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

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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. 


Friendship

Family friends, childhood friends, school friends, university friends, work friends and online friends; they come in all shapes and sizes but they are life-enhancing. A life thus unenhanced would be an unbearable prospect so – to any friends reading this – thank you. I appreciate your contribution to my life.

In other languages, people are more careful about ranking friends than we are in English. A German or Austrian distinguishes carefully, for example, between "ein Sportfreund" (with whom one perhaps plays tennis),  "ein Geschäftsfreund" (with whom one does business) and "ein Freund" (who will come to one's funeral, even if it's raining). A Pole reserves the rank "przyjaciel" for the rainy funeral friend and badges someone we would call a friend as a "znajomy" or acquaintance. Most of my friends according to English usage are just a "dobry znajomy" (good acquaintance) in Polish. Make careless use of the feminine word for friend  –przyjaciółka – and you may accidentally imply a degree of intimacy with a Polish lady that your circumstances do not justify. 

Our friends in the Anglosphere come in different ranks too, but we don't signal that in speech. In this we are aided by the fact that we only use the polite form of the second person singular these days. "Thee" and "thou" – signals of easy familiarity – have not been heard in everyday English since my Grandad used to greet me with "How are thee, lad?" The English, and even more the Americans, will call people friends that a Frenchman would never tutoyer.

I first found that one of my best friends was entitled to that rank years ago when I had some financial difficulties. A careful chap with his money, he produced his cheque book unprompted and offered to lend me enough to tide me over. Though I didn't accept, I knew he was no mere znajomy. A former client I thought, and hoped, was a Freund revealed himself to be – by describing me as such over the telephone to a mutual acquaintance – a Geschäftsfreund. I was disappointed, but at least I knew. The imprecision of current English usage has its benefits but also its costs.

Perhaps we English-speakers choose to blur the distinctions between people ranging from those we stay in touch with by Christmas card to those to whom we bare our souls in a crisis, to be diplomatic. Or perhaps, as it seems to those whose languages retained such niceties, we are a deceitful bunch. Often, I suspect we are deceiving ourselves. When I retired I never heard again from several people I had thought of as my friends. Some such usage as Geschäftsfreund might have helped me not to fool myself into an unwarranted loyalty – and have left me with more leisure during my career to be with my family and real friends.

Some in the next generation don't seem quite to understand how friendship works. This thought (and this post) was prompted by a blog post I read this morning. An old friend (first met online and later in meatspace) expressed an outrageous view with which I could not possibly agree. We are of similar vintage but it occurred to me that, if we were millennials, that might be the end of the friendship. First I laughed, because the thought is ridiculous. Then I frowned because for some young people it isn't and I worry how that will affect life in the future.

My lady friend, rather younger than me, was surprised by the guest list for a dinner party I threw for my London friends. Guests included a Corbynite Labour person (and Evangelical Atheist), a fairly conventional (though also Atheist) Tory, a Revolutionary Marxist and a devout Catholic. She was concerned that the evening would turn into an enormous fight and thought it most unwise when I positioned the more militant atheist opposite the Catholic and the Revolutionary opposite the Tory. Yet we had a wonderful evening calling each other out on the absurdity of our various views (mine of course uniting all of the authoritarian statists against me) and ended the evening in a drunken sing-song. Afterwards she observed that the Marxist would have everyone at the table shot if the revolution ever came. I agreed but laughed; saying that he was otherwise a good, interesting chap and that as it wasn't coming his homicidal intentions were hilarious. To be honest, I don't think he'd have the zeal if it came to it. He's too nice to murder, even if he has the ideology to justify it. Like many politicos, he opines comfortably in the knowledge that he'll never get to put his ideas to the test. 

Another friend of mine has got lost in the darker corners of the internet and acquired some unsavoury views. If one was not concerned about bringing down the attention of his local security forces on him, one might even say he has been radicalised. Yet he was horrified when I asked him to stop sending me daily agitprop emails and, to be honest, he had a point. A friend doesn't ask a friend to stop spouting garbage. A friend mocks a friend mercilessly for it and changes the subject. Our generation has both cheerfully exercised its free speech and not made friendships conditional on political, ethical or religious agreement. When I dined with him recently he had invited another radical guest to back him up. I made a mild riposte or two before changing the subject by embarking on a sit-down set of my best jokes. The evening went swimmingly and we all parted friends; perhaps even Freunden or przyjacele!

Free Speech is more than a slogan. In a functioning democracy, it's a way of life. Not only should we tolerate it from strangers, we should embrace it among our friends for who is more likely to save us from error? A stranger on a soapbox contradicting our opinions, or a friend around our table over a glass or nine of wine?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Peterson and Frankl quote Nietzsche as saying;

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

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

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

 


The Spectator Housing Summit 2018

The Spectator Housing Summit | Spectator Events.

Having cancelled my longstanding subscription to The Economist, which I used to love but which is now staffed by halfwit conventional thinkers aligned with the Leftist Establishment, I take The Spectator instead. Its Editor, Fraser Nelson, chaired the above event at the Southbank Centre this morning and I turned up because I was invited. I am a real estate man but always focussed on commercial property. Housing was not my thing professionally. In my personal life I take the view that much wrong with Britain can be traced to our weird relationship with it; seeing it as more than shelter to keep the rain off while we are eating, sleeping or watching TV.
 
It's a key political issue now. The Conservatives fear that if a way can't be found for twice as many young people to become homeowners as are managing it at present a generation of voters will be lost to them. That's probably true. I have heard some seriously stupid suggestions about solving that problem from Tories recently. I was hoping to hear more intelligent ones today*
 
I did. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss MP, said some sensible things. She noted that housing in London now costs 12 times average salary. Given the UK's rising population (the only one in Europe) we must "let our cities off the leash" and allow them to expand. More importantly we must densify them. She noted that infrastructure was key to this and claimed that levels of infrastructure spending (as a proportion of GDP, the dubious way politicians always like to state such figures) is at its highest for 40 years. You could have fooled me but I suppose she would know.
 
She claimed, mystifyingly, that the Government was "generating more land". I assume she meant it is finding ways to encourage more of it (and Britain is only 8% built upon) into development. She said we need to overcome "the blob of vested interests" and "challenge the mentality of the comfortable" who would rather the fields near their homes stayed open while their children or grandchildren lived like students in grotty house shares.
 
She warmed the cockles of my old heart with talk of "streamlining the Byzantine planning system" and intervening if local authorities failed to implement their local plans to allow their communities to grow. All well and good and it was cheering to hear sensible talk emanating from the Treasury of all places. The problem is that key solutions are not in the hands of Central Government. Planning is a local competence and public opinion expects it to remain so. If a local council denied a planning permission only to be over-ridden by Whitehall, there would be hell to pay. Local electors (at least the kind inclined to make planning objections) are NIMBIES to a man and woman.
 
The most depressing work in my career was when I was a young lawyer in Cambridge. It's a beautiful city blighted by hordes of other-worldly academics with too much time on their idle hands. Any application for some sensible modernisation to make their medieval museum vaguely resemble a liveable modern town raises dozens of objections from such types. Some of them used to instruct me to lodge them with the Planning Committee.  I vividly remember, for example, trying to stymie a slight increase in the size of the Cambridge bus station to accommodate vehicles that couldn't navigate the narrow medieval street without an increased turning circle. I was instructed to tell the planning committee that the tiny strip of land to be taken from "Parker's Piece" was sacrosanct because "WG Grace used to practice his cricket there".  
 
In the recent local elections the Tories on my manor ran on a slogan of "keep Ealing low-rise". If London is to be more densely developed (and it's one of the least dense capital cities in Europe) then more multi-family housing is needed. Paris raises permitted building heights steadily the further one gets from the centre. At six to eight miles from Nelson's Column, Ealing would (if it were in Paris) be full of high rise buildings. The happy folk who would live here if there were a sensible planning policy, however, don't have a vote. The selfish incumbents who want to delude themselves that their pocket-handkerchief gardens make them heirs to the Romantic Poets do have a vote.  They use it to ensure their grandchildren bicker over who nicked the milk in their student-style communal slums.
 
I am a radical on Town & Country planning as on other economic issues. I would abolish it. To me it is offensive that the value of a man's land is stripped from him by laws that deny him the right to put it to its highest and best use without grovelling to local politicians in thrall to his envious neighbours.  If you fear the consequences, pray consider Prague. It's one of the most conserved and protected cities in the world. You can't move a brick without conservation types crawling all over it and – very often – bankrupting you by demanding you alter the scheme you spent millions on designing to make it a replica of some older structure, traces of which they have uncovered in their parasitical zeal. Yet almost nothing that is beautiful about that city dates from the era of regulatory prod-nosing. If a Prague building is worth conserving, it was built by free landowners who would have put any passing busy-bodies to the sword. If you want to see a screwed-up city, consider what was done to Birmingham in the 1960s by a massively empowered City Council.
 
Land is very valuable in cities and the people who own it are inclined to maximise that value. They may have bad taste or poor architects but some reasonable building regulations would be sufficient to ensure that whatever they build in their own interests is at least better than the sort of crap a planning authority would do.
 
The panel discussion that followed the Secretary of State's speech was depressing. Clive Betts MP, "token Bolshevik" and chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee in the Commons predictably denied that planning was in any way a problem. In fact he wanted more prodnosing because technical standards in the UK construction industry are low (sadly, true) and would be improved by pubic servants regulating and supervising them (sadly as false as Satan's smile).
 
The people on the panel from the productive sector were steeped enough in the way British planning is run to know that no radical solutions are on offer. They cringed to their public sector masters and blathered about new technologies and creativity and "careful thought". They didn't seem optimistic about technology however, For example, modular systems speed the process of housebuilding in other countries and reduce the cost but on the narrow, winding streets of Britain's cities (especially London) to deliver a house in three truckloads would involve taking down lamp-posts and other street furniture along the route. Because of traffic congestion such deliveries would even then only be permitted in the wee small hours when, of course, the local NIMBIES would raise hell at their sleep being disturbed (and to hell with their grandchildren in bedsits).
 
Successive governments' consistent failure to maintain and improve infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population has created a bloody mess. It would take a generation to fix if we began now in earnest. We haven't and we won't. Hence the nervous looks as an enslummed millennial (who let him in?) asked "what can be done now to solve our problems?" The truthful answer (that nobody gave) was that what is needed to solve today's problems should have been done during the last twenty years. And wasn't.
 
Someone from the Adam Smith Institute suggested the "quick fix" of building on parts of the Green Belt around London based on such criteria as proximity to existing transport links. That would certainly help. The Green Belt was established in a different era for a smaller city and it's time for it to go. The city that has the most parks of any in the world is not going to choke if it expands onto that sacred turf. London is not a city in a bottle. It's surrounded by the lush, green Home Counties. The trouble with the idea (and it might have to be executed for lack of a better one) is that it involves London sprawling, rather than densifying when people increasingly want (and environmental factors suggest that they are right) to live in the cities and not outside them.
 
Another practical fix is to convert retail to housing. Shopping centres are emptying because of the ever growing online market. The representative of the Federation of Master Builders on the panel reported that the local authorities he works with think their high street shopping needs typically to be reduced "by half" to reflect this trend. But local busybodies will get sentimental about shopping centres they never use, just as they demanded that pubs be kept open whose doors they never darkened. Such people have votes that count disproportionately because of the low turnouts in local elections.
 
Market forces could sort all this more quickly than you imagine. I watched markets at work in in the post-communist capitals of the former Warsaw Pact, where things were screwed up by decades of Communism on a scale that Londoners could never imagine. My clients fixed things at an incredible pace because they could. The communist bureaucrats were banished to their dachas and there had been no time for the new democracies to build their payrolls. I remember telling an incredulous New York banker worried about where the "banking district" of the new Warsaw would be that "It will be wherever you put your building sunshine". He put one on the best  site he could find and, sure enough, his competitors clustered around him.
 
But real estate is not a free market business in Britain or anywhere else with planning laws. Land worth X without a permission and worth 20 X with is a commodity whose true value is mostly in the public domain. Only investment in infrastructure and courageous deregulation can solve this problem in the medium to long term. Only the shattering of such shibboleths as the Green Belt can do some good in the short term. The current government lacks the political chutzpah, and I can't even blame it. Such are the demographics of its core voters that it would have to be more un-Tory than is survivable. 
 
Which leaves Labour to "solve" it in catastrophic ways. Buckle up for a bumpy ride. And take your poor grandchildren out to a nice dinner from time to time to cheer them up in the squalor you've confined them to.
 
___________

*Regular readers will have noted that, despite my advanced age, I am not so much a cynic as a very disappointed optimist!


Live at the Apollo with Dr Jordan Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What is it about the Jews?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A small experience of violent orthodoxy in Britain

Your humble blogger is on a diet, a health kick, a change of lifestyle – call it what you will. Always a big chap, I have carried excess weight since my mid-thirties. The late Mrs P. used to nag me about it, with kindly intent, but I was never very concerned. Of athletic build (though with no athletic inclinations) I could carry it and it didn't prevent me from doing anything I wanted. In the six years and more since she died, however, it has become a problem. My health is still sound, but it became difficult to carry my burgeoning weight around and I realised I was on a downward spiral to serious health problems as it became more difficult to exercise. 

For two weeks in January I went to a health spa in Turkey with a similarly-afflicted friend (the Quarterback or "Q", as those who followed my Great American Road Trip tour may remember him). There I was given an eye-opening analysis of my physical condition. I was over 174 kg, including 101 kg of muscle built solely by carrying the rest about. My blood sugar was terrifyingly high and if I didn't have Type 2 diabetes (as it later proved I didn't) it would be a miracle. My heart was working so hard to keep the blood circulating around my bulk that my resting heart rate was that of a runner during a race. For all its effort my circulation was poor and my legs and ankles were swollen. I needed to lose weight equivalent to that of an entire sturdy midfielder playing for the football club I follow.

The nutritionist in charge of the spa and the doctors supervising the regime there treated me like an unexploded bomb and forbade me to use the gym. As retired lawyers, it was clear to Q and me that they were concerned about liability issues if I popped my clogs on their premises. It was sobering stuff but I took the view that essentially this was a scientific problem and that it could be fixed by controlling calorific inputs and outputs. Advised by the spa staff I swam every day. Advised by Q, now renamed "Coach" or "Yoda" for his role in all this, I also decided to play games with my own psychology.

I made a commitment to my friends on my personal Facebook page to lose 40 kg by June 30th of this year and to lose a further 28 kg (taking me to my ideal weight) by June 30th of next year. Informed by some lectures I attended on the psychology of personal change, I posted a picture of Colin Firth standing outside the Savile Row shop that features in the Kingsman movies wearing a classic English gentleman's suit. I promised I will post a picture of me wearing the same suit outside the same shop on June 30, 2019 – and cutting the same bella figura. He's a little shorter and a couple of years younger than me, but of a similar build so I think it's a realistic objective. I also showed this picture to a personal trainer at my health club near my home in West London. She laughed and said Mr Firth is a member and will be amused to hear about that. I rather hope our paths cross at the club so I can persuade him to stand by me in the 2019 picture.

I lost 5 kg on the regime at the spa, and had lost more than 10 kg by the time I returned to London towards the end of January. I have been exercising regularly and following my Turkish guru's advice on nutrition and have now lost 27.5 kg. I am well on track to my first 40 kg target. On the advice of supportive friends and family, I also joined my local Weight Watchers group. The app for tracking consumption is useful and the meetings put me under more useful psychological pressure. I attend every Wednesday morning and publish my stats on my Facebook feed. My fellow Weight Watchers are all female and embarrassingly supportive. I respond poorly to that "yay! well done!" stuff and am more incentivised by avoiding the relentless mockery I can expect from my male friends if I falter, but it's pleasant enough.

I have found the meetings a bit irritating at times however. My scientific, practical approach sits poorly with the emotional way the ladies there look at the problem. When one said she'd put on weight because her husband had upset her and so she'd eaten a cake, I suggested a healthier approach would have been to throw it at him. There was a collective intake of breath and then a couple of ladies laughed and the moment passed. This week, however, the WW group leader was inviting us all to consider how our emotions affected our weight and the resulting twenty minutes of psychobabble became difficult to bear. I was biting my tongue throughout but when the leader directly asked me what I thought, I offered a couple of observations to the effect that the science still works, however you feel about it, so why even worry about emotions?

This stimulated an interesting response. An angry old woman ('the AOW") shouted that they had listened to me (yes for less than a minute after I had listened to emotional blather for twenty!) and that I should now shut up. I duly did so, even as she testily told me that I was lucky not to experience the same emotions as normal people and that my success in losing weight was therefore lucky too. The leader came up to me afterwards to ask me if I was OK, which was kind but rather proved that she too had missed my point. This was really not an issue to me. My approach works for me and I don't give a damn whether the AOW's does or not (apparently not) or how she "feels" about that. But it was a very revealing exchange.

Margaret Thatcher once said;

Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas?

One often hears people make similar complaints about the so-called Millennials – the "snowflakes" who fret so much about hurt feelings that they deny others' right to different opinions. Lady Thatcher was not talking about Millennials though, was she? And the AOW was firmly in the same "baby boomer" generation as me.  Nor are the television and radio interviewers who ask wounded victims of terrorist atrocities (or footballers who have lost matches) how they "feel" about it necessarily young. Nor, for the most part are the "outraged" columnists in quite serious journals who propose changes to legislation based on hurt feelings. While you or I believe that one is no more dead or injured if the victim of a "hate crime", many people of all ages (including the allegedly Conservative Prime Minister, God help us) believe that the irrational emotions of one's assailant make a crime somehow "worse". 

Lady Thatcher's observation encapsulates the main change in public discourse that I noticed when I returned to these islands in 2011, after nearly twenty years away. The English pride in rationality and the traditional "stiff upper lip" approach to emotion has vanished to the extent that I experience living here now as akin to being on some dreadful afternoon TV show. All media presenters are more or less Jeremy Kyle or, at best, Ellen Degeneres. Whereas as a young law student I was trained that "hard cases make bad law" and that legislation should be made in a detached spirit, not driven by the passions of those close to the problem, I now hear every day the ludicrous assertion that only victims can truly hope to understand issues and that it's ridiculous to believe that a calm, rational analysis by a detached person, "privileged" by not being in a given group of victims could lead to the right outcome.

I don't care that Mrs AOW has a different point of view to me. I actually found her emotional incontinence amusing and only mention her to illustrate my point. She's entitled to be as wrong as she likes and it's only her problem if her emotional response to a practical question has made her as unhappy as she is angry. But her determination that her emotions trump rationality and that her anger somehow validates her views tells a story about our country that, in the longer term, has to be worrying.