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

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Book Review: "New Private Monies: a bit part player" by Kevin Dowd

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Peterson and Frankl quote Nietzsche as saying;

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

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

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

 


Live at the Apollo with Dr Jordan Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conservative Renaissance Conference 2018 organised by .@ToryProgress

I am not sure how I ended up on the mailing list but I was invited to this event today so I went. Part of me wants the Conservative Party once more to fulfil the function it did in Margaret Thatcher's time – as a radical opponent of Big Government, dedicated to free markets, deregulation and privatisation. I encounter the occasional member from the libertarian wing like Dan Hannan or Syed Kamall and hope springs once more in my naive breast. I had met Kamall at a Libertarian Home meeting. I found him somewhat wanting ideologically, but the fact he showed up raised hopes. It was his name on the programme and that of David Campbell-Bannerman MEP that made me decide to risk wasting a Saturday that could have been spent on my pleasures. 

The name of the organising group – Conservative Progress – should have tipped me off. Progress is a good thing, just like being social. But organisations that use either word in their titles are usually to be avoided. This one was founded by two enthusiastic young politicos named Nabil Najjar and Luke Springthorpe and describes itself as follows:

We are a grassroots organisation founded by Conservative activists for Conservative activists. We host events that are relevant and engaging, and offer training that is beneficial to developing activists. We also promote and share good practice and offer a platform for the views of conservative minded political activists.

Most of the people at the conference were either pro-Brexit, or were Remainers who accepted the referendum result. The Soubry Faction was not in evidence. So the discussions around that issue were both illuminating and encouraging. Suella Braverman MP, Under Secretary of State at DEXEU, assured us that there is "a lot of unity" in Cabinet on Brexit and that the legal agreements to give effect to it are about 75% complete on terms that Parliament should be able to approve. She pointed out that if Parliament didn't, the only alternative would be a "no deal" Brexit. That would leave us dealing with the EU (as many countries successfully do) on WTO terms. 

Even more encouragingly, as he's not under Cabinet discipline, Campbell-Bannerman was just as optimistic. He said the EU has offered a free trade deal on better terms than with any other country and that we should simply accept it. He said the legal terms were "about 80% agreed". He was as relaxed as I am about a "no deal" exit but said that as a good "Canada++ free trade deal" was on the table, why not get it done? For me, accustomed to the views of the BBC and others longingly predicting the catastrophic outcome they desire and to those of Brexit bloggers fearful of betrayal, this was worth losing a few hours with my hobbies.

The rest of the speeches were less edifying. I was clearly not among the classical liberal elements of the Party. James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, for example remarked that "Conservatives would find it hard to accept" his idea of capping development land prices at, say, ten times their agricultural value. Damn right they would. Price controls are economic idiocy that lead to shortages, rationing, violent expropriation and corruption. No true Conservative would find it easy to accept such wickedness. But no-one in the hall seemed to share my concerns. 

The logic behind Mayor Palmer's dottily immoral idea was that, if the Party can't solve the problem of millennials not being able to afford to buy houses, they will be lost forever to Labour or the Liberal Democrats. So to hell with the economic principles that a true Conservative Party would exist to preserve. Let's instead be "pragmatists" (as I have remarked before, Tory code for "unprincipled shits") and bribe young voters. I tried frantically to intervene during questions but the young moderators preferred mostly to call upon people of their generation; often friends whose names they knew. So I did not have chance to point out that while Mayor James and his colleague from London were blaming development companies, land banking and (God help us) "capitalism" for the housing shortage, the solutions are in the hands of national and local government. 

Real estate is not really a free market anyway. If a piece of land is worth £x without a planning permission and £20x with one, then most of the value of a development site is within the gift of the planning authority. This is why real estate is the most corrupt area in most economies across the world. If a piece of paper issued by a modestly paid local official is worth more than land; for most of human history the most fundamental of all economic assets, then that official is – shall we say – always going to be treated very well. The only reason planning engenders less corruption in Britain than in the other countries where I have worked (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and China) is because there is a legal presumption in favour of development that complies with published zoning plans and the appeals procedure is efficient. A bribe would get your project approved perhaps six months more quickly here and that time certainly has economic value. But usually not enough to risk gaol and disgrace. That, and not any moral superiority on our part, is what keeps us from the crookedness common elsewhere.

In London in particular the solution to the housing crisis is greater density. Our Capital City is far less densely built than, for example, Paris or Berlin. Where I live in Ealing, the world's first suburb originally spawned by the world's first metro - the District Line, one might almost be in a village judging by the terraced villas with their poxy little gardens and the grander homes interspersed amongst them. At the same distance from the Place de la Concorde as Ealing is from Trafalgar Square, you would be among high rises. Yet Ealing's planning policies forbid them and make even more modest multi-family housing more difficult to build. And the same Conservatives in Name Only who were blaming greedy development companies for pricing housing out of young hands campaigned on a slogan in the recent elections of "Keep Ealing low-rise." The other local politician on the panel understood this well enough to propose massive densification of public housing (occupied by Labour voters) but not for the private housing occupied by his own. How little like a true Conservative did he sound when proposing to build lots more council flats at subsidised rents mostly paid by welfare benefits to solve the housing crisis? I leave it to you to imagine.

Of course, to densify London would involve upgrading roads, sewers and utilities to support all the new residents (or the more widely dispersed millennials released from their squalid house shares). Yet when Labour has periodically set the economy ablaze and the voters have called in the Conservative Fire Brigade to quell the flames what has it done? Has it reduced the ranks of public servants doing pointless jobs? Has it reined in public spending and reduced taxes? Has it withdrawn from all the busy-bodying and prod-nosing begun by its Labour predecessors? No! It has usually just pushed back all the infrastructure projects the construction of which is one of the few valid jobs for government. Keep the "Diversity coordinators" and spend millions on "Public Health England" to nag us about our diets. But let the roads degenerate to Third World standards and let fatbergs block the Victorian sewers.

Even more terrifying than the support from Comrade Mayor Palmer was the wild enthusiasm for Penny Mordaunt MP, Secretary of State for International Development. Mordaunt is a great speaker and I tip her as a future PM. She had the room eating out of her hand by saying all the right things if you believe that the State can ever be an efficient and honest dispenser of largesse to the world's poor. If you believe that nonsense, however, you're not a true Conservative and should not really have been in the room, let alone cheering her on. She was all for clever targeting of aid; directing it to relieve pressures that might otherwise lead poor people to become economic migrants for example. But she was naively confident that, six months into her brief, her talent was such that all British aid was now finding its way to deserving recipients. This, despite the fact she admitted that on her first day her department could not account for where any of it had gone until then!

She began by talking about how generous Brits are in donating to development and poverty relief charities but then, like any Socialist would, set about conflating the generous nation with its ugly, nasty guard dog, the State. A true Conservative would stop taking money from poor people in rich countries to give to rich people in poor countries and would let taxpayers make their own choices about charities to support. Ms Mordaunt is no true Conservative in that respect and neither were any of the people in the audience judging by the rapturous applause her meretricious speech received. 

The "Blue Labour" jibe against the "Conservative" Party seems well justified on today's showing. The people I spent today with were well to the left of any Labour government to date. They were only "Conservative" by comparison to the current Labour leadership, but then by that comparison Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin could have joined us. My subscription is up for renewal and I can't imagine I will stay a member.


What is it about the Jews?

I never encountered anti-semitism until I went to work in Poland in 1992. I was a partner in a Jewish law firm, by which I mean it had been founded by Jewish lawyers and most of the partners were Jewish. I don't remember considering the matter when deciding to apply for a job and it didn't occur to me that it might feature in their decision to hire me. Clearly, it didn't as they didn't even ask.  My new boss sent his secretary to my office on my first day at work to ask if I would be free for a meeting on a certain date. I remember thinking that it was a dumb question as I had just arrived and my diary was empty. I went through the motions of checking and had my pen poised to write something in when she said, "No, that's fine. He'll get back to you." He didn't. When I mentioned to a Jewish colleague that I thought it was a puzzling episode he laughed and said "That's a holy day. He was checking." Even then it didn't occur to me that my faith, or lack of it, might affect my future career. It didn't. Within two years they offered me a partnership.

So I was surprised when a colleague in Warsaw told me that the general counsel of a Polish client kept asking him whether I was Jewish or not. "Why does he ask?" I said and my colleague told me that the guy was something of a Catholic Nationalist anti-semite and was probably unhappy that his company had hired us. "What shall I tell him?" he asked me and I said he should say he didn't know. "Let him wonder", I said. "Let any assholes to whom it matters wonder and if it matters enough for them not to hire us then screw them!"

Years later, I was invited, by a Jewish friend who had project managed the restoration, to the re-opening of a synagogue in Oświęcim (better known to the world by the name, Auschwitz, that it bore during its darkest days under German occupation). For the first time in my life I was wearing a yarmulke, handed to me by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, whose daughter was in the same class at school as Miss P the Elder. The event attracted international coverage and I apparently appeared on the television news as, at two metres / 6' 7" tall, I towered above the crowd. When I got to the office in Warsaw the next day, the colleague who had asked what to say to our anti-semitic client during my first month in Poland laughed. He said this had finally answered the question and that the office was buzzing. I was the office managing partner by this time and was rather shocked by the idea that there might be anti-semites in our own ranks. So I made a point of leaving my yarmulke on my desk as a kind of talisman to scare them away.

It was about this point that I came up with one of my jokes to use at Warsaw parties. "How does a Jew become Polish?" it went. "He wins the Nobel Prize." That's unfair to most modern, reasonable Poles, you understand, but satirises a tendency even for them to distinguish "Jews" from "Poles" when they mean to distinguish Jewish from Catholic Poles. If you ever want to wind up a less reasonable Pole, you might try mentioning the arguably Jewish heritage of their "Shakespeare", Adam Mickiewicz. How hard they defend him from such a "slur" is a jolly good litmus test of their anti-semitism.

I don't really get racism. I never did. It's fairly obvious that we are all Homo sapiens and that evolution has simply varied our skin tones to adapt to the intensity of the sunlight where our ancestors lived and ensure us paler people get our Vitamin D. Who could possibly care about that? Racism based on skin colour, however, at least addresses visible difference. It doesn't make sense but it's a stupidity the origins of which can at least be understood. Jews on the other hand are indistinguishable unless (as in the case of some Orthodox) they make a point of standing out. The one moment when I understood how anti-semitism might arise, occurred when I was celebrating a deal-closing in NYC at the offices of a famous Jewish real estate guy. We were drinking champagne out of paper cups and when I asked why they were cheaping-out on glassware I was told that the boss couldn't drink from a vessel that might previously have been used by a goy. That didn't make me anti-semitic you understand, but it did make me think "... these guys could use some PR".


Polish friends patiently explained to me, during various conversations over my decade+ living in their country, that Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, had created anti-semitism in Europe. I remember a colleague who had grown up in a backwards rural area of the country telling me that his own Catholic priest had ranted from the pulpit about "the killers of Christ". "But the Holocaust happened here!" I exclaimed, shocked, "... how could a post-war priest still be an anti-semite when the Church has denounced the idea?" He couldn't explain it and I still don't get it. Ideas persist despite evidence and experience to a very shocking extent. As witness the young Poles who are Social Justice Warriors today when their parents were inoculated against leftism by growing up amid its terrible consequences and their grandparents are mostly still there to tell them precisely what socialism was like. "Clogs to clogs in three generations" as Sir Keith Joseph told a young me when I said I was bothered by the idea of inherited wealth. "The hog cycle" as economists call it, when people fail to remember history.

So if a warped interpretation of Christianity is what gave us anti-semitism in Europe and if an accurate interpretation of the teachings of Mohammed is what brought it back by way of Muslim immigration, how come such a mind-bogglingly stupid idea is now most evident on the Left of British politics rather than on the Right? Marxists oblivious to the ethnicity of Marx and Trotsky? Atheists informed by religious medievalism, for goodness sake?

"But it's not about Judaism", they say, "it's about the State of Israel". The wrongs of the Holocaust, say those Momentum-ites who don't deny it, don't justify the misconduct of modern Jews in the Middle East. Fair enough. I am a supporter of Israel, for the good reason that it's the only democracy in the region and that its Arab citizens have the vote and equal civil rights. It's a tolerant place where dissent is permitted, gays are not thrown off roofs and apostasy (from any religion) is not a criminal offence. That kind of liberalism is rather unusual in the Middle East, to put it mildly. I also support Israel because of the thought experiment posed by one of my Israeli friends, an eminent lawyer who is also, as it happens, on the Left. "Disarm Israel's enemies" he said, "and you will have peace. Disarm Israel and you will have genocide." A cursory read of the Hamas Charter or a few minutes spent watching videos published by MEMRI suggests he is right. Nonetheless I would not suggest that Israel never does wrong. Nor, obviously, would I seek to prevent it from being criticised. 

How then to distinguish between being anti-Israel and anti-semitic? They clearly have the potential to be two different things, even if they do often seem to coincide in the same people. One of the wisest chaps I know (sadly not personally) Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explained it like this. 

Not liking Jews is not antisemitism. We all have people we don’t like. That’s OK; that’s human; it isn’t dangerous. Second, criticizing Israel is not antisemitism. I was recently talking to some schoolchildren and they asked me: is criticizing Israel antisemitism? I said No and I explained the difference. I asked them: Do you believe you have a right to criticize the British government? They all put up their hands. Then I asked, Which of you believes that Britain has no right to exist? No one put up their hands. Now you know the difference, I said, and they all did.

The speech to the European Parliament in which he told that story can be viewed in full here.

Pace the good rabbi, if anti-semitism was "only about Jews" it would still matter.  Jews matter not because they are Jews, but because they are human. No different qualification is required. That anyone thinks a better qualification than being a human is required to enjoy particular human rights is precisely what is wrong with our society today. Every time someone speaks of "Gay Rights" or "Women's Rights" or "Black Rights" or "Muslim Rights" or uses the phrase "hate crimes" I am immediately on my guard. Such people are more than likely to be a threat to human rights in general.

Damn it, how often does this need to be said before tribalists stop blathering? The whole point of the post-Enlightenment West is that every individual matters, regardless of who they are. Not just anti-semitism but tribalism in general is the virus that, as Rabbi Sacks says, keeps mutating. The only valid reason to regard an individual as better or worse is, as Dr King famously said (but as the Left seems to have forgotten) "the content of his character." The only valid reason to treat an individual differently before the law is his or her conduct. Amen to that. 


Conversations: Featuring Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto - John Anderson

 


Conversations: Featuring Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto - John Anderson
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I cannot commend to you enough this video interview with Professor Jordan Peterson. I have long regretted losing my heroes, either as they fall from grace or as I acquired the cynicism (or is it wisdom?) that comes to all but fools as they age. It has been a long time since I acquired a new one. 

What is wonderful about Professor Peterson is that he does not engage in the grumpy denunciation of “the young” that so many of our generation fall into. On the contrary, he has found that they are hungry, nay starving for, the very virtues many deny they value.

It is our generation that warped their understanding of the world. We coddled them because we had few children and they were overly precious to us. We indoctrinated them with shallow, virtuous-sounding ideas, rather than schooling them in the actual virtues of our civilisation. We parented them, ludicrously, as if we had answered all the great questions and there were none for them to answer nor challenges for them them to face.

In Civilisation’s great relay race, we failed to pass the baton and cannot now complain that they run without it  

I have done enough for you today by introducing you to the video. Nothing I can say will improve upon his wisdom so waste no further time with me but spend a fruitful hour or so with him!


The poison in our civilisation's veins

Sympathy for the underdog is one of the most agreeable Anglosphere traits. I am prone to it myself; instinctively cheering on West Bromwich Albion or Stoke City against the likes of Manchester United. Fans of the Red Devils will bitterly tell you of the phenomenon known as "ABU" - Anyone But United, which is the same trait viewed from their perspective. It's logical then that we Brits should empathise with the downtrodden and – depending on our analysis of how they came to be underfoot – seek to right their perceived wrongs. 

Humans have always been too quick to analyse their problems in terms of perceived malice from "the other". For example, I grew up in t'North in a heady atmosphere of victimhood. There were plenty of logical reasons for the relative poverty of our post-industrial towns and cities. Many of them would simply never be built in modern circumstances. They are there for long-gone reasons but their communities, bound together by tribal loyalties, cling to them with ferocious sentimentality. It would amuse their ancestors who left rural poverty all over our islands during the Industrial Revolution to flock to opportunities in dark, Satanic mills. To seek betterment elsewhere, as their ancestors did and as I could not wait to do, is perceived as defecting to the enemy. Better to live on, more or less supported (as their plucky ancestors never were) by a Welfare State that subsidises such wilful victimhood.

Even after I had left, it took me years to shake off those ideas. At University my law tutors urged me to apply to the major London firms but I declined, having grown up with the ridiculous but unchallenged view that our capital city was a nest of predators living idly on the sweat of honest working folk. The flip-side ABU-equivalent is the way that London football fans sneer-chant at provincial supporters "We pay your benefits". Now that I live in "that London" I have also heard Londoners claim victim-status themselves, bemoaning the high cost of living (particularly housing) and claiming that the capital is the only city on these islands to make a positive net contribution to HM Treasury. 

Humans are tribal. If a language is really old, like Chinese or the tongues of the Native American tribes, the word for ones own people is "human" and the words for other peoples are derogatory – "foreign devil" or the like. The names we use for the Plains Indian tribes are given by their enemies because their own names would all translate to the same word. More recently, even "Wales" and "Welsh", the English names for the place I was born and the people among whom I was raised, are from the Anglo-Saxon for "foreigner". I would argue that where things have begun to go wrong in the West is that tribalism and victimhood have converged and an identity arms race encouraged by the anti-discrimination lobby has set all the "tribes" against  each other.

This, I would suggest, is what the present furore about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, the scandal about statutory rapes in Telford, the murder of an elderly Jewish lady in Paris, the emergence of the Alt-Right, Black Lives Matter and AntiFa have in common. In their game of "victimhood trumps" various would-be underdogs have both strengthened their own tribal bonds and awoken the tribalism of others.

It's dangerous to enjoy the sight of the Labour Party – home of cynical grievance-mongers for decades – hoist by its own petard over anti-Semitism. It's perilous to succumb to anger over the way that Leftist political correctness has thrown thousands of white girls in Telford or Rotherham to the wolves for fear of the juju word "Racist".  Lives are being lost (and many more lives degraded) in the United States as the uncontroversial assertions that "Black Lives Matter" and "All lives matter" are used as tribal battle cries. The Alt-Right's so-called "fascism" would evoke snorts of derision from history's real Fascists, as it amounts to White people lamely joining the destructive game of identity politics.

When growing up in Wales I once told a fanatical Welsh Nationalist that if he really had nothing better to be proud of than his ethnic roots, he should  take up macramé so as to have an actual skill to take pride in. I felt free to mock his parochial obsessions because I could never imagine him presenting a threat but that kind of thing is more dangerous now. At one of my first partners meetings at a law firm in London where most of my partners were Jewish, I was surprised when one said we had no chance of winning a bid for some work because of anti-semitism. I told him, truthfully, that I had never heard an anti-semitic remark in my life and doubted the thought would even cross the potential client's mind.

That anti-semitism is back in Britain, as it clearly now is, is due to the Labour Party's attempts to use identity politics to build its own base. Rejecting (or rather rejected by) its traditional base, Labour has sought to put together a coalition of victims, including – though socially and economically there is no more "conservative" group around – British Muslims. To do so it has become uniformly pro-"Palestinian" and anti-Israel and thus attracted into its midst many members reared with a hatred of Jews as unchallenged as my early hatred of "the South".

I reject the Alt-Right because fighting fire with fire just doesn't work. The answer to the poisonous ideas of identity politics is not to join in. It's to reject them for what they are– inimical to the best values of Western Civilisation. Our highest value is the Rule of Law – a much misunderstood phrase, particularly on the Continent where it's often used to mean "shut up and do as you are told or we'll set the police on you". The best way to explain it is in the resonant phrase – "Be you never so high, the Law is above you".  Your social status, your ethnicity, your family background, your education, your political power and your wealth are all irrelevant to the Law, in the august presence of which we are all (as we are not in any other context) equal. When you say your favourite class of "victim" deserves special protection from the Law, you are shattering the only important equality – the one on which our civilisation is built. We in the West have done that repeatedly and with the terrible consequences that are now emerging as we have sought to signal our virtue by "protecting" various underdogs. 

The Labour Party will not extricate itself from its present mess by re-ordering the hierarchy of victim-groups. I hope and believe that was not what the British Jews protesting yesterday were asking for. Nor by classifying her murder as an anti-Semitic hate crime will we bring back to life the murdered Parisienne or protect future such victims. We can all only emerge from this destructive and hateful shambles by restoring equality before the law and abandoning the damaging notions of identity politics in general and "hate crime" in particular.

Human progress is driven by free competition of ideas. It is hindered by the sort of tribalism that means you must know someones race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender before you can evaluate the credibility of their ideas, their rights to express them or the correct punishment for someone who hurts them.


An unexpected encounter with a monster

I went to a series of talks on Sunday at Birkbeck College. They are part of the Weekend University programme established by Niall McKeever — an excellent initiative that I commend to you. They were about the psychology of behaviour change and I thought they might help me in my quest to establish healthier habits as I seek to address my long standing weight problem.

I did glean some useful ideas but one price I paid was to sit, horrified, through the presentation of Dr Paul Chadwick of the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change. I don’t doubt the quality or value of Dr Chadwick’s research. He seemed very intelligent and competent. I am sure as a clinical psychologist he can be very effective in helping people who want to change their behaviours. But from his anecdotes it seemed that CBC’s main focus is on assisting government agencies such as Public Health England and the NHS in changing behaviours non-consensually.

I listened aghast as he spoke at length about what “we” need to do to change the behaviour of the stubborn “people” who are so stupidly resistant to doing “the right thing”. Who, I wanted to ask, is included in this “we” of whom you speak? All I could tell from his smug, arrogant, flippant demeanour is that it was emphatically *not* the addition of me or anyone I care about that makes it the first person plural. As for this mysterious “we’s” right to determine “the right thing”, that was a given; something his fine mind never apparently questioned — not even when a programme of behaviour change (for example the government’s “Sure Start” policy) turned out to have unintended results.

The truly scary thing to a classical liberal like me is just what a nice chap he seemed to be. I don’t doubt his good intentions or his good humour. If he were my son, I would be proud of him. Which raises the terrifying question; just how far has our society slipped that a clever young man like him, full of scientific rigour and desire to make a better world, only addresses moral questions accidentally? He did address the question of volition but only in terms of avoiding a “backlash” (his word) if measures had not been the subject of “consultations” (in the formal public sector sense) with “stakeholders”.

He doesn’t mean to be a monster and I don’t want to see him as one, but in his presence my blood ran cold. I was afraid of him. I was even more afraid of the way the earnest folk in the room laughed as he joked about the unintended consequences of various programmes to clean up the act of the idiotic, self-destructive great unwashed, I realised that I might be the only one there who included himself in the category of “the people” to be shaped as opposed to the smug elite doing the shaping.

No one seemed remotely concerned for the freedoms of those on the receiving end of Dr Chadwick’s mind bending, “nudging” and manipulation — the benighted mugs who ultimately pay to have such well-shod professionals sneer about them behind their backs.


Of Left and Right, Reason and Faith

 

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. 


The post truth era began long ago

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.