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

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Law vs ethics — again.

It used to be obvious in England that a good person was a law-abiding one. I was brought up to see the police as my friends and my protectors. I hate that I don’t feel that way now.

There was no road to Damascus moment. I had no personal bad experience with a police officer. I don’t think the police (apart from some senior officers far closer to being politicians than coppers) are to blame.  Rather there has been a decades long Chinese water torture of political “reforms”. Some were driven by the cynical “identity politics” of the Western Left; designed to set brother against brother and sister against all brothers so as to create conflicts only greater state power can resolve. Others, like this one, were political stunts to play on our instincts to win votes.  

We all agree that every human life is of equal value before the law. Right? Yet, shamefully, that’s no longer the view of the English Law in practice. To kill or injure a straight white male carries a lower sentence than to kill or injure someone whose protected status makes hurting them a “hate crime” for example. The law in effect now values members of certain ethnic groups, women, the members of one religion and non-heterosexuals more highly. Those who preach loudest for “equality” have long sought — cynically or stupidly — to undermine the only equality that matters; equality before the law. 

Boris’s latest trick along these lines — “life means life” when sentencing those who kill infants — is cynical not stupid. We are programmed by nature to love and protect not only our own young but those of all humans. For many of us that spills over into an urge to protect any childlike creature; whether a vulnerable adult human or a non-vulnerable adult panda whose markings make its eyes look big (a psychological trigger because babies are born with adult size eyes). “Think of the children” is such a common political ploy precisely because one of our strongest instincts is to do so.

A Government source told The Sunday Telegraph:

“Most people think all parties and the courts have lost the plot on sentencing. We agree with the public.”

So do I. But I also believe every human life is of equal value. Sentences should (all other things being equal) be equally severe no matter who the victim is. The government’s other recent stunt — more severe punishments for those who attack police — is from the same immoral playbook. They pick a group we favour; brave coppers, cute little children, and then signal their virtue by passing laws to “protect” them. Oppose such reforms, as I am doing here, and you bar yourself from public office. Congratulations. You’re too ethical to be a politician. 

Don't oppose such reforms however and the criminal law gradually becomes a source of societal resentments and injustices. Since its purpose is assuage resentment and crush injustice, that’s a problem, no?

 


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 ....?


The morality of public “service”

I was brought up to respect policemen. I still do. Even a libertarian state would ask good people to put themselves in harm’s way to enforce its few laws. The harm they do is rarely the fault of the (mostly) good policemen enforcing our current monstrous state’s thousands of bad laws. 

The same can be said for judges. They have an honest, important and necessary job to do that is foundational for civilisation but also apply and interpret thousands of laws that should simply not be. Their hands are dirty but it’s not their fault. Our soldiers too and perhaps (though here it gets murkier) even some of our civil servants.  

Though my conscience might still (just) handle being a judge (and relish the chance to lean hard toward Liberty in interpreting our laws) I couldn’t be a civil servant, soldier or policeman in modern Britain any more than I could be a politician for a mainstream statist party. I could not serve a gangster state that interfered with the citizenry’s freedom while violently extorting from it the money to pay me and hope to sleep at nights. 

Which raises the awkward question, who can? Being a judge, a soldier or a policeman is noble enough (and a civil servant harmless enough) in principle but to choose such a career serving the states we have now is morally questionable at least. Watch the French police currently beating up the gilets jaunes, for example. You’ll need to scour YouTube as the MSM is oddly reticent on the subject. These thugs are not conscripts. Each studied, applied, trained and freely signed a contract. Why would a decent human choose to do that job?

We have been watching Kiefer Sutherland’s Netflix show “Designated Survivor” and enjoying it well enough. I view it as the entertaining  tosh it is intended to be but wince at its po-faced portrayal of its heroes. They are cynical foes of Liberty and (literally) murderous enemies of the Rule of Law but we are expected to see them as paragons of selfless virtue. Given the boundless power of modern Western states, and the extent of their control over our personal lives, just who else would we expect to work for them but narcissists and sociopaths?

A children’s home (or church trusted by parents with their children) needs to be particularly alert to the possibility of child abusers wanting to work there. A powerful state should be similarly so about sociopaths. Neither our children’s homes, churches nor governments seem to have shown any such concern. I fear the abusers are now in charge of recruitment. 

This at least partly accounts for the relentless “mission creep” of the modern state. It certainly accounts for “Conservative” ministers, surfing smug tides of Liberty-minded rhetoric, interfering in the minutiae of our lives indistinguishably from openly authoritarian Labourites. There was a time when a moral man like this would become a civil servant but the people who staff our state now lack — almost by definition — any moral scruples about its rôle.

Please tell me I am wrong in this pessimistic analysis. If not, how can we hope peacefully and democratically to roll back the power of the state? If we can’t, then how does the story of our civilisation end?


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.


Postmodernist truth

To oversimplify post-modernist moral philosophy (or more accurately, amoral philosophy) there is no objective truth. One's stance in relation to the world is determined by one's class, sexual, gender, ethnic and other "identities" and – in the most up-to-date version – by the intersections between them. I may deceive myself that my view of the world has been developed by the application of my education and my reason to my experience, but in the "there is no truth" truth of the "woke", I think what I think because I am what I am.

This idea is a smidgen of truth taken to an absurd extreme. Of course one's life is shaped by one's experiences. Any political canvasser will tell you that he can have a good guess at the likely response of potential voters by where they live, the car they drive and how they present on the door step. Had I been born into another family in a different set of circumstances, then yes –  I would have trodden a different intellectual and moral path. Those of us who cling to the ideas of my namesake's era – the Age of Reason – do understand that our background, educational opportunities and experiences have a role. We simply consider there is a moral duty to strive – by reading, study, travel, discourse and whatever other opportunities present themselves, to transcend our experiences and strive for objective truth. We are not saying it's easy to find, but we believe that it's "out there".

It's a more optimistic philosophy, I submit. Whatever your origins, privileges or dis-privileges, you can strive for truth in our world-view. Unless you are of the elect however, post-modernism leads only to despair. You are as lost to hope and opportunity as the merest medieval serf. Your opinion counts for as much as that of a slave in the ante-bellum American South.

Born into the intersecting "privileges" of being white, male and – while not rich – not poor, what I think therefore counts for less than naught. There is no way for me to live blamelessly, let alone virtuously. The closest I can come is to "be an ally",  "stay in my lane", "shut the **** up" and listen humbly to my superiors. The post-modern West is in this respect at least headed for a new Dark Age.

Let me be clear that I do not seek to cast myself in the role of a victim here. I am lucky enough to be able to laugh at this analysis. I am financially independent and fear neither employers' nor customers' opinions. I thoroughly enjoy the discomfiture of the "woke" in my circle when I opine freely. I have fun asking them to justify their preposterous faith (it's not really a philosophy, as not only has it no rational basis, but it denies the possibility of such a thing).

One of the ways in which I keep my mind alive in retirement is by studying things for fun. A local novelist has been conducting writing classes for beginners and (though I have no intent of going into print) I have been attending for the stimulation of it. This morning a fellow-student was telling us about her novel. She has written a thriller informed by post-modern "wokeness". Her main protagonist is a privileged white male who thinks he is "woke" but isn't and the story is about his dangerous journey to true understanding.

She described him as "working in the public sector" (which she clearly thought made him a moral superior of those who pay to fund it) and "aware of social justice issues." However he has no genuine understanding of how privileged he is and how his life-choices impact others who are less so. As an example, he casually looks down upon young black men in his city caught up in drug-dealing criminality but has no idea that his cocaine habit is a cause thereof.

Before you pile in, gentle readers, with critiques of this unpublished work, let me explain why it has (despite its right on-ness) yet to find a publisher. Everyone to whom she has sent the manuscript has responded in similar ways. They like the story, but they don't know why she – as a young black woman – has written it. "You don't have to write like this any more", one publisher said. "We want novels from the point of view of people just like you" said another. I smilingly observed that they had told her to "stay in her lane", but sadly she didn't get the joke. I didn't add that they wanted her to stay on the metaphorical plantation and think as her skin colour predicts. I think that jibe would have ended our budding friendship.

She is right on. She is woke. Her stance towards society is politically correct but – as a creative – she has made the fatal error of attempting empathy. It is almost as shocking for her to animate a literary puppet of a white man as it would be for me to animate one like her. Which in the anti-wonderland of wokenes is not crude, pathetic racism but in the real world is.

Isn't empathy the whole point of creative writing? How limited we would all be if we couldn't inhabit the minds of others through their stories, poems and plays. How limiting it would be to see the world only through our own eyes and interpret it with only our own judgement. But the highest literature involves a truly creative mind attempting to inhabit the personalities of a variety of other humans. Every character in Austen, Dickens or Tolstoy is informed by the author's experiences and often based on the people she or he has met, but they are not all Jane, Charles or Leo in disguise. How wooden would they all be? Actually you can answer that question (painfully) by reading the "novels" of Ayn Rand. Her characters are a series of stick figures declaiming her ideas from a pulpit. Her books work well enough as the political tracts she should have written but fail epically as literature because she had no empathy.

I liked my new author acquaintance. Her different viewpoint won't disqualify her, if she's interested, from becoming my friend. I have offered to shoot the author picture for the dust-jacket of her novel when she gets it published. I hope she will because I would like to read it. It's my duty (and often pleasure) as a rational man to refine my own understanding by learning how others see the world. It's a good job I am not going to write my novel though, because by her rules it would certainly disqualify me from friendship!


Happy New Year, gentles all!

It has been an interesting year, politically and personally. The nation is divided. It seems many of the things we thought we had in common are no longer there.  The verbal ferocity against the majority of us who voted for Brexit has confirmed that our decision was correct. It has even changed the minds of some who voted “Remain”, but has made us fear for our future in new ways. I have seen real hatred in the eyes of posh, mild-mannered West Londoners when I’ve told them I voted “Leave.” People who have neither been involved in international trade nor co-owned a pan-European business with people from most EU member states. People who don't how the EU works. People who still deny its ultimate goal - the creation of a federal state with a single tax base, economic policy, criminal code, foreign policy and army. 

In all the years we have been in the EU, I never heard anyone from Britain praise it. It was “flawed” or “misguided”  but, of course, always “misrepresented” as a political project, when it was the merest of economic pacts. Its keenest advocates said that, for all they shared my concerns, “on balance”, we should stick with it. There was never any passion at all. Certainly none from which I could ever have predicted the passionate hatred its bloodless “supporters” revealed for us when we voted “the wrong way”. 

In truth their passion is still not for the EU. It is against the ordinary people of Britain with our irritating patriotism, our belief in self-reliance and our annoying desire for our distinctive voices to be heard. The EU never needed to be worthy of their support on its merits. They would have supported ANY project, foreign or domestic, that would allow them to ignore us and routinely override our wishes.

That’s why they so often blamed “Brussels” unfairly for laws they actually welcomed. It allowed them to mask their hostility to us while hypocritically blaming “Johnny Foreigner.” In their contemptuous and inaccurate view of our patriotism they thought that would play well. It should have come as no surprise that their agent Theresa May thought she could give away every other advantage of leaving the EU – including the right to govern ourselves as an independent nation – if she only gave us immigration control her successors could quietly waive. After all we’re just racists, right?

It has come as an enraging shock to them to find it’s not enough for "the people" to be brandished as a talisman by members of the establishment while they pursue their own interests. Their mask has slipped. Their hatred of us has been exposed. All hope that, even after a flawed debate in which the entire apparatus of the state was improperly deployed for “Remain” and the full weight of the establishment and its lickspittle media brought to bear to persuade us, we might now unite as a nation around a democratic decision seems lost. 

Chesterton's Secret People have spoken, but we have still not been heard. 

They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger or honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

I still hope that we will exit on time with a true Brexit; not “Brexit in name only.” That hope is founded not on their principles, their patriotism or their respect for their fellow citizens but their incompetence. They overplayed their hand in calling the referendum. They overplayed Project Fear — achieving reductio ad absurdam without any help from their opponents. They continue to underestimate us by conspiring clumsily with the other side of the withdrawal agreement negotiations. 

All we have learned since the referendum is that our ruling class despises us, our democracy comes second to their wishes and that voting may be as pointless as it has always felt. There is no leader in sight to unite the nation. The Conservative Party seems likely to disappear into history, leaving free marketeers without even that despicably unreliable voice. 

Things look bleak politically and yet I am optimistic. Unlike my would-be masters in the establishment I lived a life in business. I am confident that in boardrooms and partners meetings all over the country, calculations have been made as to how to profit from the change to come.  Business and trade is done despite politicians not because of them. I know that every major British financial institution (and many a minor one) is already inside the “passporting” regime and ready to drive its business forward by selling services that were never bought from love. If it depended on the competence of the kind of parasites attracted to government service, the British economy would have died long since. It doesn’t, it hasn't and it won’t. 

What does concern investors is the prospect of a Corbyn government. While Remainers say Brexit is driving house prices down, at the top end of the London market those who know say it’s him. Our capital is the bolt hole of choice for those from lesser lands without the (rule of) law. It’s not our cuisine, climate or low cost of living that has them owning homes here but the independence of our judiciary, which will not deport them and/or seize their assets when their tyrant rulers demand it (and our craven elite would cheerfully comply in return for corrupt favours). Since Magna Carta “be you never so high, the law is above you”. That’s our unique selling point as a place to invest, as a conduit for international investment, as a place to adjudicate disputes fairly, as a safe refuge for wealth and - in a pinch - the wealthy in distress. However the mobile wealthy are not dumb (or if they are can afford smart counsel). They won’t park assets here to be nibbled away by wealth taxes or managed by advisers coerced into being secret policeman for a hostile regime. Especially one driven by an ideology that in many cases impoverished their home countries and whose consequences they understand all too well. 

Theresa May’s is a double betrayal. First, she would deny us the Brexit we voted for. Secondly she is destroying the only political force that has any parliamentarians who respect property rights and the rule of law. Her second betrayal worries me more because I don’t give the EU long, Brexit or no. Handing the UK legislature over to economic vultures for the foreseeable future is far more dangerous than delaying our escape from its rickety structure. Yet even that, though it will be costly and impoverishing, will not be fatal. Not because Corbyn will see the light, but because his ideas don’t work. 

When I began my career as a business lawyer, it was at the tail end of the last Old Labour economic shambles. Our work then was largely driven by tax structuring. It was not possible for our clients to do projects in the hostile economic environment created by Wilson and Callaghan’s regimes and our job was to find ways through the fiscal mine fields. The best legal, accountancy and tax brains in the country were ranged along a cold war front between HM Treasury and wealth creators. To trade goods and services with each other is as natural to humans as to have sex. Labour could not hold back the tide of the market where robust Canutes like Stalin had failed.

Tyranny is economically just another cost to be priced. Markets — white, grey or black — will always wash over it one way or another. My landlord in Poland had been one of the greatest manufacturers of cosmetics during the Soviet times, meeting illegally the needs of women ignored by the Communist central planners. I lived there for several years next to what had become a legal contractor to EMI for the manufacture of CDs but under communism had for years been the largest bootleg record manufacturer behind the Iron Curtain. It had supplied “decadent” Western pop to the masses though the Party sought to deny them.  In both examples the price reflected the risk of doing illegal business. As a more current example, is a single drug user going without his fix in modern Britain, for all its illegality? No. He’s just paying more for it. 

All will be well given time because the facts of economic life are Austrian. Government is not natural to mankind, it has to be imposed by force. Markets are as natural as breathing. Which is why, though I will probably live less comfortably than I had hoped for the rest of my life, I have no plans to run away. I’m a pessimist for me but an optimist for my children’s generation. 

My own personal life has been interesting, complicated and ultimately fulfilling this year. I’m getting married again on the 26th of next month and I look forward to continuing to enjoy everyday life with my friends, my family and my new wife. Politics intrudes, often unpleasantly, but the world moves on. We must live, love and strive for truth and happiness as if the vicious parasites attracted to ruling us did not exist. For most practical purposes, they still don’t. Even in a state as damnably intrusive as ours is, the extent to which they can hurt us is limited by the  attention we are prepared to give them. 

I urge you also to live your personal lives to the full, gentle readers. I wish you all the very best for 2019. May your lives be as free of political interference as possible. When you encounter it, don’t forget to mock it furiously and subvert it as wittily and as effectively as you can!


Two disappointing conversations

This week I had two conversations; one with a valued and respected friend and one with a total stranger. I found both of them profoundly disturbing. 

My friend is Jewish. In the course of a conversation over lunch he told me that he and his wife have decided to leave Britain if Jeremy Corbyn becomes our Prime Minister. Not to avoid the avalanche of new taxes to be expected from an authentically Marxist Labour government, but because he is afraid that the growth of anti-Semitism will at best go unchecked, and at worst be encouraged, by Corbyn's government.

Think about that for a second. One of Britain's best claims to be the most civilised nation in Europe is that there have been no pogroms here since that at York in 1190. I have never heard an anti-semitic remark from a British person in my life. I am sure we must have the occasional nut-job who harbours hatred for the Jews, but have never met one. Given that for a while, I was a partner in a predominantly Jewish law firm, I have had better than average chances of doing so.

I am proud of the fact that Britain has been for centuries one of the safest places in the world for a Jew to live. I was shocked to hear my friend express his fears.

This is no shrinking violet neither. He is a distinguished lawyer; a former partner in another City of London law firm. He has a fine mind, strong principles and a courageous, forthright character. He is a clear thinker and a tough negotiator. He is not a man to cut and run, so I do not dismiss his concerns at all. He is making a rational calculation. 

The second conversation was at my local petrol station. A well-dressed young black man driving a newish Audi accosted me as I refuelled Speranza. He felt I had cut him up at a nearby roundabout and had followed me to offer a critique. I don't believe his assessment was correct but let's pretend he was right because that doesn't affect my point. The conversation ran as follows (and I am rather proud that I stayed so calm);

"Do you know who a roundabout works?"

I think so, yes. Why do you ask?"

"You didn't give way to me back there"

"Really...?"

"As soon as I saw the car [pointing to Speranza, my Ferrari] I knew it would be driven by an ugly c**t and here you are"

"What did you call me?"

"You heard. An ugly c**t" [He then spelled the C word out, letter by letter]

"Charming"

"That thing [pointing to Speranza]. It's to replace a tiny d*ck. That's what it's for. Your d*ck is tiny"

As he turned to storm off, I finally lost it a little and called after him

"What kind of man speaks to a stranger like that, you uncultured bastard". 

His anger was genuine enough but it was not righteous. My impression was that I was the object of his hate not because of what I did but because of what he thought I was – rich, old "gammon". Outside the ranks of fundamentalist religions, only social justice warriors can behave so badly with such a righteous demeanour. This man was of the Left; consumed with envy and identarian anger.

Before you leap to a wrong conclusion, I an not seeking to join the identity politics jamboree. Far from it. The only "protected characteristic" I aspire to or recognise is "Human." Nor do I want legal protection from mere words. In the end, though I think he hoped I would offer violence so that he could beat me up, he did nothing but call me names. When I refused to rise to his bait (carefully calculating about how it would look on the petrol station's CCTV cameras, if I am totally honest) he walked away without converting his assault into battery.

He was throwing a tantrum like a spoiled child and a better come-back than I found in my distress would have been to laugh and ask him;

"What are you? 12!?"

What connects these two incidents apart from incivility and threat of violence? The politics of identity. An imperfect but, generally, safe country is becoming angry, violent and dangerous because the members of the British Left, in common with their comrades throughout the West, have deliberately fomented division. Their forerunners' attempts to turn class against class having comprehensively failed, they have spent the decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall (and some of them have spent far longer) trying to set race against race, sex against sex, faith against faith and so forth. That explains the anger of the young man with the Audi. He saw in me, not another human, but a category of oppressor. My driving error (real or imagined) gave him an excuse (as he would see it) to express his righteous contempt. His conduct was that of a medieval knight encountering – and expressing his scorn for – an actual villein; that is a person of an inferior class.

That, combined with the Left's quest for Muslim votes by its unholy alliance with Islam in support of the "Palestinians", accounts for my friend's calm assessment of the future for Jews on our sceptred isle. To them, he's not (as he truly is) one of the kindest, noblest and gentlest of men, but an enemy. A "Zio" to his face and God-knows-what behind his back, 

This post is not a counsel of despair. To be clear, I believe in the future of our country. To be even clearer, I don't accept the stereotyping of the "Millennials" and "Generation X'ers". I know enough of both to see through that. There are unpleasant and dangerous trends in Britain's public dialogue but I accept none of them as permanent. There are straws in the wind suggestive of public resistance to this vile brand of hate-driven, envy-driven, divisive and – yes – racist politics. But we are at a dangerous juncture in our national story and many more of us than already have need to take a stand.

We will be a poorer nation if my friend leaves. We will be a poorer nation if young Audi-man doesn't grow up to see the humanity in all of his fellow-Brits. It's up to every one of us to do our best to make this land of ours safe again.


Truth, morals and democracy

Democracy does not determine right and wrong. Democratic outcomes are not necessarily correct. If you live in an unfettered democracy like that of the United Kingdom, you will often find yourself on the wrong side of majority decisions that are misguided at best and quite often wicked. Classical liberals must be careful of crowing about "the will of the People" when they find themselves on the right side of a vote, because we are far more often on the wrong side. 

Opinion polls suggest that relatively few Britons support free-market economics, freedom of expression or even (apart from their own) private property. A majority of "Conservative" voters, for example, seem to support Labour's new policy of issuing unpaid-for shares to employees and appointing trade-union directors to company boards. Those shares will not be "free." Their issue will dilute the value of existing shares. The value they represent will have been taken by force from the company's owners. Also, when investors find companies with employee shareholders less attractive, the value of the company will be further reduced. Appointing employees whose interests conflict with theirs will have negative consequences to the shareholders who own those companies. If they wanted such directors, they could have appointed them at any time. It is said that Labour intends to have employee directors trained by the Leftists of the Trade Union movement, so they will (like the party under its current leadership) be hostile to the very concept of capitalism.

No amount of democratic perfume can make such theft and economic vandalism fragrant. It's immoral. It's wrong. And yet the national debate is not about ethics but practicalities. If a mugger steals your watch at gunpoint, you don't reserve judgement on the morality of his actions until you know what motivated his crime or what it will do to the reputation of the neighbourhood. Yet, when the BBC news reported on Labour's new policy, its "expert" merely commented that Britain's status as one of the world's top destinations for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) may be adversely affected. The rights of pensioners, life assurance policy-holders or people like me living in retirement on my investments count for nothing – unless we are foreigners with other choices who might take our money elsewhere.

A democratic vote is not a sacrament. It is just an alternative to violence as a way of settling societal differences. When we are on its losing side, we had best remind ourselves of that. To oppose a democratic outcome is to encourage a return to violence. That is what the Remainers in Parliament are risking. I was for Leave but if the vote had gone the other way I would have respected it. Our unity as a nation is more important to me than having my own way – even on a subject as to which I have been passionate, angry and frustrated for decades. It seems I was naive. Neither the unity of our nation nor favouring non-violent ways to resolve disagreements means anything to some prominent Remainers.

My grandfather returned from his military service in World War II as a cripple. His country's reward was to "nationalise" (i.e. confiscate) the trucking business he and his brothers had built pre-war with their own sweat and their savings from working as boys, teenagers and young men down a coal mine. Elected on a manifesto that promised the "nationalisation," the Labour government had appointed the only local valuer they could find who was a party member to fix compensation as low as possible. Successive governments then took decades to pay it, in ever more debased coin as inflation eroded the already-rigged value. I asked him years later how that had felt. He told me this.

My friends and some of my family voted for it. Labour people sincerely believed the government could run my business better than I could. I knew they were wrong and time proved me right but at the time what was I to do? I could have been angry with my neighbours and miserable for the rest of my life. Or I could accept the democratic vote, get on with my life and do the best I could.

I loved, admired and (for all his faults) respected my grandfather. Never more so than at that moment. 

This week I visited the "I Object" exhibition at the British Museum co-curated by Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye. His co-curator Tom Huckenhall talked me and other members through the displays at a private viewing. One of the subversive pieces is an image of Egypt's last Pharaoh, Queen Cleopatra, copulating with a crocodile. Tom commented that "sexual slander" has always been used as a political weapon. Interestingly he also said that this was one of several pieces in the exhibition that had not been created by or for dissidents but had instead been commissioned by a political opponent. It was part of a slanderous campaign by Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) to strengthen his claim to be Emperor over that of Cleopatra's lover, Antony.

I cannot have been the only person present who thought of the US Democratic Party's campaign to discredit Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court. Sexual slander is indeed a potent political weapon, now as in 30BC. Its being perpetrated by democratically-elected politicians does not make it any less vile and rotten than when committed by a would-be tyrant of the ancient world. As I watch my beloved America torn apart by a politically-motivated sham as far from the truths so self-evident to the Founding Fathers as could be conceived, I remind myself again that democracy is not an ethic. It's just a very human, practical but flawed device to avoid violence.

It is not, has never been and never will be a means to divine truth, justice or morality.


Of truth, reason and persuasion

I have left instructions that Paul Simon’s song “the Boxer” should be played at my funeral. Apart from the bit about “the whores on Seventh Avenue” I think it’s a good broad brush account of how my life has felt to me. It contains remarkable wisdom in the line;

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. 

That a 16 year old Jewish kid from Queens was wise enough to know that still surprises me. I first heard the line when I was about that age myself and it should have been a helpful gift, but I was never able to internalise it usefully. I only ever remembered it too late; when my desire to believe something had led me astray.

One of my daughters once told someone “People have Dad wrong. He’s not a cynic. He’s a disappointed idealist.”  Time after time I have trusted when I shouldn’t and ventured where angels fear to tread because I was not as wise as young Mr. Simon. The will-o-the-wisps of my hopes and dreams led me through Life's swamp. I’ve been lucky and have no complaints. My regrets, such as they are. are actually about my more cautious moments. Inspirational hopes and dreams lead men where dry calculation never would and – up to a point – that may be a good thing.

in my brief career in student politics, I heard wise old sorts in the Conservative Party say things like “the facts of life are Tory” and “Tory at 20, you have no heart. Labour at 30, you have no brain.” Slightly advanced by Ricky Tomlinson*, my own trajectory confirmed the latter at least. My career as a business lawyer certainly confirmed the former — at least when the Tory Party was still Conservative and based its policies on the facts of economic life. 

So it’s not surprising that wave after wave of youngsters falls naively for the puffery of the snake oil salesmen of the left. Why, however, are there mature individuals who can’t see what poison Socialism is?

Partly it can be accounted for by the wisdom of the young Paul Simon. No-one wants to hear that the "facts of life are Tory" – especially if life is not going well for them personally. If the market values your labour less than you do yourself, it's obviously easier to believe that the market is wrong than to do something about improving your value to it. If you've trained for a dead industry, it's easier to demand that the state keeps it moving – zombie like – than to accept your mistake and retrain. Yet there is so much evidence that Socialism doesn't work. More than half of mankind lived under Socialist planned economies in the 20th Century. The empirical results of this monstrous experiment were uniformly terrible. Tens of millions died. Billions were impoverished economically, morally and in terms of liberty. 

This is recent history. Many of the people who lived through it are still alive. As this article shows, (behind a pay-wall but you can still read a couple of articles a month for free) young people who listened to their family's experiences learned the ideological lessons. They did so even when they belonged to identity groups courted by the left in its attempt to foment divisions and hatreds to be "resolved" by their panacea;  state violence to constrain free choice and free expression.

My childhood was awash with my family’s forlorn recollections about the hardships they endured under communism in Poland: the chronic scarcity of food, medicine and other basic necessities; outright hostility to basic liberties. And if we didn’t like it, too bad: they killed anyone who tried to leave.

Yet there are leftists in Poland today. Indeed there are statist authoritarians of both right and left who believe (though their grandparents are there to tell them otherwise) that an inexplicably virtuous state directing the masses will make them more moral, more patriotic and more productive than they would choose to be themselves. It would be funny if it were not so damned tragic. I lived in Poland from 1992 to 2003 and delighted in the fact that I met no-one, ever, who was inclined to believe such nonsense. In what is, perhaps, another example of my "hearing what I wanted to hear and disregarding the rest", I told myself the Polish nation was inoculated forever against the virus of statism. I was wrong. The ideological hog cycle may be even shorter than the economic one

Confirmation bias is another explanation of people's ability to ignore evidence. We are seeing it daily in the never-ending national shouting match over Brexit. Every twist and turn just leads each side to exclaim "See! I told you so!!" It is all (even for someone so enthusiastically anti-EU that his late wife once demanded he make a New Year's resolution to shut up about it for 12 months) so damned boring that I have stopped watching the news or reading my daily newspaper.

Not too long ago, we saw the British Left praise Hugo Chavez's socialist experiment in Venezuela as an example to us all. Now it has ended, as all previous experiments did, in shortages, hardship and oppression, the very same people "hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest". It wasn't socialism after all. Mistakes were made. There was external interference by agents of capitalism. There was sabotage. All the excuses, in fact, that the Stalinists used to explain the stubborn divergence of tractor production statistics from reality. 

It seems that every fact is Janus-faced to those informed by ideology or faith. The closest the left has come to acknowledging this was in developing the doctrine of post-modernism, This denies the very existence of truth and argues that all "facts" are mere social "constructs" shaped by the class, ethnic or other identity of the people positing them. How that can be true, when there is no "truth" is a question for longer-lived humans than I expect to be. I need time to have some more fun before I die, thank you very much.

Jeremy Bentham, perhaps the most pragmatic of all English philosophers, is said to have died regretting the great error of his life. which was to assume that it was only necessary to show Man what was right in order for him to embrace it. We who aspire to be rational must learn not to despair when Man cleaves to the irrational. In winning people over to the cause of Reason we must work with, and not merely scorn, their foibles. Were any religious people persuaded to renounce their faith by the late, great Christopher Hitchens' (probably correct) characterisation of their views as the product of "wishful thinking" for example? I have a close friend who is religious and, when I fear he is making a mistake, I rack my brain for the teachings of my long-ago Sunday school to construct a theological argument for him to act differently. Sometimes it works – at least a little better than telling him his faith is "wishful thinking" would! I care about him enough to shape my arguments to his beliefs when I want to help him. Perhaps I should extend that courtesy to others? How far though can I extend a courtesy that costs little when dealing with a kind and (mostly) rational man before I am respecting the monstrous views of barbarians?

If there is no Truth, life is just a pointless frolic. Yet, as Professor Peterson tells us convincingly in his books and videos, all the research suggests that the search for meaning is what makes us happy, not (pace the Founding Fathers) "the pursuit of happiness" per se. We don't need there to be Truth or Meaning to be happy, but we do need to be looking for both. Post-modernism is quite literally a counsel of despair and I suspect is only meant to dispirit most of us into inactivity while its hypocritical proponents get on with their quest to rule the world. 

Where, gentle reader, do you stand? Is there truth? Should it be sought? Can it be found? To the extent that it requires others to accept it in order to improve the world, how best can one persuade them?

*In the linked post, I said I couldn't be sure that it was Tomlinson. My father has since read that post and confirmed that it was.

 


On being a dispirited activist vs being Pamela Geller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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