I spent today at this seminar co-hosted by the Ayn Rand Institute and the Ayn Rand Centre UK. I am not myself an objectivist but the speakers and the subjects were appealing. It was an interesting afternoon beginning with Yaron Brook’s presentation on the long-standing historic links between anti-capitalism and anti-semitism, going all the way back to Marx himself.
There followed a panel session on The Nanny State: Could Labour Outdo the Tories? featuring Douglas Carswell, Chris Snowdon, Lucy Harris and the indefatigable Dr Brook (who contributed at length to every session except the last).
Chris Snowden said he wished, as someone who opposed both Socialism and the Nanny State, that he could simply link the two. He then presented a sadly convincing case that, whatever other damage a Labour government might do, it was unlikely to be worse than the “Conservatives” in terms of interfering in our personal lifestyle and health choices. There is even a chance that it may be genuinely more liberal on the issue of soft drugs.
Lucy Harris, MEP for The Brexit Party and founder of Leavers of Britain said that to call the phenomenon "Nanny" statism is too kind. It’s not a nanny it’s a boss. Dr Brook said that the world needed bosses and that such people are actually tyrants. Lucy thought that the real problem in both the EU and the UK in this respect is Quangoism. I think she's right. Far too many nanny staters are not driven by genuine concern for our welfare. They are rent-seekers making a good living from creating jobs for themselves telling us all how to live. Lucy said she regularly re-reads Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier, which perfectly sums up the attitude – veering between "sniggering superiority" and contempt – of middle class socialists for the working people they profess to serve. I confess I haven't read that since my schooldays. I must do so again!
Douglas Carswell was the most optimistic member of the panel. He believes that Brexit has been a game changer in that voters will never take our incompetent rulers seriously again. He thinks social media has also made it permanently impossible for them to set the national agenda and steer debate as they always have. I think he underestimates the kind of sociopath attracted to the political life, but I hope I am wrong.
The next panel was called Can We Disagree? Cultural and Legal attacks on Diversity of Speech and the speakers were Toby Young, Yaron Brook, young Twitter sensation, Soutiam Goodarzi — @Soutiam21 — and Dr Brook again.
Toby Young spoke of a friend's experience in appearing on the BBC's "Question Time" show in Birmingham at the time Muslim parents were protesting outside a school about the "sex education" programme which contradicted their conservative beliefs. An audience member had asked the panelists simply to state whether they sided with the parents or the school authorities. All but his friend said emphatically they sided with the school. At dinner afterwards, all admitted to his friend that they did sympathise with the parents but had been afraid to say so for fear of being "monstered" by the "woke" lobby. He also spoke about the dishonest way in which the "no platform" types allege the risk of physical harm (e.g. "hate crimes") and psychological harm from mere speech. He pointed out that the much-bruited claims of a rise in hate crimes after the Brexit Referendum didn't show up in the statistics and that there was simply no evidence of psychological harm from speech.
He is planning to launch a Free Speech Union to support students, academics and others facing sanctions for speech and invited anyone interested in helping out in its formation to email him at email@example.com.
Dr Brook said that successive governments have failed in their key duty to protect free speech against violence. The problem began with Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses. Governments did nothing to defend him. Then no newspaper in the US was prepared to publish the Mohammed cartoons from a Danish newspaper that triggered Islamist violence. He didn't blame the press because it was very clear the US Government wouldn’t defend them against the violent reactions they very reasonably feared. The current US Government, for all its bluster, won’t defend people against antifa violence either. He described the "woke" extremists against free speech as having a "Pre-enlightenment attitude". In those days the medieval church defined the range of acceptable truths that could be discussed. Now it is leftist academics who define it, but the outcome is the same.
All panelists agreed that it was necessary to fight back if freedom of speech is not to be lost. Soutiam’s youthful confidence was remarkable. She says the behaviour of Britain's university authorities in relation to suppression of free speech is more dangerous that that of government but she’s prepared to take them on. I am not sure if she's fearless or naive and I hope her prospects are not damaged by her courage. I weighed in during Q&A with a couple of examples from my own experience of just how lost Britain's universities are to liberty.
The final session was on People and Profits: Who Would Benefit From the End of the City? The speakers were George Grigoropoulos and Andrew Boff. George pointed out that Conservatives have, since Thatcher (whose tenure he described as “a blip in the history of regulation”) been responsible for a massive increase in financial sector regulation. Labour is not blameless but has not been historically any worse.
He said the only real difference has been in “the intensity of application of the same principles and assumptions” —namely, that risk can be regulated away (it can’t) and that regulators are inherently wise (they're not). He pointed out that it takes 200 full time employees per bank to comply just with the Basel III regime. For the whole EU that’s over 75,000 expensive staff taken out of production to collect and submit data to regulators he doubts are even capable of analysing it. He highlighted the moral jeopardy inherent in such detailed risk management regimes. Instead of actually assessing risk, banks are “ticking regulatory boxes”. When (inevitably) some unforeseen risk causes a crisis, they will line up to be bailed out, saying “we did what you said this isn’t our fault”.
Andrew’s presentation was more party political. He accepted that his party’s Theresa May had been the worst PM in living memory but said Corbyn and McDonnell were “lost to reason” and would make her seem good by comparison.
It’s always good to be reminded that the routine idiocies of our political class are neither unnoticed nor unopposed. The rest of the audience members were mostly very young reminding me that, despite what one hears, not all our young people are submissive to the busybody state.
I have left instructions that Paul Simon’s song “the Boxer” should be played at my funeral. Apart from the bit about “the whores on Seventh Avenue” I think it’s a good broad brush account of how my life has felt to me. It contains remarkable wisdom in the line;
A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.
That a 16 year old Jewish kid from Queenswas wise enough to know that still surprises me. I first heard the line when I was about that age myself and it should have been a helpful gift, but I was never able to internalise it usefully. I only ever remembered it too late; when my desire to believe something had led me astray.
One of my daughters once told someone “People have Dad wrong. He’s not a cynic. He’s a disappointed idealist.”Time after time I have trusted when I shouldn’t and ventured where angels fear to tread because I was not as wise as young Mr. Simon. The will-o-the-wisps of my hopes and dreams led me through Life's swamp. I’ve been lucky and have no complaints. My regrets, such as they are. are actually about my more cautious moments. Inspirational hopes and dreams lead men where dry calculation never would and – up to a point – that may be a good thing.
in my brief career in student politics, I heard wise old sorts in the Conservative Party say things like “the facts of life are Tory” and “Tory at 20, you have no heart. Labour at 30, you have no brain.” Slightly advanced by Ricky Tomlinson*, my own trajectory confirmed the latter at least. My career as a business lawyer certainly confirmed the former — at least when the Tory Party was still Conservative and based its policies on the facts of economic life.
So it’s not surprising that wave after wave of youngsters falls naively for the puffery of the snake oil salesmen of the left. Why, however, are there mature individuals who can’t see what poison Socialism is?
Partly it can be accounted for by the wisdom of the young Paul Simon. No-one wants to hear that the "facts of life are Tory" – especially if life is not going well for them personally. If the market values your labour less than you do yourself, it's obviously easier to believe that the market is wrong than to do something about improving your value to it. If you've trained for a dead industry, it's easier to demand that the state keeps it moving – zombie like – than to accept your mistake and retrain. Yet there is so much evidence that Socialism doesn't work. More than half of mankind lived under Socialist planned economies in the 20th Century. The empirical results of this monstrous experiment were uniformly terrible. Tens of millions died. Billions were impoverished economically, morally and in terms of liberty.
This is recent history. Many of the people who lived through it are still alive. As this article shows, (behind a pay-wall but you can still read a couple of articles a month for free) young people who listened to their family's experiences learned the ideological lessons. They did so even when they belonged to identity groups courted by the left in its attempt to foment divisions and hatreds to be "resolved" by their panacea; state violence to constrain free choice and free expression.
My childhood was awash with my family’s forlorn recollections about the hardships they endured under communism in Poland: the chronic scarcity of food, medicine and other basic necessities; outright hostility to basic liberties. And if we didn’t like it, too bad: they killed anyone who tried to leave.
Yet there are leftists in Poland today. Indeed there are statist authoritarians of both right and left who believe (though their grandparents are there to tell them otherwise) that an inexplicably virtuous state directing the masses will make them more moral, more patriotic and more productive than they would choose to be themselves. It would be funny if it were not so damned tragic. I lived in Poland from 1992 to 2003 and delighted in the fact that I met no-one, ever, who was inclined to believe such nonsense. In what is, perhaps, another example of my "hearing what I wanted to hear and disregarding the rest", I told myself the Polish nation was inoculated forever against the virus of statism. I was wrong. The ideological hog cycle may be even shorter than the economic one.
Confirmation bias is another explanation of people's ability to ignore evidence. We are seeing it daily in the never-ending national shouting match over Brexit. Every twist and turn just leads each side to exclaim "See! I told you so!!" It is all (even for someone so enthusiastically anti-EU that his late wife once demanded he make a New Year's resolution to shut up about it for 12 months) so damned boring that I have stopped watching the news or reading my daily newspaper.
Not too long ago, we saw the British Left praise Hugo Chavez's socialist experiment in Venezuela as an example to us all. Now it has ended, as all previous experiments did, in shortages, hardship and oppression, the very same people "hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest". It wasn't socialism after all. Mistakes were made. There was external interference by agents of capitalism. There was sabotage. All the excuses, in fact, that the Stalinists used to explain the stubborn divergence of tractor production statistics from reality.
It seems that every fact is Janus-faced to those informed by ideology or faith. The closest the left has come to acknowledging this was in developing the doctrine of post-modernism, This denies the very existence of truth and argues that all "facts" are mere social "constructs" shaped by the class, ethnic or other identity of the people positing them. How that can be true, when there is no "truth" is a question for longer-lived humans than I expect to be. I need time to have some more fun before I die, thank you very much.
Jeremy Bentham, perhaps the most pragmatic of all English philosophers, is said to have died regretting the great error of his life. which was to assume that it was only necessary to show Man what was right in order for him to embrace it. We who aspire to be rational must learn not to despair when Man cleaves to the irrational. In winning people over to the cause of Reason we must work with, and not merely scorn, their foibles. Were any religious people persuaded to renounce their faith by the late, great Christopher Hitchens' (probably correct) characterisation of their views as the product of "wishful thinking" for example? I have a close friend who is religious and, when I fear he is making a mistake, I rack my brain for the teachings of my long-ago Sunday school to construct a theological argument for him to act differently. Sometimes it works – at least a little better than telling him his faith is "wishful thinking" would! I care about him enough to shape my arguments to his beliefs when I want to help him. Perhaps I should extend that courtesy to others? How far though can I extend a courtesy that costs little when dealing with a kind and (mostly) rational man before I am respecting the monstrous views of barbarians?
If there is no Truth, life is just a pointless frolic. Yet, as Professor Peterson tells us convincingly in his books and videos, all the research suggests that the search for meaning is what makes us happy, not (pace the Founding Fathers) "the pursuit of happiness" per se. We don't need there to be Truth or Meaning to be happy, but we do need to be looking for both. Post-modernism is quite literally a counsel of despair and I suspect is only meant to dispirit most of us into inactivity while its hypocritical proponents get on with their quest to rule the world.
Where, gentle reader, do you stand? Is there truth? Should it be sought? Can it be found? To the extent that it requires others to accept it in order to improve the world, how best can one persuade them?
*In the linked post, I said I couldn't be sure that it was Tomlinson. My father has since read that post and confirmed that it was.
I am ideologically attracted to any alternative to fiat currency, which gives far too much power to the state. It's a power that has been ruthlessly exploited to steal (at least that's what it would be called if anyone else did it) from savers, investors and lenders by debasing currency through inflation. As Professor Philip Booth points out in the introduction to this book, the current pound coin when introduced purchased just 20% more than the "threepenny bit" from 1937 that it resembled. Under the "wise stewardship" of HM Government, the pound sterling has lost 98% of its value over the last century. The good old greenback that replaced it as the world's reserve currency has lost 85% of its value since 1971!
These losses are not caused by stupidity, but malice. Abandoning the gold standard and moving to currencies backed only by trust in the state gave untrustworthy states (that is to say all of them) the chance to tax secretly via inflation. So I would just love there to be a private alternative.
Currency serves three purposes. It's a means of exchange, a store of value and a unit of accounting. Historically it was either made of or linked to a substance (like gold or silver) that had an intrinsic value and a limited supply. Professor Kevin Dowd does a good job in this little monograph of explaining both how private currencies, including such cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin, work and why governments hate them so much.
He tells the story of two alternatives to the US dollar introduced by businessmen there; 'the Liberty Dollar" and "e-Gold". The Liberty Dollar was an actual coin (technically a medallion, because it didn't meet the legal definition of coinage) that was denominated in dollars and periodically revalued against them. People could exchange them for goods, hold them as a more reliable store of value because they were made of silver or gold, but couldn't really account in them because the relevant authorities wouldn't recognise them. The inventor, one Bernard von NotHaus, was trying to make a point about the US Government's abuse of its powers by providing a private, voluntary barter currency as an alternative. Liberty Dollars were not forgeries. They didn't pretend to be dollars. Indeed the whole point of them was that they were NOT dollars. They were something not merely different, but in key respects better.
By the time the US authorities stamped out the scheme and secured a 22 years sentence (vastly reduced on appeal) for Bernard, the people who held Liberty Dollars ended up richer than if they had held the "real" ones. He had made his point – in practical if not legal terms the authorities were the thieves – but he paid a heavy personal price to do so.
e-Gold went a stage further. Notes were issued against an actual reserve of gold held in London (to be beyond the reach of the US authorities). Doug Jackson, an American libertarian, came up with the idea – again neither to defraud nor even for personal gain – but to make a politico-economic point. Though holders of e-Gold again did better financially than if they had kept the dollars with which they bought it, he met the same fate. As Professor Dowd observes;
If one compares this case with the Liberty Dollar, one immediately notices worrying parallels: two decent businessmen operating out in the open, operating under the rule of law but trying to offer alternative monetary systems in one form or another, and both taken down by government agencies that were arguably operating outside the law themselves and have never been held to account – in essence, the victims of arbitrary government attack.
The ferocity of the government's response in both cases can only really be explained by its fear of citizens getting too close to a dirty secret. Economics is famously dull and few can be bothered to study it. Governments have, by the introduction of fiat currency, been able to hoodwink even quite intelligent citizens. We have accepted inflation as a fact of life (even though there was none for 300 years in the UK until we came off the High Gold Standard) and have somehow failed to connect it with the immorality of government policy. A couple of clever gents had to be "taken down" not for any actual threat they posed to the US dollar, but because their educational projects might just have succeeded in revealing the ethical horror at the heart of the Fed.
Hence Bitcoin, not actually the first cryptocurrency and now only one of many, but so far the best known. The ferocious use of state power to suppress earlier private currencies made it necessary for this new one to be utterly anonymous. Again, the motives were ideologically libertarian.
the designers of cryptocurrency sought to create not just a new currency, but a new anarchist social order
In the words of Wei Dai, the inventor of a Bitcoin predecessor,
the objective is to have a crypto-anarchy in which the government is not temporarily destroyed but permanently forbidden and permanently unnecessary. It's a community where the threat of violence is impotent because violence is impossible, and violence is impossible because its participants cannot be linked to their true names or physical locations.
Bitcoin has succeeded so far because even its inventor is anonymous, known only by the nom de guerre "Satoshi Nakamoto." It is completely decentralised. There is no central authority or organiser whatever. The "coin" is digital and uses public key cryptography. Authorising and tracking of transactions in Bitcoin is monitored by the community collectively. Before a coin changes hands, it is checked by the network to ensure that the user hasn't already spent it. As "Nakamoto" explained on its launch in 2009;
The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that is required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust ... A generation ago, multi-user time sharing computer systems had a similar problem ... Users had to rely on password protection to to secure their files, placing trust in the system administrator to keep their information private. Then strong encryption became available to the masses, and trust was no longer required. Data could be secured in a way that was physically impossible to access, no matter for what reason, no matter how good the excuse, no matter what.
It's time we had the same thing for money. With e-currency based on cryptographic proof, without the need to trust a third party middleman, money can be secure and transactions complete.
The other ingenious innovation is the way in which the money supply is limited. This it too technical for me to explain here without re-typing large parts of the book, but if you are interested (and by now I hope you are) you can read the whole thing in PDF format here.
Professor Dowd doesn't think Bitcoin will endure but he is confident that one of its competitors will and he believes it will not be possible for governments to suppress it. Paradoxically, given that the whole purpose of a crypto-currency is to evade state control, the more powerful the oppression, the more valuable it becomes!
A state can be defined as a "regional monopoly of violence" but if Wei Dai's dream of making violence impotent comes true, at least in this respect, it will no longer be of use. As Professor Dowd says;
If the state really wants to get rid of Bitcoin, it should eliminate the state controls that feed it, for example, if the state ended the wars on drugs and terror, reduced taxes, ended policies of financial repression and re-established the privacy of individuals' personal financial information.
We all know, whatever our views on the value of statism, how little any state wants to do that! In the end the value of a functioning crypto-currency beyond the reach of state violence may be to restore honest money in general. That, gentle readers, is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
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.
For the last four years, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has held a conference targeted at students under the banner THINK. Despite my age and my not being in formal education, I attended the first in 2015. I felt a bit out of place but enjoyed it thoroughly. In particular, I have been thinking, talking and writing ever since about a speech by the IEA's Director of Education, Dr Stephen Davis about medical advances to extend human life, driverless cars and vertical horticulture.
When I saw that Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid, would speak at this year's event, I signed up to go again. Yesterday morning I went to the Royal Geographical Society in London and, despite the bright sunshine (thank goodness the hall was air conditioned) spent an enjoyable Saturday. Quite apart from the content, I loved being in the company of so many earnest and intelligent young people interested in the key ideas of economic liberty. In my circle of contemporaries, discussion can sometimes be a Pessimism Olympiad driven by an economically-illiterate media and a governing elite whose hostility to liberty is played upon by parasitical, rent-seeking toadies. It was refreshing to be among youngsters full of hope and ambition. Even their naivety is not a bug, but a feature. It will lead them into areas of research that the cynical would dismiss too soon.
The full programme can be seen here. After introductions by the organiser Christiana Stewart-Lockhart (coincidentally a school friend of Miss Paine the Elder, whom I have known since she was a teenager) there was an amusing welcome speech by Mark Littlewood, Director General of the IEA. He referenced the late, great Hans Rosling's Ignorance Survey, which demonstrated that chimpanzees out-perform humans on multiple choice questions about key facts, because (as Rosling said) "Chimps don't watch the evening news". Fake news is not a new phenomenon. Mark quoted Gladstone as saying
Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument. The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic.
Anyone who has ever attended a political debate in a calm state of mind will recognise the truth of that.
The next presentation was by Tim Harford. His book, Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy, was in the goody bag and I will review it here when I get around to reading it. Given all the other books I picked up yesterday, that might be a while!
He made an interesting point about why the economic future is so hard to predict. As Galbraith said
the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable
Tim put up a still from the original Bladerunner movie of Rachael, the "replicant" with whom the hero falls in love. He then showed the pay videophone in a bar on which the hero calls her to ask for a date and we all laughed. We often fail to understand that new technologies will not just slot into the familiar world but will change it and us. We also often think the dramatic, expensive innovation is the most important, whereas often it's the simplest and cheapest. While we all think of the invention of the printing press as the disruptive technology that gave us the modern world, he argued the invention of paper was more important. The Chinese circulated many scribe-written books on paper centuries before printing. Had all Gutenberg Bibles been printed on animal hides (as some were) a modest print run of 3,000 copies would have required the slaughter of half a million beasts! It wasn't the press that made mass literacy possible, but a cheap medium on which to print.
He gave several examples of new technologies that had no marked effect on productivity when first introduced. Decades later, when people worked out their possibilities, the real change came. Replacing the huge steam engine that drove a 19th Century factory with an electric one had only marginal effects at first in the US. Many industrialists that retained their old steamers probably thought themselves wise not to waste capital. It was only when the government cut off the supply of cheap labour by restricting immigration that manufacturers realised they could put small engines on every workbench to maximise productivity. Tim suggested we may see similar effects with the "IKEA-isation of solar power", for example, as the technology becomes "cheap enough to change the world."
Roger Bootle then gave us his "positive view of Post-Brexit Britain". As I am always trying to explain to friends who oppose it, Brexit doesn't guarantee anything good or bad. It only brings the levers of policy-making back onshore. If Corbyn's Labour wins the next election, our post-Brexit future will be dire. If future governments decide to regulate commerce in the same way as the EU or worse, then it will also be dire. The positive is merely that we now have the option to aim for freer trade, less discriminatory immigration that allows talent from anywhere in the world to come to our shores and more economic and social liberty. He believes, as do I, that this is more likely outside the EU, but we can – and may – screw up our own future. There are no guarantees. After all, we have often screwed things up for ourselves in the past.
As evidence of the EU's propensity to screw up, he cited "the greatest self-inflicted wound in all of economic history", the Euro. Since its introduction, the UK's economy has grown 40%, versus results in the Eurozone ranging from 30% growth in Germany (in whose interests it was designed) through economic decline in Italy to catastrophe in Greece. By allowing Germany to run huge trade surpluses without its currency rising in value, it has disturbed the balance of international trade and inflicted pain on every other EU state. The Euro is one of the main reasons for the "populism" that has given us not just Brexit but Trump, Orban, PiS in Poland etc. The gains of globalisation are now under threat because of a piece of political idiocy from France and Germany.
He urged his audience to push back against the myth that the EU promotes freer trade. It is in fact a protectionist customs union, with over 1000 tariffs; 12 for coffee alone. I have long argued that it is a racist institution because, as he said, the tariffs are structured to reduce competition from the Third World. For example they penalise coffee-producers who try to add value by processing their beans instead of just selling them as good little peasant farmers to the First World. The massive corporate lobbying business in Brussels (of which the pan-European law firm in which I used to be a partner was part) is there to ensure the interests of European corporations (and rich white Europeans like the French and German partners in my old firm with hobby farms to exploit the CAP) are protected, while Asian and African farmers stay dirt poor.
Dr Linda Yueh spoke about her new book The Great Economists: How Their Ideas Can Help us Today. I downloaded a copy as she spoke and will review it when I finish reading it. After lunch the IEA's current media star, Kate Andrews debunked the Gender Pay Gap and told us how delighted she was to walk past the new statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Much has been made by militant feminists of the fact that she is the first woman to be honoured in this way, but they are too ignorant to realise that she was a free-marketeer economist and an individualist. She is by far closer to my own economic and political views than any of the men represented there. She would have been contemptuous of their distortion of statistics in a rent-seeking frenzy to keep alive a movement that has served its purpose.
The most difficult part of the day for me was a discussion between Chris Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the IEA for whom I have a lot of time and Raj Chande of the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insight Team (aka the Nudge Unit) for whom I have none. Behavioural Psychology is fascinating and useful stuff. I learned a bit about it acting for retailers when I practised law. They use lighting, music, architecture and interior design to play with our minds and encourage us to spend more. In my case, they were never a match for my mother's frugal teachings, but I have smiled when walking around shops to recognise the games they play. I am using it on myself to change my habits for healthier ones and reached my target of losing 40 kg this year yesterday morning. It's all good stuff but both those examples are voluntary transactions. I don't need to go to a supermarket or shopping mall. I didn't (for 60 years) play mind games on myself to control my appetites. It's very different when government – funded by force with our money – uses it on us, its masters. There are now over 150 people in the Nudge Unit and it is exporting its programme of manipulation to the US and Singapore.
Mr Chande talked of the government respecting our liberties, while nudging us to behave "better" (as defined by it) and Chris Snowdon seemed prepared to accept that this was at least better than authoritarian regulation. I beg to differ. Law is the removal of liberty (for good cause one hopes). In our Common Law tradition the legislature is required to justify every new law precisely because it doesn't grant rights, but removes them. The state has become so huge and out of control that the debate each time has become perfunctory and too many laws are made, but at least there is a theoretical possibility of opposing them. There's no such democratic accountability for "nudges". They're tools of policy and wonderfully deniable if they go wrong. They are part of a trend for an over-mighty apparatus to become impatient with democracy and find ways to by-pass it. Over a thousand local electors in my London Borough have submitted protests over a new parking scheme for example, but the Council tried to sneak it through without any discussion at all. Only vigilant citizen journalists using local social media brought it to the attention of that thousand voters and made the bloody Council discuss it. They are clearly peeved at having to do so.
The bouncy, impertinent arrogant Mr Chande reeks of this attitude of contempt by the governors and their rent-seeking hangers-on like him for the people they are meant to serve. He told us that he was "a libertarian until I went into government". Power corrupted him and he's happy about it. I am very much not and for me he can stick his condescension where the sun don't shine.
The most disappointing part of the day was that Dambisa Moyo couldn't make it in person. She spoke to us over a dodgy Skype link from NYC and all credit to her for getting up so early to honour her commitment to speak. After the game-changing radicalism of Dead Aid, I was rather disappointed with just how orthodox her thinking is in other respects. She cited the fake Oxfam statistic of 8 billionaires owning more wealth than half the world's population (debunked later, see below). She expressed concerns over income inequality as a problem in its own right. She spoke of her concerns for the future of democracy because 138 people contributed half the money spent by candidates in the US Presidential Election, without noting that they mostly gave to Clinton and might be repenting the money wasted. She spoke of "populism" and declining turn-outs for elections in the West. In the typical style of the global elite, she seemed to think that was a failing on our part, as electors. We are not reading the right books or listening to the right experts, apparently. I asked her if she couldn't see that, as voters were not being offered real choices, their disillusionment and disengagement might be rational? I said
I have voted religiously all my life but will face a choice at the next election between two parties, both of whom want to steal more of my and my childrens' money and indebt still further my grandchildren yet unborn. Why is it wrong if I reject both?
This was the only question of the day to raise a cheer and a round of applause. She sympathised politely with my concerns but essentially restated her opinion unchanged. I am afraid she is not the ally friends of Liberty might have hoped for.
Tom Standage of The Economist (which has also lurched to the authoritarian left of late, leading me to cancel my subscription of 15+ years) spoke enthusiastically and knowledgeably about self-driving cars (or Autonomous Vehicles - AV's, as they have become known). Moving on from the naive enthusiasm for them expressed at the first Think conference I attended, he has given a lot of thought to their possible social and economic effects. As Galbraith's quote above makes clear, this is a thankless exercise in forecasting. As Tim Harford's talk illustrated such a technology will probably have more effects we don't expect than those we do. He told us that he expects the first driverless zones to be entire city centres like Seattle or entire cities like Singapore. The cars will probably be owned by the cities themselves and therefore integrated into public transport systems. Otherwise robotaxis are likely to continue the trend begun by Uber in taking as many people off buses and trains as they do out of private cars.
He waxed lyrical about the "opportunities" for governments to raise revenue from them. The technology requires them always to know – and signal – exactly where they are, so congestion charges can become far more localised and sophisticated. Surge pricing on the Uber model can control peoples decisions to use them so as to keep traffic flowing smoothly. A "zombie" tax on empty vehicles will stop operators keeping them on the road to avoid parking costs. He went on, chillingly, to outline some of the uses totalitarian governments might make of the technology. Ultimately it will allow government to control who goes where. China is currently engaged in herding a particular ethnic minority into an area which is "effectively an enormous concentration camp", he said and he can visualise a future in which AV cars, buses and trains simply refuse to take them anywhere else. In freer societies, he said it was as likely that AVs would generate "exurbs" (burbs beyond the burbs) by making transport very cheap ($0.70 a mile vs $1.50 for a private car and $2.50 for an Uber) as that they would lead to people living more densely in traffic-free cities. All would depend, as he had the audience repeatedly call out, "on pricing". To be more precise, on the pricing of such externalities through taxation.
In an afternoon session, Dr Vernon Smith – winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and long associated with the IEA – was interviewed by Professor Philip Booth and fielded questions from the enthusiastic young audience. He was scornful about the very idea of using economics to predict the future and, as you would expect, enthusiastic about the approach that won him his prize; constructing practical experiments to test economic theories. I was very envious of the silver Western-Style bolo tie he wore; a gift from an academic friend when he won his Nobel, which featured the profile of Adam Smith.
The most elevating speech of the day was from Dr Jamie Whyte on "The Economics of Oxfam and Inequality". He thoroughly debunked the Oxfam statistic uncritically quoted by Dambisa Moyo. Yes, 8 billionaires have as much money as 3.5 billion people because those people have nothing. Divide the 8 billionaires' money amongst them and they would get a one-off $118 – hardly world-changing. A more valuable measure, never mentioned by Oxfam and their ilk is that in 1980, 40% of the world's population lived in absolute poverty defined (in today's numbers) as living on less than $2 per day. Only 8% still do. That's arguably the best progress in human history and it is ongoing.
Oxfam's numbers are systematically rigged to produce the most socialism-inducing envy. For example, a graduate of Harvard Law with a debt of $250,000 will feature in that bottom half of the world alleged to be victims of economic injustice, despite possessing a qualification guaranteed to make him rich. He or she is not a member of an impoverished class. He's just at a different stage of his life and will end in the top half or higher. The stats also ignore non-private income and benefits. "If I earn £200 per year and you earn £100, then I am only twice as rich as you if you ignore the value we both receive from the NHS, the state education system etc." Oxfam and other purveyors of fake statistics are in favour of redistribution, but never account for it in their figures.
He argued persuasively that if you look at individual welfare (in the broadest sense) you would be celebrating the achievements of capitalism in raising the living standards of us all. Equality of welfare matters, not equality of income or of wealth. He also gave a name to the phenomenon that led me to quit work at 54 - the diminishing marginal utility of income. I could earn more, but it wouldn't make my life appreciably better, so I stopped. More dramatically (I assure you) if Jeff Bezos lost half his wealth, or if his income halved, tomorrow his life would not be appreciably worse. The money in the hands of billionaires can't buy them more happiness and most of it is deployed in investments to try to make the world a better place for all of us. Do you pity George Soros for his massive income disparity with Jeff Bezos? No you don't because in practice it makes no difference to their welfare as human beings either way. A young questioner suggested that envy about income inequality was natural and that it caused real discomfort. Dr Whyte was too polite to tell him that was a choice. I was too polite to shout out that the problem would go away when his expensive degrees earned him some money.
The conference ended with a closing keynote from Dr Steve Davies of the IEA under the title "Dissecting Corbynomics" but he was in no way partisan. He was equally scathing about Theresa May's weak grasp of economics and said the next election would be (as I expressed it to Dambisa Moyo in my question) a contest between two economic idiocies. That was not particularly uplifting but it did ease me back into my usual world of the Pessimism Olympics.
If you have the chance to go next year, I recommend it. It's a great event, with serious speakers and listening to the young audience talking among themselves during the breaks will kill your pessimism about the future. That's good value for £100.
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.
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.
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.
I used to read David Thompson‘s blog back in the day when blogging was the future. You remember, that time before Twitter admitted the ADD types, the narcissists, the shriekingly thoughtless conformists and (thank goodness) the occasional pithy wit to the online conversation. I found my way back there this morning thanks to a Facebook link from another legend of those days, The Devil.
The post will make you laugh or cry depending upon your predisposition to optimism or pessimism. My first reaction was to laugh. Then I pondered the idiocies of my own student days. We thought we had trounced the authoritarian leftists of the “no platform for fascists and racists” campaign with our support for free speech. But then we went off into the real world to generate wealth and they stayed in the fact-free fairyland of academia and the public sector. Yet they won because here we are thirty years later with their regime of “hate crimes” and “political correctness”. Here we are with a police force that openly states it will not investigate real crimes against us and our property but WILL show up mob-handed to arrest dissident tweeters.
The great challenge of our age is to purge academia and the state of the enemies of Western thought. Alas that’s not funny at all.
Left and Right are not useful labels any more, if they ever were. They don't even mean the same things everywhere. I am “right wing” (I would just say right) when it comes to economics but a liberal in social respects. For example I literally do not care who does what to whom sexually as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and I am left out of it unless I choose otherwise.
I would have tried to dissuade a partner from aborting our child had the case arisen. If she’d insisted I doubt I would have ever been able to get over it — or stay with her. Yet to avoid criminalising women and / or driving them into the hands of backstreet charlatans, I would not legislate on the subject. I would leave it to their consciences. In my heart I am pro life. In my head I accept a woman's right to choose. Am I left or right? No answer to that question will inform our discussion so why ask it?
On Continental Europe and in America there is a "religious right". I have no truck with that. Many Continental friends quite wrongly think themselves leftists because neither do they. Their calling themselves leftists tells us nothing useful about them.
I am a reluctant atheist who would love there to be a just God. If there is I am damn sure He has all necessary tools at His disposal to smite or forgive sinners as He sees fit. It's a blasphemous insult to offer Him the puny help of Parliament, Congress, National Assembly, Duma, Sejm or Bundestag. He would find it hilarious I suspect. But then if He’s not laughing at His various churches generally, He’s not the superior Being of my imaginings.
A legal system to my taste would therefore have literally nothing to say about marriage, abortion or sexuality in general. If it's a sin, brother and sister, the Lord will deal with it. All we can do is try to follow His will and hope He understands our choices. Dear fellow atheists, you should have enough principle in you to allow believers to follow their Lord as best they can without interference from a state many of you are currently urging on like a bully's lickspittles.
For religious and non religious alike marriage is principally an agreement between adults as to how to live together and raise children. Nothing could be more private and so it should be left to them. If they're religious then their God will be the third party to their agreement. He needs neither legislator to set the terms nor lawyer to litigate them. The law need only specify the minimum responsibility of parents to the children born into the contract without their consent. Everyone but the child is — after all — a volunteer.
In truth I think very few things are the legitimate business of the state. That's lucky because the state is a flawed human institution almost inevitably staffed by the least appropriate people — the ones attracted to lording it over their fellow humans while living at their expense. A drooling idiot is likely more often to do the right thing than a government agent.
I express it colourfully but in essence that used also to be the stance of the Conservative Party in Britain. Back in my student politician canvassing days I remember a Tory MP, when asked whose permission a constituent should ask to fell a tree in his garden, replying "It's your bloody land you fool. Do as you damn well please". The question itself was in his view the pathetic weakness of a submissive serf.
By those robust yeoman standards the party led by Mrs May is not worthy of its name. Few Conservative Parties in the West now are. If you think tax avoidance “costs” Society, then you believe all wealth belongs in truth to the State and the individual is just its creature. If you think it’s a good idea to take money by force from those (based on past performance) most likely to generate more wealth and give it to those (ditto) least likely then you are a Socialist — an adherent of the most comprehensively tested and unquestionably failed idea in human history — wherever you place your X on Election Day. That goes for you, Prime Minister.
If I have blogged very little of late, at least on political topics, there are two reasons. Firstly I have been toiling through a very difficult book, which I wish I had read years ago. It explains so much of what I have written in the past — while often tediously bemoaning my incomprehension of the phenomena I was addressing — that I was afraid to write more without finishing it. Secondly, the task I have been attempting for so many years is now being performed more effectively, successfully (and to an audience of millions) by new arrivals on the scene. When the points I was trying to make were generally not being discussed, it made sense to light my small candle, rather than curse the darkness. Now these new guys have lit their arc lights and are turning them on the enemies of Reason and Liberty, not so much.
One of those new guys, Professor Jordan Peterson, recommended his readers to the book I mentioned. It is Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks and it does what it says on the cover. I commend it to you. It’s hard going because, well, it’s a philosophy book but it’s worth the effort even if (as it has for me) it consumes weeks of your life. There is a unifying, nihilistic philosophy underlying many of the things that so annoy you and me about modern thought. It has respectable intellectual antecedents going back to Rousseau and Kant.
Much as the Liberty-minded blogosphere might like to point fingers at Common Purpose etc. (and much as that and other similar organisations are informed by Postmodernist thought) the truth is we don’t need a conspiracy theory to understand how so much of academia has been lost to Reason and even to Virtue. There is a rational explanation for the unreason, nay anti-Reason of most professors in the Social "Sciences" and many in the Humanities.
To quote an elegant review of the book by Gary Jason of the Philosophy Department at California State University;
Hicks begins by sketching out in broad terms what modernism is. Modernism is the worldview produced by the Enlightenment over the last four centuries. Roughly characterized, modernism involves naturalism in metaphysics, with the confidence that modern science is capable of, and is actually succeeding in, giving us an understanding of the physical universe. Modernism involves what he calls objectivism in epistemology, meaning the view that experience and reason are capable of gaining real knowledge, although modernist philosophers have hotly contested the specifics of this (with Rationalism, Empiricism, and Pragmatism being the most historically active epistemological schools). Modernism involves individualism in ethics, and a commitment to human rights, religious toleration, and democracy in political theory. Modernism also involves the acceptance of free-market economics and the technological revolution that it has spawned. In sum, modernism is the mindset that is common to the West, the laborious product of many great minds – Bacon, Locke, Descartes, Smith, Hobbes, Spinoza, Galileo, Newton, and Hume, among others. Most of us view this as a considerable leap forward from the medieval period of supernaturalism, mysticism, excessive reliance on faith, and feudalist political and economic systems.
In the last 50 years or so, however, a group of thinkers have set themselves in opposition to the whole Enlightenment project. These soi-disant postmodernists reject the Enlightenment root and branch. Chief among the postmodern thinkers are Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard and (amazingly, an American) Richard Rorty. These thinkers, together with a host of smaller fry... , have developed a large following in the humanities – especially literature, less so in philosophy – and in the social sciences. They have developed virtually no following in science, math, computer science, and engineering... The postmodern mindset views the whole Enlightenment project as a failure. The po-mo view is metaphysically anti-realist and anti-naturalist, holding that the physical universe is not ultimately describable in final terms. It is socially subjectivist in epistemology, holding that the "world" is what we socially construct, and each "group" (racial, gender, linguistic, ethnic, national or what have you) constructs the world according to its group identity. Postmodernists are egalitarian and collectivist in matters ethical and political. (If there are any postmodern libertarians or conservatives, I have yet to hear of them)
I am relieved to have an explanation but humbled by its complexity. The book gives my ideological pain a rational framework just as my elementary readings in economics since I retired have given me a vocabulary for the real life phenomena I experienced at work. In both respects, I’m a little wiser perhaps but no better. And no more effective neither.
Which is why, exhausted and humbled as I am (and as no Po-Mo true believer will ever be) by my efforts at understanding, I am happy to direct my few, but much esteemed by me, readers to the ongoing work of Professor Peterson and the unconnected populist polemicist Milo Yiannopolous. Professor Peterson is bringing both courage and academic rigour to the defence of the West against Po-Mo, while Milo is a kind of court jester who draws attention very effectively to the insanity of its activists; going so far as to provoke them into displays that will discredit them in the eyes of most people. Milo and the Professor have little in common but their enemies, who are wildly denouncing both of them in Po-Mo's characteristic hysterical terms. And, perhaps, their religious belief.
That's ironic as the respectable 18th Century roots of Po-Mo thinking lie in the over-reaction of the religious to the perceived threat to religion of such writers of the Age of Reason as my hero Tom Paine. Rather than attack the ideas of such people, some of their religious contemporaries attacked Reason itself, casting doubt on Man's ability to explain his universe. The same faith that led those moderate and sensible thinkers into error, may now be giving courage to those opposing the insane modern consequences of that error. That doesn't worry me at all, though I am not religious myself. In fact it gives me hope because people who think themselves to be doing God's work are likely, in practice, to persist where others falter. The political event that shaped my life and career – the fall of the Soviet Union – would not have happened without the faith of Pope John Paul II and his lay helpmates; Ronald Reagan, Lech Walesa and Margaret Thatcher.
I will chip in on political topics when I can, particularly where they concern my personal "goddess", Liberty. However, I will confine myself to practical observations. For serious thinking on the existential threat to the West, I commend you to Professor Peterson. For polemics against the enemies posing that threat, I commend you to Milo.