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

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Why the French are so pessimistic | The Spectator

Why the French are so pessimistic | The Spectator.

The most striking thing is the skilled and marvellous way France maintains the public realm. From pavements to lighting, to high streets and motorways and serious infrastructure, France gleams. Frankly, given the choice, I’d rather live in a French roundabout than the average redbrick Barratt Home new-build, with its three-inch-wide windows. The former, the French roundabout, is likely to be prettier, and better designed, and it’s guaranteed to have superior stonework.

Just as I noted here during my recent road trip!

French taxes are as high as ours, but more of them get spent on things French people need. Their elections are showing however, that good infrastructure, housing and lifestyle are not enough. The French are not becoming politically more extreme in search of a better material life. They are doing it to ditch a treacherous establishment that does not respect them. The Énarques have strutted and preened long enough, while filling France's cities with enemies who openly despise her in order to prop up their state-sponsored Ponzi scheme.

We all care (pause here for leftists to call us racist) about our culture and our way of life and want to see it preserved. In the final analysis we will all – even the relatively pampered French - rise up and fight for it. The French people are saying "non!" at the moment and I wish them luck. Vive la France!

As I recently watched Tucker Carlson tell an Australian journalist,

Happy people have children and a functioning economy allows them to do that.

Rather than import new citizens to prop up the numbers, perhaps our governments should try to make it so young people can both afford to have children and believe enough in the future to want to? If, for example, housing costs and high taxes mean it mostly takes two incomes for young people to afford a home, it's hard to sacrifice some or all of an income to have a child. Importing low-income households while restricting housing supply with planning laws, will never make that easier. So maybe let's not, eh?

Sadly the betrayal of everything they should hold dear by the so-called "Conservative" Party is about to give Labour a five to ten year untrammelled chance to build a massive demonstration – a sort of Leftist theme park – of every vice and folly that has been dragging down the West for decades. I am afraid we're going to be late to your party, mes amis. Do your best without us for now.

When our time comes, however, watch out! By the time Labour has further impoverished us while robbing us blind, denigrating our way of life, rubbishing our values, castrating and mastectomising our healthy children and rewriting our history to make us the world's monsters, we'll be ready.

This is not what I personally want, of course. I'd love a thoughtful national review of the scale and role of the state followed by a slow, gentle move towards liberty. My whole ethic is based on the non-aggression principle, and I despise social division and violence. However it's clear our Deep State parasites will no more remove their blood-sucking proboscises than will France's without weaponising some version of Le Pen against them. The Left's culture wars also dangerously shift focus from rational issues to defending our way of life. Resisting that is more obviously a task for a Le Pen or (God help us) worse than an economics professor like Javier Milei in Argentina.

The Leftist shit-show and inevitable economic car crash we're facing without even an adequate Opposition to resist, makes it sadly more likely that when our Le Pen materialises, she is likely to make cuddly old Nigel Farage seem milquetoast.


An enemy of sanity

An Enemy of the People starring Matt Smith extends at the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre | West End Theatre.

Enemy of SanityThings are better in my world. The Misses P are back in my life and that was the only real reason (my divorce having gone through with goodwill on both sides) for me to be sad. The ex-Mrs P is remarried and I sincerely wish her and her new husband every joy. 
 
Last night the Misses P took me to the theatre as my birthday present. The birthday was last month. The actor who played my favourite modern Doctor Who, Matt Smith, is in the final week of an extended run of Ibsen's "Enemy of the People."
 
Not that Ibsen had much to do with it, beyond the hyper-naturalism of the acting, the Norwegian names of the characters or the fact that no-one cares what happens to any of the miserable Nordic mofos in the dreary plot.
 
The production was modern, featured some badly-performed Clash and Bowie, and led to a deranged political rant by the leading character to open an audience participation town-hall meeting. 
 
I was not convinced that the audience participants were genuine but my daughters assured me they were. A gent from Northern Ireland immediately behind me launched into a terrifying speech about filthy privatised water versus the angelically-pure stuff that flowed from our taps when morally-flawless public servants were in charge. His thinking was not even reality-adjacent. It sounded like he'd never met a non-Marxist in his life. And he was by no means the wackiest loon to stand up.
 
We're in an election year. I sat with my head in my hands, unable to look at the theatre-going madmen engaged in a Highland Games of lunacy; tossing ever greater rhetorical cabers and cheering each other on while pumping clenched fists in the air. 
 
People like them must find The Guardian far-right. I told myself repeatedly that "nothing is less representative than a West End audience". London's theatre-loving young bourgeoisie could not be less like the British people I keep trying to love. 
 
I thanked the Misses P for their gift as we parted. I had loved being in their presence, even if the play had driven me first to boredom, then to sleep and finally to despair. I anxiously urged them to remember that they live in a better world than they were born into. That life-expectancy keeps rising, poverty keeps falling and that their lives are well worth living and becoming more so by the day. 
 
Then I stood waiting for a taxi on the other side of the street as the actors, including Mr Smith of whom I was so recently a fan, came out to sign autographs for adoring theatre-goers who might as well have been Mao's Red Guards for all their attachment to Enlightenment values and a free market economy.
 
I've never slunk before, but there was no better verb to describe how I went home. What kind of world has such people in it? 

The Football Association and Israel

The Football Association was asked to light up the iconic arch at Wembley Stadium in the colours of the Israeli flag. They refused. This has been widely condemned. In my view sport should never "do" politics. When a friend asked me to write to the FA in support of the request to light up the arch, I politely refused on those grounds. So, in a sense, I think the FA is right. However, having virtue-signalled relentlessly on other non-sporting issues for years, there is something sinister about the fact that it won't in this case.

The FA had footballers kneel in solidarity with a single foreign criminal who was unlawfully killed, but won't express sympathy with more than a thousand murdered innocents. After the terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, the FA's officials lit up the arch in French colours. They were happy to express the support many of us felt for a nation that, if presented with a big red magic button that would erase England from history, would lose lives in the stampede to press it. Yet they choose to remain neutral between the vicious, anti-semitic, baby-butcherers of Hamas and their victims. 

Wembley-arch
It was undoubtedly a mistake ever to mix sport with politics. I should not be put into a position at Craven Cottage where the nice young asian guy who sits next to me has to wonder if I am a racist when I don't stand when our players "take the knee." My refusal to acquiesce in virtue-signalling at the behest of the Marxist monsters of BLM isn't racist at all but I am not at the Cottage for a political discussion. I'm there for the joy of sport and an escape from the tedium of my politically-polluted life. I deeply resent the Premier League, Football Association and indeed the club putting me in an awkward political position at a football match.

The truth is that the FA's inconsistency arises from cowardice. On the day of the Hamas invasion, its supporters were dancing for joy (as captured on video by Countdown's Rachel Riley and published on her Twitter feed) on a street 0.6 miles from where I live in West London. According to the 2021 census, our city's cultural diversity is enriched by the presence of 1.3 million adherents of "the religion of peace." Quite a few – it seems from such celebrations – take pleasure in Hamas barbarism. The FA is unsure of how many fall into that category and – given their history of violent response to perceived slights - is afraid to annoy them.

The FA might also be justified in worrying that The Metropolitan Police force service is so afraid of offending British Muslims that – if they did kick off at Wembley in the non-football sense – it wouldn't hold them to the same legal standards as other Londoners. I wouldn't personally be surprised to see the Met – firmly a part of Britain's Leftist Establishment – side with them.

I don't agree with those calling for the police to suppress pro-Hamas celebrations or demonstrations. Hamas is legally designated as a terrorist group in the UK and it is a crime to support them, but I think that's a legal mistake. They are no more revolutionary, violent or bloodthirsty than many social science lecturers in our universities and no-one is calling (nor should they) for their vile Marxist ideology to be suppressed. Besides, I welcome their free speech. As a practical matter, I need to know who are the murderous sorts among my neighbours. I need that knowledge to inform my decisions about my socialising, my shopping and indeed whether I choose to keep living where I do.

I have every confidence in the Israel Defence Force's ability to respond appropriately to Hamas. I am on Israel's side – as every civilised human should now be – and simply wish them (as they would wish themselves) a speedy victory with minimum bloodshed. I am more interested in what I have learned in the past week about the state of my own nation and its capital city. Evil is among us and our response to it is – as evidenced by the FA's pusillanimity – far too naive, timid and weak. I fear we are going to pay a price for that before too long.


Depp vs Heard

Celebrity gossip is not my thing. This case has been particularly unedifying. In a rational world, people would now pay less attention to the opinions of play actors, having seen what shallow, narcissistic souls (and I speak as a devoted theatre person who admires their professional skills) they often are.

What has been interesting about the trial is the MSM vs Social Media aspect of it. Wounded journos bemoan the fact that people have followed the trial – not through the lens of their analysis and opinion – but via such odd channels as TikTok. I understand their point of view. They are professionals and would like people to trust them. However, they just don't seem to understand the role they played in losing that trust. They would do better to work hard to win it back, rather than insult the customers they've so clearly lost. The intense social media interest in a defamation trial shows the demand for coverage is there. Perhaps they should begin to think about how best to meet it? No-one (as the Remain campaign has still not learned) was ever insulted or abused into agreement. It's just bad advocacy. 

I have watched a couple of the videos of which they complain out of curiosity. They consisted of people I had never heard of pointing fingers and raising eyebrows in the corner of a screen showing video from the court. Every so often they'd point downwards to a "subscribe" button. Having practised law myself, I was just as unimpressed as the journalists with this approach to court reporting. Unlike the journalists, I recognised that their customers' preference for it is a profound critique of the MSM. Just how much trust have you lost, dear journalists, that people trust these clowns more?

I formed a strong suspicion that the "influencers" in question had a very limited understanding of what was going on. That didn't particularly concern me. Most people don't understand most laws and still less most court procedures. That "influencers" can make money grimacing thus doesn't bother me. Good luck to them. What was really amusing however was the reaction on social media to the outcome of the trial. The "believe the victim without ever establishing they were a victim" mob is in uproar. Some hilariously misguided points are being made.

Firstly this bubble of fanatics is convinced that the ravings of their social media foes during the trial somehow influenced the outcome. If only people had read their tweets and not those of the Nazis*, Ms Heard would have won. Firstly, she didn't entirely lose. Mr Depp's suit succeeded. She did defame him. Part of her counter-suit succeeded. He did defame her. Whatever damages he wins will be offset by the damages she wins. They've both damaged their careers with this nonsense and (as so often) only the lawyers have really won. As a retired lawyer, I am relaxed about that. I am confident both legal teams will make better use of these idiots' wealth than they would have done themselves. I see excellent private educations in their offsprings' future!

Secondly, the jurors were among the few people in America without access to the social media (or indeed the mainstream media) coverage. They were probably (statistically) also among the majority of Americans who don't pay much attention to the enraged rants of people correcting other people's errors on the internet. The jurors formed a view on the evidence presented to them in court. They did so with guidance from the judge as to its relevance. Legal process is not perfect in America or anywhere else but it wouldn't have to be very good to be a more reliable route to truth than Twitter etc.

I read an exchange today where someone told a tweeter saying the jury had not believed Ms Heard that it might be true "in his bubble" but evidence from agencies in the field proved otherwise. I have never seen a point more spectacularly missed. Statistical evidence from social work or law enforcement agencies in the field may or may not prove that most domestic abusers are male and most victims female, but that says literally nothing about the facts of this (or any other) specific case. That some women are abused does not prove this one was. 

When studying law I was taught that modern civilisation began when legal relations stopped being determined by status and were instead determined by contract. Much energy is now being expended to reverse that. Rather than reviewing their evidence to determine what happened between two equals in law, we are being asked to accept that Ms Heard is telling the truth because she's a woman and that Mr Depp is an abuser because he's a man. Let's pass over for the moment that the very people insisting women can't lie can't define a woman. They are essentially reviving the medieval concept of "nobility" to ascribe inherent moral superiority to new categories of nobles. 

Surely they can see this is a route back to the "status" oppressions of old? If someone is always to be believed because of their status (rather like a feudal prince or lord) they will be able to oppress those of lesser status with false accusations. As in the story of Robin Hood, where a lie about the outlaw's father allowed a superior lord to seize his land, so modern lesser humans will lose out to unscrupulous members of the new "nobility".

Economic equality is a crock of shit. All attempts to enforce it will create poverty at best. Equality before the law, however, is the beating heart of a healthy civilisation. If you are claiming legal privilege on the basis of your status being anything other than just "human", you are an enemy of civilisation itself. What are now called "protected characteristics" may (or may not) be significant politically but, to be just, the law should be blind to them.

*Anyone who disagrees with them.

 


Heresy and the clerisy

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.

An hour well spent

I don't normally go for podcasts, as I can take in information faster by reading and don't spend much time in traffic these days. This however, is worth your time.

My last post was, I confess, a bit defeatist. I certainly felt defeated. Douglas Murray does not. On the contrary he is optimistic that the forces of evil are vulnerable and makes convincing arguments for going on the offensive. Rather than bemoan "cancel culture" he thinks it's overstated and urges the "silent majority" to speak up.

Referring to Kay Burley's ludicrous smears in relation to former Aussie PM, Tony Abbott, he is hilarious. He points out that she once grabbed a female fellow journalist by the throat in anger, squeezing so hard that she left a bruise. Playing her own game, therefore, it's possible to say that Kay Burley once grabbed a woman by the throat and injured her. Anyone who appears on her show is condoning the strangulation of women. By her own logic, she should be cancelled!

No right-thinking person wants Kay Burley silenced of course. Her bluster turns people off every argument she tries to advance and she serves a useful function in exposing the weakness of Tory ministers, but it takes Douglas to pierce the pompous veil so elegantly. I commend him to you.

 


A short, racist post about education

I cannot be sure and must beware of the post hoc fallacy, but I think I may once have done some good in the field of public education. I asked a question of Trevor Philips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at the "Battle of Ideas" conference at the Barbican in 2012. He had wondered aloud why boys and girls from Chinese and Indian families do so much better in Britain's schools than white children, whereas black boys do far worse. I ventured to suggest that, whatever else it proved, it showed the Left had been wrong for decades in accusing teachers and/or "the education system" of racism. What kind of racist, I wondered, favoured Indians over Pakistanis, or Chinese over whites? He asked me, "if it's not racism what is it?" and (as the crowd shouted me down) I said it was culture. I said I had lived in China, where education was regarded as the most valuable of goods and I suspected the same was true in India. "If black British mothers treat their boys like Indian and Chinese mothers treat their children, they will get the same results,"  I said to howls of derision. That may be the least racist sentence I have ever uttered, but the cries of "racist" didn't abate until I retreated into my happy obscurity.

At that point Trevor was a lifelong, much respected member of the "Labour movement". Now he is discredited, spurned and has been denounced as an "islamophobe". I hope I helped him on his way that day. I was reminded of that moment when reading Hans Rosling's book "Factfulness" recently. This passage in particular brought it to mind;

In 1972, as a fourth-year medical student, I studied at the medical school in Bangalore. The first class I attended was on examining kidney X-rays. Looking at the first image, I realized this must be kidney cancer. I decided to wait awhile before telling the class, out of respect. I didn’t want to show off. Several hands then went into the air and the Indian students one by one explained how best to diagnose this cancer, how and where it usually spreads, and how best to treat it. On and on they went for 30 minutes, answering questions I thought only chief physicians knew. I realized my embarrassing mistake. I must have come to the wrong room. These must not be fourth-year students, these must be specialists. I had nothing to add to their analysis. On our way out, I told a fellow student I was supposed to be with the fourth-years. “That’s us,” he said. I was stunned. They had caste marks on their foreheads and lived where exotic palm trees grew. How could they know much more than me? Over the next few days I learned that they had a textbook three times as thick as mine, and they had read it three times as many times. I remember this whole experience as the first time in my life that I suddenly had to change my worldview: my assumption that I was superior because of where I came from, the idea that the West was the best and the rest would never catch up. At that moment, 45 years ago, I understood that the West would not dominate the world for much longer.

Rosling tells the story against himself and dates his understanding of the outdatedness of "Western" ideas about "developing countries" from that moment. It's a good illustration of that, certainly, but it's also an explanation of why, for example, there is a higher proportion of both Indian and Chinese doctors in British hospitals than of their respective ethnicities in our general population. It's a disparity that literally no-one is attributing to "structural racism" and there is something to be learned from understanding it.

No doubt some were better-educated elsewhere from a textbook three times as thick that they read three times as often. Others had mothers not yet fully assimilated into our culture who would have taught them at least to read the thinner text book more times. Just as I am optimistic that Pakistani-origin Muslim girls in Britain will be easily lured from misogyny into the local way of thinking about women, I am pessimistic that - in a generation or so - Anglo-Indian/Pakistani/Chinese boys and girls will have dumbed-down like everyone else in our state-organised schools and colleges.

Dumbing down our education system to protect our coddled young from “pressure” was not a good idea. As Rosling's story (and my own sad experience of "mixed ability teaching" and "Cuisenaire rods" in my bog-standard state schools) tells us, it’s been going on for a long time now. We now have coddled students taught by coddled teachers who were themselves taught by the first of the Western coddled. Without the "tiger mothers" in our immigrant populations we Brits whose parents couldn't afford private education would have no collective memory of what it is to be taught with rigour, free from concern for our fragile "self-esteem." The tiger mothers have been distant enough from local culture throughout to resist and so continued to demand more – thus scoring all those boast-worthy offspring in white coats and lawyer suits.

The young lawyers I worked with in China were the product of a culture that has valued education above all other things for millennia - since the power of the Emperor was first quietly supplanted by a mandarin class appointed by competitive examination. A Chinese mother, however humble, could see her son (admittedly only her son at that stage) rule the greatest nation on Earth if she pushed him hard enough at school. That kind of ingrained notion dies slowly. When I visited India for the first time to meet the parents of Mrs PII before our marriage, I was struck on my six hour road journey from New Delhi to their home by the sheer number of roadside advertisements for educational institutions – far more than for consumer goods. She tells me that many of them are scams and rip-offs preying on the hopes and dreams of poor parents, but the fact remains the demand is there.

The educational success of Chinese and Indian children in our system is due to the sheer bloody vigour (going on ferocity) of their parenting. We all, black white and beige, need to learn from that. If the post-war changes in Western education have proved anything it's the wisdom of the old adage "Spare the [now of course metaphorical] rod and spoil the child." Spoil too many of your children and you may doom your civilisation. Would legislators with any intellectual rigour have passed this resolution in the California State Senate? Would anyone educated with any rigour be committing the crimes against history, commonsense and reason occurring daily on the streets of Britain and America?

I say to any parents reading this – your children are neither fashion accessories nor playthings; they’re humanity’s future. Get on their case and give them no damned slack at all. For all our sakes.


Stop being a pessimist. Stop being a sap.

I am reading an excellent book at the moment, "Factfulness" by Hans Rosling. I remember enjoying this, his  first, fantastic TED talk in which he turned statistics into entertainment to great effect.

   

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".

IMG_1014

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.

IMG_1015

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?


A chap is entitled to his style

I try not to be provoked by ill-judged political outbursts by my friends on social media. Life’s too short to fix everything someone gets wrong on the internet. Or so my wife tells me. Today, for example, I almost wasted an hour of my life responding to attacks on Jacob Rees-Mogg on my personal Facebook page. This was from friends (one of whom is an English journalist in Russia) commenting on this article in The Independent about the style guide JRM issued to his parliamentary staff, which was leaked to ITN.

My journalist friend said it reminded him of the forlorn attempts of the Académie Française to hold back changes in the French language. One of his friends essayed a witticism by posting this image A3A6CB66-C1AB-49B6-A646-639DA66F351D

Fair enough, that’s a mildly amusing comic exaggeration but JRM, while not a libertarian, is very much a small state man. Unlike his authoritarian opponents in both his party and others, he wants fewer rules and less state interference with personal choices. It’s ridiculous to compare an office memo to the control-freakery of the Académie Française. He’s not laying down the law, just giving stylistic guidance to his employees. Write to him in your preferred style and they’ll now politely respond to you in his. Where’s the story here?

Yet class-obsessed (though disproportionately posh) journalists have apparently spent hours counting how many times Hansard features JRM using expressions he’s asked his staff to avoid. I understand they’re bored of Brexit. Aren’t we all? But if a free press has value (and I think it does) this strikes me as a poor example of it.

JRM is eccentric. He’s different. He adds to the rich and varied warp and weave of our wonderful society. He very much enhances its cultural diversity, in fact. But as his politics don’t suit the media hive mind, look how intolerant of “difference” journalists truly are. One extra space behind a full stop and he’s a dangerous reactionary!

Let me try to match my friend in Moscow in the field of OTT analogies. It reminds me of how the gentlemen of the press piled in behind Carl Beech when he falsely accused many Tories (and one — Jewish — Labourite) of sexual abuse and even murder. Never mind the facts, never mind the effects on the people concerned and their families. There’s the hated “other” in our sights. Attack!

So much for the kinder, gentler politics the Magic Grandpa promised  

These of course are the very same journalists who first systematically ignored and then, when the story broke, downplayed statutory rapes by the thousand so as not to criticise cultural difference in England’s poorer towns. These are the same journalists so carefully weighing the pros and cons of the Jessica Yaniv story in Canada (or in the case of Canadian media so carefully ignoring it). Such courage! Such independence of thought! What was that old rhyme again?

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
British journalist.

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's
no occasion to.

There. I haven’t wasted that hour. I’ve made a blog post from it. Now shall I send my friend in Moscow a link to it on Facebook ....?


Living peacefully under a hostile regime

Back in the ‘90s, when I lived with my family in Warsaw, we had a lovely young babysitter who took care of the then very young Misses Paine. We got to know her well as she also came on family holidays with us. One evening when she came over she had clearly been crying and we asked what was the matter. Her history teacher had that day been reviewing recent history under the new curriculum mandated by the country’s first democratic government since the fall of the Communist Party. When she got home from school she had asked her father, a lecturer at Warsaw University, if he had been a member of the Party and had rebuked him when he admitted he had. 

Her tears were not of disappointment but of remorse. Her dad had patiently explained to her the realities of life under a regime he had never dared to hope would change as it did. As far as he could tell, Poland would be Communist forever. He had to take care of his family as best he could in the actual circumstances in which they lived and advancement in his career required he be a party member. To refuse the invitation to join might have worse consequences than not being promoted. He had wept at the earnest teenage contempt of someone he had been trying to protect and — to her eternal credit — she had been distressed at having hurt him  

Were it not for the happy coincidence of Reagan and Thatcher’s terms in office overlapping as they did, he would have been right in his assessment of democracy’s chances in the East. For all its pomposity about its values, the West had mostly appeased the Soviets. Its academics were traitors almost to a man and its leftist politicians yearned for their comrades to get it right and prove socialism actually worked. I am told by one who researched there for a Masters thesis on Politics that the joint archives of the British Communist and Labour Parties in Manchester document the role of “Moscow Gold” in our politics. 

The nearer the Western democracy to the Iron Curtain, the more inclined it had been to kiss the Kremlin’s nether regions – as witness the shameful Östpolitik of West Germany, initiated by Socialists quietly sympathetic to the USSR. There were probably more true believers in Socialism in the West than the East. Years later my Russian teacher in Moscow would laugh at my stupidity when she learned I had been one of them.  “Didn’t you know what was happening here?” she asked. Told that I’d dismissed all reports as capitalist lies, she said scornfully “I can’t believe you actually fell for their bullshit. No one here did.”  

I am beginning to understand what it must have been like for my babysitter’s dad. Don’t get me wrong. I know full well that I am lucky to be a free born citizen of an ancient democracy. I’m also financially independent in retirement and don’t need to worry what HR or Marketing make of my utterances any more. Even when I did worry, I never checked my tongue before holding forth. I just sheltered behind my easily penetrated nom de blog when putting my views in writing. I don’t even need to do that anymore and links in the sidebar will take you to pages with my real name but there are more of you now who know me as Tom.

So I must not overstate my case. While I was horrified to find on returning to England after 20 years in the post-communist world that our police now patrolled the internet for “wrongthink” and that perfectly respectable concerns about, say, immigration and its perceived threats to local culture were often characterised as “hate speech”, the consequences of wrong speak are still (mostly) more social than criminal. I need not yet fear the deadly knock on my door in the night.

Our equivalents of the Saudi Arabian Mutaween are not the Metropolitan Police in London, but self-appointed brown shirts of the Guardian, Left-Establishment point of view; posh leftist ladies and their cuck husbands telling hostesses that they must never invite that dreadful “Nazi” again if they expect to move in polite society. Or, damn their traitorous eyes, marketing sorts at Gillette or Facebook peddling Marxian lies to set class against class, race against race, sex against sex, young against old and Muslims (God help them) against everyone  

Yet I am beginning to check my tongue — and to despise myself for it. I am ashamed of never defending that misguided but essentially decent and well meaning young chap Tommy Robinson, for example — even when he is occasionally as clearly in the right as on it. My views are more sophisticated than his and far far more liberal in the true meaning of that abused word. He has associated with bad people (though no worse than the violent totalitarian leftists of my youth) and has made (and still makes) political, legal and moral errors. But when he is wronged I should have the balls to speak up for him. And I don’t. Yes, he’s closer to being a “fascist” than I am, but not nearly as close as those leftists screeching for his blood.

He’s a wrongheaded but good natured working class bloke of the type I grew up with. He holds opinions shared by most of the men who fought real Fascism and he is trying in his often clumsy way to preserve what they fought for. He sometimes deserves help that it seems I am too afraid of the West London Mutaween to give. Goodness knows how many of my less independent fellow Brits are biting their tongues and toeing the Party line just as my babysitter’s dad once did  

I have a beautiful life and I am grateful for it. I say and do pretty much as I please and I know I am lucky. Britain is still a long way from the horrors of the USSR and Warsaw Pact days and I don’t want to be a libertarian analogue of those Corbynites screeching “Nazi” by screeching “Communist” at them. Name calling entrenches differences. It never changes minds. The sensible, decent, intelligent people from both sides of our various divides are at some point going to have to talk. While at my age I can’t expect to be at that table I would like at least not to be one of the fanatics raging outside their windows and distracting them from their dirty, but necessary, work.