconsciously intent on civilisational suicide out of sheer self-loathing. Reading it made me feel guilty that, in pursuit of comforts she has cheerfully exchanged for physical danger and vilification,  I have sacrificed so little to its defence. 


Book reviews: 12 Rules for Life / Man's Search for Meaning

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,  by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

This is a global best-seller because (thank all gods there may be) the Leftist intelligentsia does not grok the Streisand effect. They denounce the author furiously in every available medium as "Alt-Right", "White supremacist", "Sexist" etc. All this tells you is that he doesn't conform to the orthodoxy of their Cult of Political Correctness. Even as they fulminate about him in their lecture theatres, their students are surreptitiously buying the book on their smartphones, which means that for the first time in a couple of generations, "Social Science" students are being directed to useful reading.

Of course he is none of those things, as few accused of them ever are. That will be clear if you read his book. In fact, I don't think he's political at all though his ideas have political implications. I have followed his career closely since he first came to prominence and could not tell you how he would vote in Canada, where he comes from, or in America or Britain had he a vote there. What he is professionally is a clinical psychologist and a life-changing university lecturer. What he is above anything else is an ethicist. His ethics (though he does not preach but cites Bible stories only as part of the history of our culture's development) are those of the Christian West since the Enlightenment. To the discomfiture of anti-Western academics (which is to say, thanks to the success of the Long March through the Institutions, most of them in the "Social Sciences") he is terrifyingly well-versed. This man has read everything you guiltily feel you should have.

A fair summary of his rise to fame can be found here and perhaps his most famous TV appearance can be found (to the shame of Cathy Newman, whose obituary will one day recall her only as the fool he bested) here. My review of his recent talk at the Hammersmith Apollo can be found here.

He mostly tells us things that those of us not brainwashed by the Cult have always known, at some level, but he underpins them with ferocious academic rigour. In a sense he tells us who we are and why. For me, who has been feebly grappling with the Postmodernist assault on Reason for years, it is a powerful resource but I am not its target audience; my children are. I wept as I read some passages, thinking of my beloved daughters and realising in just how many ways  I have failed them as a father.

That Dr. Peterson is becoming a father figure to a generation is no coincidence, trust me. We baby-boomers have been many things but good parents, for the most part, we were not.

12 Rules for Life is a highbrow "self-help" book. Although at my age, it's perhaps too late for major transformative effects, even I must thank him for improving my life. His rules inspired me to confront a relationship issue I had fearfully and destructively avoided since my late wife died. He says happiness is not a proper objective but, at best, a mere by-product of seeking a meaningful life. That may be so but I am a happier man because of him.

I will be buying a copy for every young person I love because it's not only, as advertised, "an antidote to chaos" but also (and this is why the Cult hates it) a manual for resisting their attempted destruction of Western Civilisation. I would pay it the high compliment of ranking it alongside Marcus Aurelius's The Meditations and Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son. A young person who has read those three books, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom, some Shakespeare, some Dickens, some Eliot and some Austen is well on the way to being educated. Throw in the original and best Tom Paine's Rights of Man and the next book I am going to review and he or she will be ready to go to university and face the Cult without fear of lasting damage.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Dr. Peterson references Viktor Frankl as "the psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor who wrote the classic Man's Search for Meaning" and reports his "social-psychological conclusion" that 

"...deceitful inauthentic individual existence is the precursor to social totalitarianism..."

This led me to take Frankl's book next from my reading pile. It was already waiting in that reproachful heap because recommended by a new friend; a trainee psychotherapist who sits next to me at my weekly Weight Watchers meeting. I have been teasing her about her new career – calling Psychology "the science of excuses" and mocking her that in switching from reflexology she's only moving from "massaging feet to massaging minds." She is a fun, mischievous person and takes it all in good part. She apparently enjoys winding up her tutors by quoting me.

Her recommendation was not at all mischievous though. Indeed, I am ashamed never to have heard of this book before. I could not have had the benefit of reading Dr. Peterson in my youth, but could have done far better in life had I read Frankl.

It's a modest work; only 155 pages long and divided into two parts. The first is an account of the author's experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps but

...is not concerned with the great horrors, which have already been described often enough (though less often believed), but with the multitude of small torments. In other words, it will try to answer this question: How was everyday life in the a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?

This part is moving and incredibly open-minded. Few survivors of the Shoah could write this for example;

The mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and  we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. Certainly, it was a considerable achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camp's influences, and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was exceptionally contemptible. 

This book too is "self-help" because of his account of how he and his comrades coped with the horrors of camp life. Frankl also offers direct advice that is often echoed in Dr. Peterson's book;

Don't aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself

The second part explains his "therapeutic doctrine" called "logotherapy", which he describes as "meaning-centred psychotherapy." It is less introspective and retrospective than traditional psychoanalysis and more focussed on the future – or rather the patient's future search for meaning in life. He speaks of a "will to meaning" in contrast to the "pleasure principle" or "will to pleasure" on which Freudian psychoanalysis is based.

Frankl makes an interesting point in the postscript to the book about the concept of collective guilt which underlies, damagingly, such postmodern concepts as "white privilege".

Since the end of World War II I have not become weary of publicly arguing against the collective guilt concept. Sometimes, however, it takes a lot of didactic tricks to detach people from their superstitions. An American woman once confronted me with the reproach, "How can you still write some of your books in German, Adolf Hitler's language?" In response, I asked her if she had knives in her kitchen, and when she answered that she did, I acted dismayed and shocked, exclaiming, "How can you still use knives after so many killers have used them to stab and murder their victims?" She stopped objecting to my writing books in German.

Both Peterson and Frankl quote Nietzsche as saying;

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how

In a sense that's the message of both books, though Frankl's horrific experiences illustrate it more tellingly than Peterson's contemporary examples and incidentally make a clearer mockery of Post-Modernist trouble-makers who convince young people living privileged comfortable 21st Century lives that they are either oppressed or oppressors.

These are both books that will make you not just better informed, but a better person. I recommend them both. 

 


Live at the Apollo with Dr Jordan Peterson

I attended Dr Peterson's event at the Apollo last night. I say "event" because I don't know what else to call it. It was actually a lecture on philosophy but "lecture" seems the wrong word for an address to five thousand excited (and mostly young) people who gave him a rockstar reception. If it were still the 1960s, I might call it a "happening".

Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report introduced him and observed that "tonight it feels like we are winning". It was certainly inspiring to me, having tried my humble best for years to defend the values of the West, to be in a room with so many like-minded people listening raptly to a man doing an oh-so-much better job of it.  The dominance by the Leftist establishment of the public arena from the media through politics to the comedy for which the Apollo's stage is most famous has made me feel at times as though my few gallant readers and I were hiding in a forlorn, shrinking ghetto of ideas. Last night my adrenaline surged as I realised Western civilisation is alive, kicking and beloved. So I don't envy Dr Peterson his success where I have failed. Rather I am relieved by it - in every sense. I am relieved that we are not doomed and as a sentry on the borders of Western thought, I feel that I and my intellectual popgun have been relieved of duty by a Rambo armed to the teeth. I am happy to be to him one of the true friends he advises people to seek out. I delight in his success and I hope he has much more.

I am reading his book at present. I am both loving it and finding it hard going. He lays out twelve rules for life and justifies them with essays that cover prehistory, mythology, biology (human and other), religion, the ideas of the great philosophers and the wisdom of the great psychologists. It draws upon his extensive personal study, his experience as a clinical psychologist and his background in academia, where he has laboured long in obscurity among the cultural Marxists and malevolent identarians. 

His talk last night was hard going too. In introducing the Q&A Dave Rubin commented that each talk so far on the tour has been different. This is no scripted, rehearsed event to promote a best-selling book. Peterson is an experienced educator who simply thinks aloud in the presence of his students, drawing upon his extensive learning. He does so at a intellectual level rarely attempted today in dumbed-down Britain. He makes no concessions to his audience. None. And they react as if they had been dying of thirst in the desert and he had happened by with a glass of water. 

Rubin asked him about this week's article by Bari Weiss in the New York Times in which Weiss coined the phrase the "Intellectual Dark Web" and listed him as a member. He thought it amusing and said he was waiting to see how that idea developed. He had given some thought to what the IDW members had in common, however, and concluded that, in contrast to the condescension of the Left,  it was "assuming the intelligence of their audience". He certainly did that last night. The audience stayed with him for an hour and a half as he wrestled with the great truths of being human; nodding and murmuring and sometimes cheering their approval and laughing at his occasional highbrow jokes. Gentle reader, though we have doubted ourselves in the teeth of our enemies' sneers, we are not the fools they take us for. There are millions of us longing – not for sound bites or dog whistles crafted by the likes of Alistair Campbell, nor for the kind of "Leftism Lite" offered by Conservatives in name only – but for a higher level of principled discussion based on an intelligent appreciation of our civilisation's core ethic; the "sovereignty of the individual".

I spent a lot of money to be in Dr Peterson's presence (£55 for a ticket plus an £8.50 "booking fee") but, given all the many hours of his lectures that are available for free at his YouTube channel, no-one needs to feel unlucky if they can't afford to do the same. Rising rapidly from obscurity because of the stand he took on Canada's "compelled speech" law making "misgendering" a trans person a "hate crime", he has become the most important public intellectual of our age. He says that, though of course there is a political dimension to the subjects he's discussing, his objectives are not political.

He says his career has been about talking to and educating people one by one to help them live better lives. That's how he set out to give his life meaning and it is still the rộle in which he is most comfortable. Besides, as he joked, "I don't think five thousand of you would have come out tonight to listen to Justin Trudeau." He is a brilliant, humble man who says (and I believe him) that he is both astonished and grateful that in the last eighteen months he has been able to help people on a scale he had never imagined. Asked how he was coping with his sudden fame his response was cool and telling. "I have always been a careful man," he said, "but I have learned to be even more careful now that there are people waiting to pounce on any error". 

The enemies of the West who have marched through and seized control of our academic institutions hate and fear him. They will defame him at every turn. Rubin asked the audience last night to make a video to post on their Twitter and Instagram feeds using the hashtag #12rules of Peterson's answer to his question about that defamation. There will be dozens of technically-superior versions out there, but you can find my video here. I hope it will encourage you to watch many more over at his site. 

Dr Peterson's message is that we should all seek to find meaning in our own lives, for our own good and for that of our loved ones and our community. It's tautology to speak of false idols because all idols are false. He declines to be our political leader but he is a wise teacher to whom we can all look for guidance. I commend him to you wholeheartedly. 


Book review: The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes

The Shortest History of Germany: Amazon.co.uk: James Hawes: 9781910400418: Books.

I mentioned this book in a recent post and read it with great pleasure the following day. I commend it to you. 

 

Sadly, most Brits only study the least appealing parts of German history. Arguably the only true historical consensus in divided post war Britain is that the Nazis were not nice chaps. I hope I can claim to have done better than that because I studied European History to A level and have also read a fair amount since for my own amusement but this book nonetheless covers parts of German history of which I knew little and understood less.

 

I have to confess that I had the mental stereotype of Germany; one of "state worship, puritanical zeal and scar-faced militarism" that the author feels the need to refute. In fairness that stereotype — apparently more Prussian than German — was in some cases reinforced by German colleagues with whom I worked closely in my career. That might be because they act up to it. Just as Brits abroad, when tired of pointing out that we're not all floppy haired effeminates like Hugh Grant, eventually give up and act the part to comic effect. I did actually attend meetings with an elderly German colleague who sported duelling scars, for example. No really. I know. I would have called myself racist to imagine him, if I had not actually met him.

 

Some of the most interesting parts of the books are about prehistory. The Romans invented Germany as a term to describe the disparate and unconnected mutually warring tribes who lived beyond the Rhine. Rather like the British made a polity (and later, mistakenly, two) from mere geography in India, the Romans invaded, recruited to their armies and civilised this imaginary ethnic group and then defined its furthest limit by giving up at the River Elbe. What I mostly learned from reading this book is that when we Brits respond emotionally to the idea of German-ness we actually have the people beyond the Elbe in mind. The "real" Germans (as defined by the author) respond to these trans-Elbians, interestingly, rather as we do. Hitler's support was largely to be found there as today is more of the vote for extremes of Right or Left. 

 

The era of West Germany was a Golden Age not just because of Marshall Aid and the Economic Miracle but because those pesky Trans-Elbeans were sequestered in the DDR living down to our mis-targeted stereotype. "Why are the Chinese so happy?" goes a modern German joke. "Because they still have their Wall". 

 

For much of our history Brits thought of Germans as cousins. The Common Law probably began in long forgotten forests in Saxony and English is arguably German garnished with French. It has been a long sad collapse from that familial feeling to the present unpleasantness of shouting "two world wars and one World Cup" at their football fans. 

 

I don't regret Brexit a bit but sadly it probably won't help with this estrangement, given how devoutly Cis-Elbean Germans believe in the EU. The best that those of us who like Germany (and not just its excellent cars and kitchens) can do is read this book, encourage fellow Brits to read it, play nicely with such German friends as we may have and hope. Mostly we should hope for our two nations to feature in each others history books more, and more peacefully, in future. When they shake off their misguided obsession with the EU (or more likely it collapses under them) we will still be neighbours and - let's hope - friends.


The Scouring of the Shire

I am striking a better balance now between online and offline. Having taken a blogging break after my Great American Tour, I have returned to a slimmed-down daily diet of blogs old and new, but am restricting consumption to once a day. This, and a serious attempt to get back to regular sleeping habits has helped a lot. I now find I am reading "real" books with pleasure again, without straining to concentrate.

I re-read The Lord of the Rings over the weekend. It's the only novel I have ever returned to more than twice and I long ago lost count of how many times I have re-read it. An index of my success in retraining my concentration is that I found myself looking up a "new" word that I have clearly read umpteen times without noticing; "thrawn". It's a useful one too; very applicable to our modern rulers.

The book seems to have fallen out of favour with the current generation. The Misses Paine cordially dislike it. Nor was their view changed by Peter Jackson's films. They tolerated the first one, but found The Two Towers tedious. I love it myself but acknowledge they have a point. Jackson clearly got carried away with the powers granted him by CGI; manouevering more armies than Tolkien ever did - and marching legions of photogenic elves that never featured in the original.

I read each book and watched each film in turn and noticed all the ways in which Jackson strayed - sometimes justifiably and sometimes not - from his text. For example "The Scouring of the Shire" is one of my favourite chapters of the book but he omits it from the film; his hobbits return to a Shire unaffected by the great events of the story.

In Tolkien's version, of course, the Shire had been much affected. I had forgotten just how out of step with current political "thought" (if mindless conventionalism can be dignified as such) Tolkien's account is. Perhaps one reason why modern social democrats (as most Brits now are) do not take to Tolkien's masterpiece is his account of the practical effects of "Sarumanism" on the hobbits' homeland.

    'I am sorry, Mr Merry,' said Hob, 'but it isn't allowed.'

    'What isn't allowed?'

    'Taking in folk off-hand like, and eating extra food, and all that,' said Hob.

    'What's the matter with the place?' said Merry. 'Has it been a bad year, or what? I thought it had been a fine summer and harvest.'

    'Well no, the year's been good enough,' said Hob. 'We grows a lot of food, but we don't rightly know what becomes of it. It's all these "gatherers" and "sharers", I reckon, going around counting and measuring and taking off to storage. They do more gathering than sharing, and we never see most of the stuff again.'

Or how about the career of a "Shirriff" (hobbit policeman) under the new regime?

    'We're the First Eastfarthing Troop now. There's hundreds of Shirriffs all told, and they want more, with all these new rules. Most of them are in it against their will, but not all. Even in the Shire there are some as like minding other folk's business and talking big. And there's worse than that: there's a few as does spy-work for the Chief and his Men.'

It strikes me that this chapter of The Lord of the Rings gives as good an account as could be hoped for in modern literature of what it would be like to roll back a social-democratic state. In the story, most hobbits welcome the return of their old freedoms and are happy to be released from the burden of snooping, spying and busybodying. But of course their "gathering/sharing" regime has been in place less than a year. It would be a far more difficult task in the England on which the Shire was so clearly based.

Can readers suggest other passages in modern literature that are as clearly anti-statist?


Burning our money

Burning our money.
Mike_DenhamI have missed "Wat Tyler's" old blog, which has been silent for two years. It was the one to which I always referred sceptics about blogging. "Wat's" alter ego was the perfect person to counteract the stereotype of bloggers as opinionated idiots writing from their mothers' basements. Mike Denham is a professional economist who has worked both at the Treasury and in the private sector. He is erudite and thorough in his research and considered in his conclusions.

The good news is that the Burning our Money blog is back. The better news is that Mike has written a book with the same title. True to his diligent nature he has not just recycled his six years of blogging but has researched and written it from scratch.

I met Mike once before at a bloggers' party where we were the only two present of any reasonable vintage. I was happy to see him again this evening at the launch party for his book. Here he is (click to enlarge), holding up the copy he kindly signed for me. I can't wait to get stuck into it and, knowing his writing so well, I confidently commend it to you. I also recommend you subscribe to the revived blog. On past form, it will be a good source of hard data with which to smite the dishonest rascals in power.

The book is available from BitebackAmazon,Waterstones, and all good booksellers and the blog, of course, is here.

Book review: Single Acts of Tyranny, by Stuart Fairney

Single Acts of Tyranny: Amazon.co.uk: Stuart Fairney: Books.

I come late to this party. Leg-iron, The Nameless Libertarian, Neil Craig, Anna Raccoon, NickM and The Englishman have already reviewed this book and left little enough for your humble blogger to add. To be honest, I put off reading it for fear I might not be able to write a positive review. The author, Stuart Fairney, is a commenter here and on other right-thinking blogs. I was reluctant to risk upsetting so worthy a soul, but it turns out I need not have worried. I picked it up yesterday, read it in one go and enjoyed it.

Stuart has no problems with the aspects of writing fiction that have always deterred me; plot and characterisation. I fear any novel of mine would be catastrophically Randian in those respects. Ayn Rand's novels were polemics in sheep's clothing. Her plots were weak and her characters at best unbelievable (and at worst obnoxious). Any one of the orations she passes off as dialogue could fill a broadsheet's opinion columns for decades. Sadly, it's possible to believe in such bores (particularly if you hang out in the political blogosphere) but not in any characters who are convinced by them.

Single Acts of Tyranny is a counterfactual novel. In this universe, the "late unpleasantness" between the states turned out the other way. Modern Confederate America (slavery long-since abandoned) is a libertarian nation. The Northern States have become a sclerotic and strangely familiar welfare state; a thinly-disguised modern Britain. It's a good idea and it works well, particularly for British readers; distancing us from the "our NHS" type sentimentality that often blinds us to other views. The plot is thrillerish and the characters (if a little too white hat/black hat) are plausible.

I have some criticisms. There is too little humour. Stuart seems overly keen to get all his political points across in one book. There are some Randian moments as the characters lengthily talk politics in complete sentences. While the videos the hero posts on the 'net are not remotely on the scale of the infamous Galt monologue, they are reminiscent in their intent.

A ruthless professional editor could have improved the book. He would have picked up the typoes, but more importantly persuaded Stuart to make a few, illustrative political points rather then drive all of them home so hard. He might have suggested that if the characters won a small victory that left hope for the future, it would be more plausible than total success. He might have steered him to make his points more in the style of the novelising luvvies of our political establishment. They present their point of view casually, as if it's obvious. To be fair, they don't face the same resistance as Stuart.

I enjoyed the polemical aspects of the book. I also enjoyed the characters and the plot. I even enjoyed Stuart's handling of the sex scenes, which are notoriously difficult - and another reason I won't write a novel any time soon. Anyone who is a regular reader here will enjoy the book but to reach a wider audience, Stuart should allow his politics quietly to inform his story-telling, rather than putting them front and centre.


An inconvenient challenge

I am an arts and (though I shudder to associate Law with such "disciplines" as Sociology) social sciences man. My interests are literature, theatre and history. I love technology, but all I know about serious science is Professor Karl Popper's* explanation of the scientific method as the postulation of hypotheses followed by the performance of rigorous experiments to falsify them, resulting in provisional "truths".

One of the first bloggers I followed was A.W. Montford, known to me until recently only as Bishop Hill. Of late he has found a new audience on the topic of climate change. I have just finished his book The Hockey Stick Illusion. I feared it would be hard going but I was wrong. Despite some necessary (and thank goodness elegant) explanations of abstruse complexities, it is a page-turner. I commend it to you.

In reading it, I have acquired a new hero - a rare event at my time of life. Steve McIntyre has something in common with one of my other heroes, John Harrison. Both were derided by the closed ranks of the scientific establishment, largely on the basis of a snobbish reaction against an unqualified** "outsider." Harrison's inventions made the modern world possible. McIntyre's work (done for intellectual curiosity and at his own expense) may yet save it.

A prize-winning mathematician as a young man in Canada, McIntyre's family circumstances dictated a remunerative practical life as a mining engineer, rather than in academia. In retirement, he became interested in climate science, his gut instincts telling him that there was something wrong with a leaflet sent to every home in Canada in 2002 to promote the Kyoto Protocol. His reading led him to the work of Professor Michael E. Mann. Mann's paper, published in Nature on 23rd April 1998, strongly influenced the IPCC's and the world's politicians' view that anthropogenic global warming (AGW, or colloquially "climate change") was a potentially apocalyptic threat. A graph from that paper, showing the Earth's temperature as steady for centuries, with a sudden up-tick post-industrialisation, became the most influential image in selling AGW theory to the world. It (in its various forms over the years) is known as "the Hockey Stick" and its scientific supporters, clustered around Mann, are known as "the Hockey Team."

Hockey_stick_chart_ipcc
Many of you will have seen the graph behind Al Gore as he presented An Inconvenient Truth. You will certainly have seen it somewhere. It's burned onto our collective consciousness and it's in our childrens' school books. It's also based on flawed science and is pretty much discredited. Yet it continues to influence policy across the world, to the possible detriment of human civilisation.

Professor Mann is a poor scientist and a weak man, but not a bad person. He's sincere, as are the vast majority of proponents of the AGW hypothesis. He foresees catastrophic peril to humanity and is frustrated by those who doubt it and therefore impede (as he sees it) the necessary solutions. I am sure he was sincere in writing the original paper and in all his subsequent (sometimes dishonest) defences of it. I even believe, sadly, that he has been sincere in trashing his "opponents" and seeking to prevent their work from being published in the journals.

I imagine he feels such means are justified by a noble end. Sadly, that is how almost all corruption begins. One way to know you are going wrong in life is to catch yourself spinning data to serve your heartfelt objectives. His enemies point out that the paper and particularly the Hockey Stick propelled him from being a 33 year old unknown who had just completed his doctorate, to being one of the most influential scientists on Earth. He has certainly benefitted from it, but few men are evil enough to condemn billions to poverty for personal gain or glory. There are some such, no doubt, but I don't believe he is among them. It seems sadly clear however that for whatever (probably noble) reason, he has betrayed his calling as a man of science.

AGW proponents denounce sceptics as conspiracy theorists; ridiculing the straw man idea that so many distinguished scientists could be induced to conspire for political ends. I have never believed in such a conspiracy. I simply believe in the human weaknesses I see every day, not least in myself. Chief among these is pride. Exalt a man for a piece of work that proves flawed and his ego-involvement will lead him astray if he is anything less than a saint. He will defend it and call in every favour from his friends to do likewise. John Harrison's enemies were sincere too. Yes, their motives were mixed. They wanted the huge prize he had so clearly earned. They wanted to maintain their respected status against the rising fame of an interloper. But they were no cartoon villains and neither are the Hockey Team. Sadly, you don't need to be Dr. Evil to hold back the advance of civilisation. You just need to be misguided and proud.

That Mann is a scientific Salieri does not make McIntyre Mozart. He has exposed Mann's methodological errors, but he has never purported to attempt an alternative analysis. He has no more disproved AGW theory than Mann has "proved" it. The Bish's excellent book merely shows that the members of the Hockey Team are (as are we all) weak humans trapped in a mesh of pride. We should not allow our distaste for their perversion of science to divert us from seeking truth. That truth will take dangerously longer to establish provisionally because of their (and their supporting politicians') unscientific interference with honest attempts to test it.

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* A nice moment of my life was Professor Popper's [grand-daughter][see correction in comments] (a friend of Ms Paine the Elder) spotting his books in my home and exclaiming that she had never seen copies before. But that's a story for another post.

** McIntyre, as a cursory glance at his Wikipedia biography will confirm, is far from the uneducated autodidact that Harrison was (and neither would he claim Harrison's status as a world-changing genius) but my point still stands.


France and Germany; enemies of knowledge

FT.com / Technology - France to oppose Google book scheme.

Having lived in countries with weak enforcement of intellectual property rights I am by no means of the trendy "Pirate Party" persuasion. There's a reason you can't buy CD's or download MP3s of Russia's rock bands, to give a trivial example. It's because, thanks to widespread piracy, they don't make records. They can only make money from live concerts. That's a loss to us all; one of many such. Envy of the likes of Madonna (whose oeuvre apparently represents the most valuable IP asset on the planet) should not blind us. Ensuring that creative people benefit from their efforts is good for us all.

France and Germany's governments, however, are taking this too far. Google's project to digitise the world's libraries and make their content available online will, when realised, revolutionise intellectual life. It's potentially the biggest thing since Gutenberg. In the US, creative lawyers and judges have found a way to compensate authors still in copyright for their contributions without (such is the genius of the Common Law) any government involvement. Google is looking to find a way to do the same across the world.

Google does not always live up to its motto "do no evil". It cooperates with tyrannical regimes in censoring the internet for example (arguing it's better their populations have half a loaf). On this occasion, however, it is trying to be a benefactor. Imagine the ability to search all of world literature in the same way you can search the trivial burblings of bloggers!! If that doesn't move you, you are an idiot (or a French or German politician). But I repeat myself.

Remember Chirac's hamfisted efforts to create a state-owned French rival to Google because he couldn't bear the thought of the world's main online portal being American? I have no doubt from the tone of the French pronouncements on the subject that they are motivated by the same crude, envious anti-Americanism. These fools will one day be remembered as the 21st Century equivalents of the church officials who suppressed Galileo's writings.