There's nothing wrong with you. Stuff happens. Your daughters will come around. Get out there and find a new woman and all will be well.
Firstly, let me wish you a happy new year. I hope 2023 proves to be a good one for you all.
Women seem to believe that friendship is all about nurturing, supporting and encouraging and that most men are just plain bad at it. Men think that women are often bad at friendship too, but for a different reason. They sometimes seem to back a friend regardless of the wisdom of their chosen path. Many divorces, for example, begin with a discontent expressed to female friends being nurtured, supported and encouraged into steely resolve. None of my male friends initiated their own divorces or encouraged a friend to do so. In the unhappiest phases of my thirty-year marriage to the late Mrs P., several female friends suggested I leave her. No male friend ever did.
I have spent over a year in miserable solitude since Mrs P the Second left me in November of 2021. The conditional order for divorce was granted last month. We're currently seeking a consent order on finance before applying for the final decree. This I can handle but my relationship with my daughters – the cracks in which emerged when I told them I planned to remarry eight years after the death of their mother – remains awful. I can't get past the verdict on me represented by their rejection.
My female friends' nurturing, supportive and encouraging approach to my sad situation can be summed up as;
My male friends' approach has been very different. After an initial "Sorry to hear that" they all – like this friend in sending me a video about fixing my character and soul – suggest I look to myself. That may seem unsympathetic but at least seeks to put the reins of my life back into my own hands.
Like much of Peterson's output, the video makes a huge claim. Choosing such a title helps his enemies by making him sound like the charlatan they would have us believe he is. At first I set it aside with a sigh.
A few days ago, I half-watched it. I let it run in the background while I did other things. The occasional phrase caught my attention but his complicated ideas demand more concentration. Today I listened to it all the way through. I plan to play it a few more times and – as explaining something to others is often the best way to check proper understanding – I intend to share my thoughts about it here.
I do not seek to criticise your character or soul by directing you to it, gentle readers. If you have three hours to spare, I'd be grateful if you'd watch it then come back here to discuss it with me over the coming weeks.
The key battle of ideas is (and in modern times has always been) between collectivism and individualism. Gentle reader, you know which side I favour.
We have a problem though. Humans are pack animals, hard-wired to approve of those who sacrifice for the greater good of family, friends or nation. I am as thorough an individualist as you could hope to meet, yet everything in my own life that I am proud of involved serving the interests of others.
It's all too easy to denigrate individualism as selfishness.
Collectivists play on those instincts with their constant talk of "community" but their collectivism is not about kindness and willing self-sacrifice. It may have always taken a village to raise a child, but only willing villagers of whom the parents approved were involved. When that homely expression is used by those seeking to disempower parents and force state intervention, it should be seen for the cynical propaganda it is.
Some people are brown, black or white. Some people are gay, some straight and some trans. Humans espouse a wide range of religious faiths and some have none. Within those groups there is such a range of morality, productiveness and creativity that they simply don't – except in rare cases where they face a common threat – function as communities. They don't think or act as one unit. There is no reason why they should.
To use the modern jargon, their identities as member of one or other group intersect with all the other ways they think of themselves (and others think of them). Those intersections are not only on the lines approved by woke academia. They also intersect with all their other – far more important – characteristics; such as their kindness, generosity, morality, prudence, wisdom, industry and knowledge.
It's all far more complicated than collectivists would have us believe. So complicated that the only sensible way to treat everyone we meet – whatever their visible or claimed attributes – is as someone who might turn out to be anything (or nothing) to us – i.e. as an individual. The only rational way to deal with a new human is quietly to assess what Dr King called "the content of their character" and then behave accordingly.
Collectivists simplify hatefully in order to justify their love of force. Collectivists pioneered the concept of the hate crime and constantly accuse opponents of hatred. Given their constant attempt to set group against group, it's hard not to think the whole concept is largely projection.
A gay criminal should be (and I am sure, is) no less a criminal to another gay person. If you're black you don't (and should not be able to) expect the unconditional approval of other black people. The only reason these "communities" are spoken of so constantly is that collectivists want to move them as pawns on the political chessboard.
There are undoubted political efficiencies in this. On average black and brown Britons are more socially conservative than white ones. Judging by the number of small businesses run by ethnic minorities, I'd venture to guess that more of them are economically conservative too. Yet the Labour Party has played the race card so effectively that it's caught in unguarded racist moments saying someone was only "superficially black", because he'd left their political reservation. All over the Western World, collectivist parties behave as if the votes of ethnic minorities are their property. Indeed as if the members of those minorities are themselves their property.
In the end, the serious danger of collectivism and its "identity politics" is that it leads to demands for collective punishment. No-one uses that dreadful expression because it brings to mind totalitarians in history punishing kulaks, Jews or others deemed enemies of their cause indiscriminately. The favoured euphemism for collective punishment now is "social justice", which is always – without exception and by definition– unjust.
True justice looks at the actions and intentions of individuals and decides on their individual guilt or innocence. Social justice says "Group A hurt Group B and all members of Group A must pay" – even the descendants of the alleged wrong-doers who could not – rightly understood – be any more innocent.
If you follow an ideology that justifies the punishment of innocents among a class, race or creed just because of their membership of that group, you have gone morally astray. Your ideology is – in your own terms– a hate crime.
Yes, I know the movie character was Ratched. Bear with me. According to Wikipedia, she is also;
a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of institutional power and authority in bureaucracies
She's a symbol of what I want to write about today and her name echoes the essential problem.
Sir Keith Joseph was a key influence on what became known as Thatcherism. He coined the phrase ratchet effect to describe the way in which each new Socialist government moved policy leftwards, whereas a Conservative government never moved it back. If the UK State was a car, then the Labour Party was the accelerator (gas pedal), the Conservative Party was the brake and there was no steering wheel.
The direction of political travel was never in doubt and only the speed could be adjusted by the electorate. Sir Keith's point, well-taken by Margaret and constantly railed at by Tory wets was that the ratchet had to be broken if the Conservatives were actually to move towards their goals. For all that Leftists call themselves "progressives" (perverting the language as they love to do in order to thwart honest discussion) real human progress should be in quite another direction.
Taken to its logical conclusion, the end result of the ratchet effect must be that everything either belongs to the state or is under state control. Democratic Socialists and Communists have always had the same ultimate goal. The former are just more patient. They will cheerfully discuss each step of the journey with the electorate, as long as the planned route never changes. All it takes to see the destination is to zoom out a little and observe the completely consistent direction they and all their predecessors have taken.
Margaret's achievement in breaking the ratchet was significant. For a while, though she had no such intention, the Left even feared that it had been reset so that the wheel would turn the other way. Tony Blair certainly felt the need to reassure voters that Thatcher's reforms would not be endangered by electing the Labour Party under his leadership. He even claimed to be her ideological heir; a bold lie even by political standards.
It has been clear for some time however that Sir Keith's ratchet has been refurbished, well-oiled and set back as it was before Thatcher. This is why, as I made clear in my last post, I had no interest in the Conservative Party's choice of new leader. It turns out I was wrong that it didn't matter at all, however. The choice of the political naïf Truss has at least shone a searchlight on the situation. She tried to be a sort of Thatcher mini-me and failed dramatically. At the first hint of any movement rightwards, all hell broke loose. Even though another self-absorbed leadership contest will surely scupper the Tories for the foreseeable future, her position is already in doubt.
I am not sure if it needs a conspiracy theory to explain why a nation that keeps voting Conservative keeps moving leftwards. I don't believe there are dark cabals planning it. I don't think they're even needed. Someone like me, who believes – along with my namesake – that
Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.
is simply never going to apply for employment by a state as huge and pervasive as the UK's.
I have horrified state employees in conversation by saying, in perfect truth, that my conscience would not allow me to sleep at night if I had their job. Not because what they do each day is necessarily always bad, but because every penny they are paid to do it has been taken from others by force. My proudest boast is that every penny I ever earned came from contracts freely entered into by clients with choices. If I had ever worked for the state, that would not be true.
So it's not surprising that, when the state apparatus has grown to be – as it is in the UK – a gorilla in a flea circus, that the people working for it are broadly in favour of a state on such a scale. No conservative or classical liberal could possibly wish for that, but it's the highest aspiration of a Leftist. So the Prime Minister may be "Conservative", her cabinet may have some "Conservatives", and the electorate may be mostly conservative by instinct, but the state apparatus rolls leftwards regardless. It's going to take leadership by someone with more of a personality than Truss to take on that mighty foe and win.
Firstly, some sad news. Some of you will – like me – have once followed JMB's Blog Nobody Important. It's open only to invited readers now but back in the heyday of blogging (when we all thought citizen journalism was going to change the world) you will remember her often mentioning her husband, whom she dubbed "The Old Scientist". I am sorry to report that he has passed away at the age of 89. I had the pleasure to meet him just once, when I stayed at their home in Vancouver on my North American road trip in 2013. He was a decent man who lived his life well and I feel for my friend in her loss.
Secondly, as I seem to have exposed more of my personal life than usual of late, just a brief report that – though my situation is as sad as before – I am getting on with my life and feeling better. I had a good run in Speranza to visit my parents last weekend. There are not many Ferraris in the world with over 91,000 miles on the clock, but (touch wood) she's in fine fettle and running well. I don't know why I don't drive her more. Call me shallow and materialistic, but she lifts my spirits every time. It is hard to feel sorry for yourself on the open road at the wheel of a bella macchina. I can't wait for borders to be properly re-opened so I can visit my friends on the Continent.
Thirdly, a brief "state of the nation" summary from my point of view. If you think I am wrong, please tell me. Trust me; I would love to be wrong.
It is gradually dawning on the British public that they've been had over COVID. They still don't tell the pollsters so but it's becoming an object lesson in the difference between stated preferences (which often signal "virtue" or seek to give the questioner what s/he wants) and revealed preferences (shown by how we behave in practice). For example, when out and about in London it's clear that only state fanatics and submissives are still wearing masks. I dutifully obeyed when on public transport in London for most of the Scare, but now I just carry one to wear if challenged by an official. Most travellers are not wearing them and the submissives now dare to do no more than cast a stink-eye. I hope the divisive hatreds stirred up by Government propaganda will now die down but I fear that many friendships have been irremediably broken.
Most of the West panicked in a very similar fashion, though Florida has thankfully provided a control group for an experiment that would otherwise have lacked one. As data reveals the ineffectiveness of non-medical interventions (the use of state force) we can therefore expect a united front from the global establishment and its lickspittles in the media. Data will be spun. Evidence will be bought, paid for and rigged. Every government will point at all the others and say "we followed global best practice based on the data we had at the time." That may have been true for a month or two at the beginning but it's clear now that the British Government, for example, knew damned well that its tyrannical measures were not necessary. The real scandal of "partygate" is not that Downing Street civil servants at the heart of the state apparatus ignored the law. It is that their conduct reveals they knew their propaganda was false and/or wildly exaggerated.
If they believed what they told us, the law would have been irrelevant because they would have been too scared not to comply.
The British Establishment is safe however. Not least because, as it metaphorically thrashed the British public, HM Opposition's only complaint was that the whip was not thick enough, was not applied soon enough and was wielded with insufficient vigour. The Labour Party is not going to hold HM Government's feet to the fire for forgetting our every liberal tradition because HMG's ripostes will all be examples of Labour's demands for more, more, more state violence.
It's hard to say now (as I have believed my whole life) that Labour cares less about Liberty than the Conservatives. I am not sure the latter has left any space at the authoritarian end of the political spectrum for Labour to occupy. The "Conservative" knee-jerk reaction to a perceived threat was to boss us all about in excruciating detail, while borrowing on a colossal scale to throw public money at the problem. If a Labour manifesto were ever to be written in plain English, that's pretty much what it would say. As "Conservative" support for government tyranny weakened, Boris Johnson, in effect, became the Leader of the Labour Party – herding its lobby-fodder to vote for his measures. Every time he wrote about Liberty (and he has done so many times in his career as a journalist) he lied. He may be the cleverest PM we've ever had, but he's also (and I recognise this is a huge claim) the least principled.
Intelligence without principles is more dangerous than the politicians' usual dozy uselessness. I see no better replacement from either side of the House, but he must go.
I cannot imagine ever bringing myself to vote again. I have always voted (as I remember explaining to my Polish teacher as she prepared to vote for the first time in the immediate post-Communist era) in the cynical manner of an intelligent citizen of a long-standing democracy. I know them all for rogues. Their aspiring to have power over their fellows while living on them parasitically reveals them as such. So I have always voted for the robbers who would steal – and the thugs who would bully – less. I never saw my vote (except perhaps during the Thatcher years) as anything more than a damage-limitation excercise. When push came to shove, however, it seems – even in my world-weary cynicism – I was deluding myself.
Can we hope for any useful lessons to be learned from the pan-panic? When the butcher's bill is received for the non-COVID patients killed by state action, will it give politicians pause for the next emergency? We can hope so. I fear what they have mostly learned, however, is that if they deploy their psychological-warfare "nudge" units effectively enough, they can get us to put up with far more than they'd previously dreamed of. Buckle up, friends. I suspect you're going to see more of your governing classes than you previously feared.
Reader Ian emailed me a question and was kind enough to hope it would provoke a post. It has. His email was long but the crux of it was this;
Why do you think commentators are so keen to present the "anti-vax" side as deranged?The entire public debate seems to be "they work" so "you should take it" and if not you are an idiot who wishes harm on others.
It's a good question. I won't debate the pros and cons of the various vaccines, but will try to analyse why rational debate is so difficult. I have never been shy of expressing my views but even I have gone quiet during COVID.
My first thought is that it's a function of how un-nuanced public discussions have become. Many now conduct political debate at a comic book level. If your opponent is evil rather than misguided, your response is more severe. Ian and I thought about the vaccines and took different decisions but think no less of each other for that. If we functioned quasi-religiously, we'd cry heretic at each other and threaten hellfire.
It reminds me of an old post called Credo in which I lamented my loss of faith. As a first-generation atheist, I am still functionally Christian. I feel guilty if I break one of the commandments, even though I don't believe they came from God. The fully godless however tend to seek substitutes. Religion fills some need in our psyche and when it's gone we are vulnerable to other nonsenses-on-stilts. As Chesterton said;
When a man stops believing in God, he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything"
Whatever the rights and wrongs of any given issue; political, societal or economic, it cannot be good if they can't be discussed. Traditional Marxism, for all its faults, was (at least in Western academia) a genuine attempt to analyse social and economic interactions rationally. Its thesis was finally discredited when the fall of the Berlin Wall was followed by a rapid and undeniable improvement in the lives of Eastern Europeans. Free markets delivered in a few short years what had been denied for decades and Marxism (as Marx understood it) died out in sane circles.
Yet its former adherents did not return to the free market fold. Like those atheists they sought a new faith that met their same needs. There is a certain type of human – aspirant alphas we might call them – who will not accept the rewards and prestige that the market offers their skills, endeavours, risk-taking and luck. They yearn – whatever the consequences – for a new order that ranks them higher. My MP had no power or prestige as a sociology lecturer in a crappy ex-Polytechnic. Her life quest – camouflaged by screeds of turgid prose – is for a new order than rates her as highly as Bill Gates.
Denied the old Marxism as an intellectual excuse for their aspirations, these types have constructed others. They had already been doing it for some time because, while they were still pretending the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact were defamed paradises, the proletariat in the West was rejecting their ideas. They had long sought new justifications for revolution and targeted new revolutionaries. Because, let's face it, the marshmallows of academia are never going to man the barricades themselves.
Different races and sexes, heterosexuals and homosexuals, the able and the disabled; all these and more "identity groups" were to be herded into opposing camps and incited to mutual hatred. Why? For the same old reason. To create problems that only an almighty state staffed by a clerisy of aspirant alphas could "solve".
It's not working so far. We rub along nicely for the most part. To the extent there's significant hatred it's mostly what they've cynically generated. They are going to fail again, but like their classically-Marxist predecessors they are going to do it slowly while ending a lot of lives prematurely and making the remaining ones poorer in every sense.
The main cost of their ideology at present is its intensification of divisions in debate. Their reduction of everything to simplistic binaries has crippled thought in the home of the Enlightenment. Whether talking about issues that affect every family (like the response to COVID) or recherché stuff like transgenderism, it's always now "the righteous" versus "the heretics". A crypto-religious fervour has people berating their families and friends when all should be focusing with calm, scientific rationality on the best way to preserve/improve the most lives.
I hope Ian can forgive his angry friends one day. In the middle of a witch-hunt, it's safer to cry "witch" than deny witchcraft exists. When I look back on my own conduct, I fear I shall not be proud. No I didn't cry "witch", but I lurked in the background trying not to be noticed while HM Government committed democide and HM Opposition bemoaned their lack of sufficient enthusiasm. I had no appetite to have "die, heretic!" screamed at me. Meanwhile, innocents died in care homes, of untreated cancer or heart disease or suicide. No I didn't take those lives, but I didn't save any either.
Let's hope the democides in the state apparatus – and friends who screamed "heretic" at their behest – have similar moments of self-reflection. Let's hope we see through the incitement to hatred that permeates critical race theory and its sister-doctrines and embrace the Age of Reason again.
Two svelte American ladies of a certain age were having coffee today at my West London health club. They were in the next "pod" to me outdoors as I had a post-swim coffee before heading home. Perhaps it's those wide-open prairies but Americans, bless them, always speak a little more loudly than us so I didn't really have a choice but to listen to their conversation.
The topic was their mothers. Both moms back in the States are apparently unsure of the wisdom of being vaccinated. One cost of parenthood no-one tells you about beforehand is that one day you will be judged and found wanting by humans you could not love more; your children for whom you would cheerfully die. I confess their mothers immediately had my sympathy, regardless of the correctness of their views.
There was a good deal of sneering about conspiracy theories circulating on the internet. I found it surprising that both errant moms believed 5G was involved, but having listened quietly for another few minutes discovered that neither had ever said so. Their daughters were simply assuming that if they doubted government advice on vaccines, they believed all the other stuff too. One of the mothers is apparently a 9/11 "truther" and her daughter's observation that no government is capable of keeping such a dark secret struck me as fair.
I have read all I can about the vaccines. As a lawyer I was uneasy that – whereas normally pharmaceutical companies complain of the time taken by regulators to license new medicines – in this case they were only prepared to release them so quickly if governments indemnified them against claims for adverse side effects. They were not prepared to stand behind their products and that concerned me. I was also concerned that, while I am sure regulatory regimes in America and the UK involve much pointless bureaucracy, delay and legal overkill, they were being swept aside so casually. I have no medical expertise, but my legal training made me uneasy.
Britain has been pretty quick in vaccinating its population, but (fortunately or otherwise – only time will tell) it was not the quickest. I read what I could about the effects of the vaccines in Israel and, based on that data, made a risk assessment in favour of being vaccinated. My concerns are still there, but I made a choice. I could easily have chosen the other way and I respect the opinions of those (like my fellow health club members' mothers) who did.
There are available facts and facts that will only become available in the future. People must make their choices based on their own risk assessment today. That useless truism is not the point of this post. The truly significant thing I overheard was this. Having sneered at her mother's belief that "we can't trust government", one of the ladies said;
I thought to myself – Mom, I don't want to believe what you believe because if it's true I can't have any of the things I believe in.
There, I thought, was a moment of insight; a moment (almost) of self-awareness. If government can't be trusted, then the societal change she wants isn't possible. Therefore, whatever the evidence, government must be trusted. That pretty much sums up the statist mindset.
I don't know whether these mothers or daughters are right about this issue. I do know that one of the daughters (and her companion seemed to agree) is allowing her desires to displace her reason. In consequence, sadly, her mind will only ever be changed by a catastrophe I would never wish upon her.
I suspect many such earnest, well-meaning souls as Goneril and Regan (as I christened them) felt they needed to believe the state could be trusted at key points in the deadly history of the 20th Century. If the brave new world of Communism was to happen, for example, government had to be trusted with enormous power to make immense change.
Many Gonerils and Regans must have ruefully reflected on that in the Gulag.
In their prime my paternal grandparents were each – in their different ways – formidable members of the "great generation". They didn't suffer fools gladly or (unless obliged by family ties and then with open scorn) at all. They thought psychology was fake. They thought depression was weakness glorified. My grandfather was a cripple and, as I learned the hard way, got angry if you used the euphemism "disabled".
Why are you playing with words? Calling me something else makes me no less crippled you bloody fool!
They thought hard work, prudence, patriotism and family loyalty were the keys to all progress.
They may sound scary and – to their first of many grandchildren – they often were, but they were impressive too. This, despite having suffered losses that would justify many moderns in claiming lifelong victimhood. They just accepted them as their fate, got on with life and became angry if you mentioned them.
My grandmother had received "the telegram" from the non-euphemised War Ministry during WWII after my grandfather broke his back in an accident on a troopship. His commanding officer had assumed he wouldn't make it and sent a premature report of his death. He survived, but was told he'd never walk. Grandmother's first inkling that the MoW had erred was his knock at the door, having walked several miles from the railway station. They expected no apology for the Army's incompetence and lack of concern for their welfare or (God forbid) feelings. They suffered no PTSD. They never thought to sue. There was a war on. Worse had happened to others. Worse still needed to be done to others, so the war could be won.
Grandfather was not confined to the long-promised wheelchair until his eighties, by dint of forcing himself to walk miles every day in agony. His country had rewarded him in 1946 by seizing the transport business that he and his brothers had founded with their savings from working down a coal mine as teenagers. He never complained about that, saying that the Labour Party was sincere, if misguided, in taking it and that his fellow citizens (including his sister) had voted for it genuinely believing the country would run it better. It hadn't (as he had predicted to them at the time) and he'd lived to see his business re-privatised. He had also lived to see the Soviet Union fall and died thinking such nonsenses were now ancient history. He never bemoaned his own fate in that experiment; saying when I pressed him on the subject near to his end, that to be angry at his Labour-voting family and friends would have achieved nothing but to make him miserable. Life wasn't ever fair. He didn't vote Labour precisely because he wasn't naive enough to think it could be.
Why do I tell these stories now? Because I remember watching the personalities of these formidable folk crumble when old age and frailty confined them to their conservatory. Their view of the world became distorted as their direct experiences of it dwindled. Their news of events in their old orbit was limited to what visitors chose to share. These fiercely-independent people began to live inside their own heads and to get things wrong in ways their admiring, if fearful, grandson would never have expected.
As I have watched my country during the pandemic from my own equivalent of their conservatory; locked-down not by ill-health but state force, I have been alert to parallels between my experience and theirs. My information sources were limited as were the range of friends with whom I could discuss them. I feared to blog about the issues, not because I was afraid to be in a minority – I have been in that position for many decades now – but because I sincerely worried that I might be losing touch with reality. The situation was so artificial that I feared for my own judgement. I thought my mind might be failing me as theirs had in their isolation. As we begin to return to normality, I begin to realise I drew the wrong parallel.
I have been inclined to despise my fellow-Brits to be honest. Opinion polls suggested they were not the potential John Hampdens I had always imagined, but actually more like Pavliks. Even friends I had considered essentially "sound" were in fearful submission to, essentially, whatever the hell the establishment chose to tell them would save them from the plague. I kept quiet because I feared I might be wrong – and I was, but not in the way I thought.
We Britons have let ourselves down in this crisis. We have looked for answers elsewhere rather than seeking them out ourselves. We have listened too much to authority, while demanding it give us bread. In the last few days we've allowed ourselves to be distracted by authority posturing about the modern circus that is football. But in some ways we have been like my grandparents at their best, not their worst. Terrified by data deliberately warped to maximise our fears, we have tried our best to be good citizens in the face of danger. "There's a war pandemic on" we told ourselves, so normal rules don't apply and it would be disloyal to moan. Others have it worse (look at what a mess those idiots in Brussels, Paris and Berlin have made, for example) so we should just get on with it as best we can.
Yes I was in my equivalent of my elderly grandparents' conservatory, but I was not alone. The whole frightened nation was in it too. The difference is that – unlike my grandparents – we're going to emerge. We have not yet failed the test of who we are as a nation. It is about to be set as we return to normality. I hope we pass it in a way that would make my grandparents in their prime proud.
I joined the Conservative Party as a young man (having recently recanted my teenaged Maoism) because of Margaret Thatcher. She was not headed to the same destination as me, ideologically, but she was at least pointing in the right direction to be my fellow-traveller. She was socially-conservative in a way that I was not (I led my University Conservative Association on a gay rights march, for example and supported the Federation of Conservative Students' policy on legalising drugs that led her to shut us down) but she was clear-sighted, principled and above all moral.
Her morals were not entirely mine, but I would rather be led by someone with morals than without and she was the only moral Prime Minister of my lifetime so far. Most, like the current incumbent, were amoral going on sociopathic (fairly usual for high-achievers in most fields, to be fair) and some, like Gordon Brown or John Major, were actively immoral. Once she was hounded out, I left the Party. I was, for some years, a Thatcherite but I was never a Tory.
So I am not blind to the lady's faults. Leaving aside her inclination to use the state as an instrument of her personal morality, she also made some policy misjudgements and we still live with their consequences.
She misidentified the key threats to liberty in Britain. Hindsight is cheap, I know, but the trade unions in mining and other productive industries were already on the way out. The real threat to our future was in our schools and colleges, where children were already being consistently taught a warped view of history and a contempt for economics in general and the market system in particular. In my education during the 1960s and 1970s I may perhaps have had a Conservative teacher. It's possible, but even then their discretion was by far the greater part of their valour. I can only surmise because no possibly Conservative school teacher dared say so. My Socialist teachers, of course, never shut up about it and when I studied Law at university, there was not even one discreetly-silent lecturer I could optimistically imagine to be non-Left.
Margaret, as Education Minister, should arguably have grasped that generation after generation of our youth could not be processed through such a thoroughly infiltrated, ideologically-monochrome system without lasting damage. Such was her own strength of character that I suspect she simply didn't understand the problem. She was not weak and pliable. No leftist teacher impeded her ideological journey. Why should others not see through them too? She was also focussed on achieving one of the great offices of State, and probably regarded the Ministry of Education as a "woman's job" with which she had been fobbed off. She may even have had a point. For myself, I regard education as supremely important – all the more so for having had to get so much of mine from independent reading, in spite of (and it really was quite often for the perverse pleasure of spiting) my would-be indoctrinators.
I recently finished reading the excellent book "Factfulness" mentioned in my last post. The research that was the life's work of its author Hans Rosling demonstrates that leaders in both public and private sectors waste much effort addressing problems that no longer exist. Like many people achieving power or influence in late middle age, Margaret was often focussed – at best – on the problems of her own youth, and – at worst – on those of her teachers' youth.
Arguably, a consequence of another of her errors is in the news this morning. Focussed as she was on reducing the state's area of operations, Margaret was resisted at every turn by the Deep State. As a leader who wanted a smaller state apparatus her main advisers throughout her premiership were the leading members of that apparatus, whose success in life was not gauged by their productive contribution to society but by the size of the department under their control.
So when the trendy idea of "care in the community" came forward it must have been a relief to have some advice that was consistent with her small state ideology – or at least that could be made to seem so. There was an undoubted need for reform of mental healthcare. There are well-documented cases of people who were unable to escape from what used to be called "lunatic asylums", despite having fully-recovered from the problems that led to their admission. In some cases, people were trapped in them for decades on the basis of a misdiagnosis. So the radical idea of closing them down and entrusting the care of the mentally ill to their families, local social services and other community institutions must have seemed attractive – especially as the real estate boom of the time (in which my career as a property lawyer was incubating) offered good returns from the large buildings in larger grounds that would be "liberated."
In fairness to the Deep State Leftists behind the idea, her government seized mainly on the "close and sell off the mental hospitals" idea and less on the "build community resources" part. If she had implemented the policy as they had wished (and I don't know why I bother to say so as it's true of everything they ever propose) it would probably have cost much more than the old system and would certainly have added to the Deep State voter-farm of public sector workers who can be relied upon to vote Labour in order to secure an ever-growing state for them to feed on.
According to Jonty Bravery's prosecutor
“He said he had to prove a point to ‘every idiot’ who had ever said he did not have a mental health problem; that he should not be in the community.”
I do not blame my local council's social workers for this psychopath's misdiagnosis, even though evidence was given during his trial that he told them he intended to kill to make his point. People say crazy things and, sadly, it's best that they are not taken too seriously unless and until they act on them. With hindsight we can all wish the poor Ealing employee (who must feel terrible right now) that Bravery told his plan had acted differently. So differently that his poor child victim and his family had been spared their insufferable horrors. In truth if they had made a fuss they would more likely have been criticised for it. I doubt it would have affected the outcome. I am not known for my empathy with state employees, but social workers do a job that, mostly, can't be done. They're often on a hiding to nothing whatever choice they make.
Yes, it's now clear that Jonty Bravery is a psychopath. He's crazy but he's not stupid. Yes, he was prepared to kill if it served his purpose. That's what differentiates psychopaths from the often high-functioning sociopaths I worked alongside in my profession and the various businesses we served. His essential point seems to have been (and in this respect he was right) that given his condition he could not be expected to live "in the community". He was one of those monsters Nature occasionally sends among us and well beyond being socialised. He needed to be in permanent, secure, residential care away from the community and under the supervision of trained carers.
Now he is.
From his tragically-warped perspective, everything is working out precisely as planned. It's horrific and scarring for his victim's family, but it's no surprise that he has smiled his way through his trial. His sentence is no punishment. He now has what he wants for the rest of his life. My point is that – without the Thatcher government's mistake in seizing upon a crazily misguided Deep State policy proposal, he could have had it without killing anyone. Maybe she should have stuck to her principles even more strictly than she usually did?
I am enjoying the book and recommend it to you. I have already taken two graphs from it and put them on my smartphone so that I can produce them at a moment's notice. They are updated versions of the amazing "bubble graph" with which he opened that famous talk. They refute most of the assumptions of my friends when they talk about the world and what should be done to make it better.
Here is global life expectancy in 1965. The developing world has "big families and many children die".
Here is the same graph from the latest figures, in 2017. All Rosling's statistics are from sources (the UN, the WHO, national statistical agencies) that people on the Left usually choose to believe. He was an expert in his field and I trust him, even if I don't always trust them.
It's a different world, but our public policy on such matters as overseas aid is still based on the first graph. Why? because the "facts" most deeply seated in our minds are the ones passed on to us by our parents and teachers. We in "the West" (a concept with which Rosling has a lot of fun in the book) behave, with squirearchical condescension, as if the world was still that way. Worse, we cling to the binary; us vs them, black vs white, rich vs poor, views of the world that the first of the graphs coloured, but which the two of them – taken together - disprove.
We cling to our familiar world-view not just because we don't see new data but because we like simple patterns; ideally with binary choices. We survived in the wild as early humans by making – and instantly acting upon – rapid and necessarily crude evaluations of our surroundings. Fight or flight depended upon an immediate decision based on imperfect data often acquired from peripheral vision. That's why we like our action movies, with unblemished heroes and irredeemable villains. Simple binary choices are what we are comfortable with – and the more important and frightening the choice – the more we crave them. That may be the reason for the appeal of political ideologies based on struggles between opposing forces. It may be why in the present pandemic we have formed into two rival factions between freedom and safety. That kind of dialectic appeals to us.
On that same theme, to the extent it doesn't confirm our ideological stances, we tend to ignore new data This is the lethal "confirmation bias" that prevents intelligent discussion and makes us cling to the apron strings of the familiar ideas we grew up with. I have changed my mind a few times in my life. I have been a member of left, centre, right and liberal parties before I reached my present view that they're all parasites on the make and to be avoided like lepers. That may suggest more open-mindedness than the average, but I don't delude myself. It only involves a few extraordinary moments of my life. Most of the time, I cherry-picked the available data to support my current thinking just like most people. If I am honest, when my mind did change, it was not as a result of study or academic debate. It happened because of personal experiences that so shook me up as to cause me to read different books and listen to different experts. The change of heart came before the change of mind. The new reading then came in search of academic underpinnings for my new view. I may worship at Reason's altar, but I am as unworthy as any.
Child mortality and life expectancy are good, reliable indices of human progress. Judged by those indices, the world is unarguably a better place than it was in 1965. The old West got richer during this period but that didn't stop the Developing World from living up to a name originally given to it, let's be honest, as a euphemism. In fact, it has advanced relatively faster. Given the low base from which its people started, those advances have also meant much more to them than ours have to us. Conversely the pie-slicing, economic illiterates among us like President Trump are wrong to believe that the developing world could only get richer by impoverishing us. All those newly-rich Chinese did not pick our pockets and we don't need to pick theirs. We can all get richer by delivering the goods and services to each other that we are best-placed to supply. Adam Smith is still right.
We get richer either by having more money with which to buy more things, leisure or experiences or by them becoming cheaper so that the same money buys more. We can also get richer by having stuff that our predecessors couldn't have at any price. If (God forbid) forced to choose between them, my smartphone is now probably more valuable to me than my beloved car. Yet my grandfather never heard of such a thing and my father still doesn't value it at all. To go further back, King Henry VIII considered himself one of the wealthiest men in the world, despite having fewer material goods, leisure, healthcare facilities, cultural opportunities and scope for travel than a poor person on benefits in his Kingdom today.
We are all getting richer by combinations of all those things and more but the point is we are getting richer and our world is getting better. The dark, Guardian- or NYT-reader narrative in which the world is becoming a steadily nastier and more divided place is both stupid and malicious. At some level they must know their narrative is false. They advance it not for the noble reasons they state but because it justifies political changes that will give them more power.
We must therefore try to get past what people say they want politically and judge them by the fruits of what they actually do. Calling yourself "anti-fascist", for example, counts for nothing. It's how you would behave that counts. Asking me to support "antifa" because of what they named their movement is like calling a bullet "nourishment" and asking me to expect a tasty meal when you shoot me. Handsome is as handsome does and all else is what a late Polish friend called – when faced with biz-speak – "piramidalna bzdura!" (a great pyramid of shit).
I miss Hans Rosling and I am glad he left us this book. I don't know what his politics were and I don't need to care because, whatever they were, he did good science well. He dedicated his last years to writing this book in an attempt to finish his life's work, which was "...to show more people, more convincingly, that their opinions were no more than unsubstantiated feelings." If we can all read it, and then wrench ourselves away from exchanging those "unsubstantiated feelings" nastily with each other on Twitter and elsewhere, perhaps we can help Humanity do even better?
Racism is stupid. Humans come in different shades for obvious biological reasons to do with the intensity of sunlight where their ancestors grew up. Apart from calculating intake of Vitamin D when living in cold climates, it shouldn’t matter. Yet people keep on making it matter — for all kinds of reasons; few if any of them good.
America’s race relations problems arise from its shameful history with slavery. Black Americans clearly feel a sense of solidarity based on that history. I can understand the magnificent language of the Declaration of Independence or the majestic ideas behind the US Constitution are tainted for black American students knowing, as they learn about them, that they didn’t apply to their ancestors. It must be hard for them to take the same pride in the foundation of their great nation as white classmates. I get that “Plymouth Rock landed on us” idea.
Many White Americans do feel a corresponding sense of shame but it’s daft to feel guilty for stuff people who share some random attribute with you did. Short people are not to blame for Napoleon and nor (fun though it is to tease them about him) are French people. No doubt we all do feel pride and shame about our ancestors’ achievements and sins, but it’s nuts to base law or policy on those irrational feelings or to allow them to taint relationships today.
Even if we were to go down the mad road of punishing people for the sins of the fathers, we’d have to find out what those ‘fathers” actually did, person by person. To do it skin tone by skin tone would itself be racist. It would involve, for example, some British people being heroes because their ancestors sailed with the Royal Navy squadron detailed to suppress the Slave Trade while others are villains because theirs crewed slave ships. There would be no way of knowing if you were hero or villain until you played that historical lottery.
As I told a Jewish American friend who teased me one Fourth of July about losing the American Revolutionary War, “That was a dispute between two sets of my ancestors — yours were in Germany at the time. Stay out of our family quarrels.” That’s a good joke but it would be dumb to base a social science on it. Yet America’s “grievance studies” types have done something remarkably similar in creating the wicked notion of “white privilege”.
In a purported response to the evil stupidity of racism its proponents attempt to justify the punishment of innocents for the past sins of their race. My Jewish-American friend has white privilege even though his ancestors had nothing to do with the historical oppression of black Americans and even though his family arrived as refugees from oppression themselves. This wicked idea’s proponents say having privilege doesn’t make you bad per se, but then go on to tell whites that, simply because of the colour of their skin, they must be silent when a person of colour speaks, they cannot join their race-based movements and can aspire to be no more than an ally — and not an equal one at that. For the sins of their race they must pay — perhaps even actual financial restitution. Solidarity of a black man with his brother is a good thing. A white man thinking of another as his race brother is racism. In truth, both are racist. Both are stupid. Both are lethally divisive.
An interesting sidelight on this insanity was cast when, during President Obama’s first election campaign some black Americans argued that though American and black he wasn’t a black American. This, because his family arrived as voluntary immigrants from Africa and had not been shaped by the history of slavery. By this logic Obama enjoys some kind of black privilege and can never hope to be more than an ally to black Americans. It’s not how most think I am sure — indeed many black Americans seem to take a pride in Obama’s presidency that would be sinister if white Americans felt it on the same basis for a white President. Still, it’s a self-inflicted reductio ad absurdam on an already absurd idea.
A definitive proof of the evil of social “science” is that — faced with the real problem of racism — it has come up with the insane idea of racist post mortem justice; demanding that living white people compensate living black people for what some dead white people did to some dead black people. If you question the logic of this then — boom — you confirm the whole crooked theory because it’s your “privilege” that blinds you to its truth. It’s like the ducking stool as a test for witchcraft. Guilty or not, you’re done for. Oh and by the way, you can’t just ignore this piffle and quietly get on with your harmless life because “white silence is violence”.
This very American problem is poisoning the world through the dominance of US popular culture and the influence of the wealthy US universities. On this side of the Pond we have our own problems. We really don’t need a whole raft of America’s too. But white privilege is such a wonderful tool for creating and exploiting division that our leftists can’t leave it be. It’s a social A-bomb just lying there waiting to be detonated.
The Left is an immoral political movement. It seeks to divide. It seeks to promote hatred between classes and other groupings in society in order to create problems that can only be “solved” by employing legions of leftists with no otherwise marketable skills to direct us to the “correct” path. The extent to which it’s already achieved its real, unstated aim of creating a well-paid cadre of apparatchiks is visible in the present pandemic. The only jobs that are safe are of those employed by the state and rewarded by reference to almost anything other than economic contribution. Those thus paid for are “essential workers.” Those who pay for them are not. Anyone who points this scam out is monstered by a leisured army of social “scientists” and their graduates in the media — also paid for by us “inessential” saps.
Judge them by the outcomes of their policies and governance and the theorists and politicians of the Left are clear failures. The squalor in which poor black Americans live is almost invariably presided over by them just as a Labour council in Britain is a promise of continued poverty for all but its apparatchiks. If the poor are your voters, the more poverty the better. If the oppressed are your voters, the more (real or imagined) oppression the merrier.
The perfect symbol of Leftist politicians in this respect is the character of Senator Clay Davis in “The Wire” — perhaps the greatest TV show ever made and (among many other marvellous things) a searing indictment of American racial politics. It’s a show that couldn’t be made today because it reeks of white privilege. By the way, the fact that this concept would have prevented The Wire being made is by itself a small proof that it’s a wicked one.
This post is clearly prompted by the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota but I have neither mentioned his name nor expressed any anger about that. Why? If the facts are as they now seem, his killing was a crime. The policeman who killed him was immediately fired and is now being prosecuted. If found guilty he will be punished. I feel sorry for Mr Floyd and his family just as I do for other victims of crime and their families. If his killer is the criminal he certainly seems to be, I’ll hate him just as I hate all criminals — white, black, uniformed or not.
There are many unlawful homicides every day and this is probably one of them. A jury will decide. There are many injustices every day but this isn’t (yet) one of them. It is a crime and it’s being prosecuted. As for the storm of hatred, robbery and destruction — cheered on by witless celebrities and evil, exploitative politicians — that has followed it; that involves thousands of injustices. The wicked doctrine of white privilege makes it dangerous for anyone but black Americans to call them out as such. All praise to Mr Floyd’s family, they have. I thank them for that. All shame to the race-baiting vermin of the American Left, they haven’t and they won’t. The looted, burned-out shopkeepers of America (or, if they’re lucky, their insurers) are in practice making involuntary campaign contributions to the real Clay Davis’s who will protect the looters and thugs in return for their continued loyalty at election time. It’s an insult to decent black Americans. It’s an insult to humanity.
So, if I unfollowed you on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the last week it’s not because you mentioned poor Mr Floyd. I still follow many who did — expressing the sympathy for him and his family that all decent humans feel. It’s because you mentioned white privilege. it’s not because I’m a racist, it’s because you are.