Jan 182010
 

People of Britain, do you want fewer teachers? Do you wish to have teacher:pupil ratios of 1:45 across the land? Do you wish for huge schools operated by huge education authorities and staffed by teachers in huge teachers’ unions who can command ever higher and higher salaries and perks for their members as there is more and more work to go round and not enough teachers to do it?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, then good for you: because that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Earlier this year, the General Teaching Council expressed its wish that all teachers, whether in state or independent schools, be required to have a teaching certificate. This would entail a year of post-graduate education for all teachers, creating further cost to the taxpayer and further debt for the teacher-in-training. Further costs are a barrier to entry to the profession, and will result in fewer teachers.

Now David Cameron has said he would deny state funds to teachers-in-training whose undergraduate degrees were ranked third-class or below:

Under a Conservative government, according to Mr Cameron, no one with less than a 2:2 degree would be granted taxpayer’s money for postgraduate teacher training. It builds on a Tory plan announced last year to raise the entry qualifications for primary teachers.

Look, Camerhoon: the reason we have state funds for teacher training at all, and the reason for golden hellos, student loan discounts, and easier immigration requirements for teachers of certain subjects is because there are not enough teachers, good, bad, or otherwise. The financial incentives exist to attract people to what the government officially classes as a shortage occupation. Teaching is no easier than any other job. The salary it commands, in general, is lower than other professions that require a post-graduate degree. It is a job that few people are prepared to do, for one reason or another, and it is a sad fact that in this country the perception of teachers is that they went into teaching because they could not do anything else useful. (In some cases, that may be true, of course, and there are certainly a fair few teachers out there who are crap at their jobs.)

But the main point is that the vast majority of people do not choose to be teachers. The government’s policy is therefore to bribe the ones who can be bribed with financial perks. The message, so far, has been clear: ‘Please be a teacher! We will give you money!’

Now, suddenly, we are getting this incredibly stupid message: restrict the supply further! Only this will give the teaching profession status!

Britain can learn from Finland, Singapore and South Korea, who “have some of the best education systems in the world because they have deliberately made teaching a high prestige profession. They are brazenly elitist, making sure only the top graduates can apply.”

I’ve got news for you, dude. Teaching is a high-status profession in other countries for two primary reasons: first, lots of people want to be teachers. They are over-supplied. When lots of people want a particular job, employers naturally take only the best. Teachers have a high status in these places because their populations place tremendous value on the quality of education. Here in Britain, where there aren’t enough teachers to fill the positions that exist, we can’t really afford to be so picky. And, plainly, the value people place on quality of education here is minimal. Why do I say this? Because in Britain, a politician can be credibly attacked for having attended a top-quality school. Because in Britain, universities are encouraged to deny places to applicants from top-quality schools. Because in Britain, the ‘professions’ are told to deny entry to pupils from top-quality schools. Because in Britain, clearly, quality of education takes a serious backseat to social justice and equality.

The other reason for the popularity of teaching in many other countries is that teachers are seriously protected from market forces. In Spain, for example, it is virtually impossible to sack a teacher. Many teachers never leave the profession, and young people who want to teach are often obliged to wait years for a position to open up (years which many of them spend, according to my anecdata, working in tapas bars and living with their parents). Teachers are paid an enormous amount of money relative to most other jobs in these places; they have excellent working conditions, a great deal of disciplinary freedom, and good facilities available for their use. In short, these other places spend a huge amount of money on education, and they are willing to pay top dollar for top-quality educators.

Britain… does not. Education is, by comparison, underfunded; teachers’ pay scales are not linked to quality, but to seniority and certificates; facilities are poor, discipline is lax, and graduates with good degrees can earn far more money in other jobs. National pay scales mean that teachers in parts of the country where cost of living is high are short-changed compared to teachers in other places. And the state sets a maximum salary for teachers who do not have a teaching qualification (£25,000 pa full-time, for the curious), meaning that pay is not even related to the amount of work one does or time one spends on the job, much less the quality of that work.

So: in a country where people don’t want to be teachers, quality of education is not a priority, and historically the government’s stance on the profession is to bribe people to enter it, the solution is to make it even harder to become a teacher?

Good luck with that, Dave.

UPDATE: Iain Dale has posted a hefty extract from Camerhoon’s speech:

We’ve made our teachers lives more difficult, undermining their judgement, curbing their freedom, telling them what to do and how to do it. We send them into some chaotic environments with little protection or support, leaving them feeling demoralised and under-valued.

That’s right – you’ve made teaching a very unattractive profession. People with the ‘best brains’ look at this litany of woes and think, why in the name of sweet Jesus would I want to do this job? And then they go do something else.

If we’re only going to let the best brains teach, and most of the best brains don’t want to because

people with a good degree who would make great teachers think instead about the civil service, the BBC, maybe the Bar

then we’re not going to have very many teachers at all, are we?

Now. How do we make teaching more attractive than the civil service, the BBC, and the law? For a start, the state could stop undermining teachers, telling them what to do and how to do it, protect them from abuse, support them on matters of discipline – pay them according to effectiveness and skill whilst leaving them free to find the best path to effective teaching.

If you want the best brains to teach, make teaching attractive to people with good brains. What do people with good brains find attractive? Freedom to find the best way to do their jobs, opportunities to be creative, fair rewards for outstanding job performance, and the ability to be a mover and shaker in their profession.

At the moment, if you’re a twenty-something or thirty-something who has made it in another career but fancy giving teaching a go, the bureaucratic-odds are stacked against you.

And not just that. Most of them would be taking a drastic pay cut and surrendering all personal autonomy on the job, not to mention running the gauntlet of the CRB system to prove they’ve never so much as looked at a child cross-eyed. Anyone who’s been successful in a non-teaching career and wants to become a teacher should be hired on the spot, qualification or no, because nobody who wasn’t passionately dedicated to the art of pedagogy would do such a personally disadvantageous thing. Who cares what kind of degree they received?

We’re going to change all that and give high-flying professionals a fast-track into teaching. We will replace the Graduate Teacher Programme with a new one – Teach Now. Modelled on Teach First, it will be a one-stop-shop for people who want to transfer into teaching.

No, no, a thousand times no! Waive the qualification requirement entirely.

In fact, do that across the board. Far more people would go into teaching as a result, and there’d be so many that schools might actually be able to sack and replace the crappy ones.

We need much greater flexibility than currently exists – flexibility over rewarding the best and yes, getting rid of the worst. So we will free schools to pay good teachers more. With our plans, head teachers will have the power to use their budgets to pay bonuses to the best teachers.

And because the evidence shows that schools that have the greatest impact in poorer areas are the ones that extend their hours into evenings and weekends, we will also give them the flexibility to reward teachers for longer hours.

This is good, actually.

But we also give head teachers greater powers in the other direction. Today, it’s far too difficult for them to fire poorly performing teachers.

This is not. I’m all for schools being able to sack bad teachers, but this is only a useful tactic if you can hire a new one. And there aren’t enough teachers to go round.

We’re going to say to our teachers, if you want to search for and confiscate any item you think is dangerous or disruptive- you can. If you want to remove violent children from the classroom – you can. And if you want protection from false allegations of abuse that wreck lives and wreck careers – we’ll make sure you have it.

How? Are you going to repeal some legislation? If so, what? Are you going to use the criminal justice system to crack down on dangerous students? If so, how will you force the judges to issue harsher penalties? Will you use legislation to ensure that false allegations are expunged from the records? Will you get rid of the ISA, which includes hearsay, rumour, and false allegations as ‘evidence’ in its vetting scheme? Where are the details, dude?

Anyway. This is all just to reiterate my point: restricting teacher training to people with good degrees will simply worsen the teacher shortage, because most academically successful people (‘best brains’) don’t want to become teachers. It’s an unattractive profession to people who value creativity, resourcefulness, and freedom to innovate. And even if the best brains did become teachers, there’s no guarantee they’d be good. Many academically gifted people have trouble communicating the subject of their expertise at a level that is accessible to schoolchildren anyway; and probably the core skill involved in teaching is being able to synthesise patiently, to simplify complex ideas, to keep what you’re saying on a level kids can understand and in a way they can tune into.

Finally, I will say this. I teach Latin. I am not an expert in the subject, nor do I have a degree in it, nor do I have the faintest clue where my American university degree would fall on the degree-class scale used in the UK. I do not have a teaching qualification. And yet every time I apply for a teaching position, the school falls all over itself to hire me and to pay me well above the going rate for my services. I can’t be the only teacher like that. David Cameron’s plans will, by and large, make it harder for people like me to get teaching jobs. And for what? So that a bunch of smarty-pants graduates with 2:2s or better can have a ‘high-prestige’ career.

Camerhoon, school is not about teachers. It’s about children. And anyone who wants to teach, and can demonstrate that they do it well, should be encouraged to do so, whether they have fancy papers to qualify them or not, and whether they have the biggest brain in Britain or just a mediocre brain that happens to be full of passion and love of learning and dedication to showing kids how amazing the world they live in is.

UPDATE 2: Yes, and many more times yes, from the BHS:

For the Conservatives, we need to restrict the pool of applicants to one which is ‘brazenly elitist’, in the hope that by only recruiting the very best graduates, you’ll recruit only the very best teachers. There are two major problems with this. First, we still have a teacher shortage, as evidenced by the fact that there are some substantial rewards for people training to teach subjects like science and maths. Second, quite apart from the fact that there are scores of people with mediocre qualifications who are exceptional teachers, there’s no guarantee that someone who graduated from Oxbridge with a first in Mathematics is going to possess the people skills needed to succeed in a classroom. It’s quite possible that the Tories’ plans would not only lead to fewer teachers, but fewer good teachers as well.

Jan 122010
 

Perhaps the “hardest” language studied by many Anglophones is Latin. In it, all nouns are marked for case, an ending that tells what function the word has in a sentence (subject, direct object, possessive and so on). There are six cases, and five different patterns for declining verbs into them.

One cannot decline verbs, as any fule kno. And there are seven cases.

This system, and its many exceptions, made for years of classroom torture for many children. But it also gives Latin a flexibility of word order. If the subject is marked as a subject with an ending, it need not come at the beginning of a sentence. This ability made many scholars of bygone days admire Latin’s majesty—and admire themselves for mastering it.

Meh. Sure, there’s a flexibility of word order in Latin. There is in English, too, though not perhaps to the same extent. But even in Latin, one doesn’t just arrange the words any old how. Word order is stylistic, just like word choice and syntax. An elegant word order is one that provides the audience with the clearest possible meaning, the greatest possible emphasis, and the most pleasing conjunction of sounds. Exactly like English, in fact. And where English is more constrained than Latin because of conventions regarding word order, Latin as a language has far fewer vocabulary choices from which to choose when constructing a sentence.

Also, that last sentence – scholars admire themselves for mastering Latin, eh? Is it a requirement now that every journalist, be he ever so mistaken in his facts, insert a snide dig at anyone mentioned in the article who has ever accomplished anything of value or difficulty? Jesus, no wonder journalism as a profession is dying. It’s because its practitioners are a pack of unjustifiably smug assholes.

Jan 042010
 

Apart from his stupid name, the first thing I really learned about Ed Bollocks is that his modi operandi are, primarily, lying and intimidation. Which tactic is he employing in his most recent Guardian piece, I wonder?

True Statements:

The Tories and their media friends want the election to be a referendum on the government.

That’s what an election is, no? That’s certainly what Labour wanted the elections in 1997, 2001, and 2005 to be: first, a referendum on the Conservative government (which many people hated), and then a referendum on the succeeding Labour governments (which Balls and the rest of his party claimed had been so successful that there was no need for change). Is it really necessary to cry foul now?

[The Tories] don’t want any scrutiny of their policies and they don’t want the election to be a choice.

Of course. None of the main parties wants any scrutiny or choice. That’s why they’re all working so hard to pump out the blanket statements, bland platitudes, and vague reassurances (as we shall see in the rest of Balls’s piece).

False Statements:

That’s why [the Tories] dismiss talk of policy differences or dividing lines as “false”, “partisan” or, ludicrously, as “class war”.

But it’s only in the last few weeks that the Tories have called this “class war” in a bid to stop any scrutiny of their policies.

Oh – so it was the Tories who came up with this ‘class war’ movement? Not to mention I have trouble imagining the Tories really want to publicise their policies as not being different from Labour’s and not as dividing lines. This statement is rubbish.

And, while the leaders’ TV debates will inevitably draw the attention, I hope we will see the cabinet and shadow cabinet debating too.

I bet this is the last thing Balls hopes for, if for no other reason than that he is supremely un-telegenic.

Now, as in 1997, our education policy is driven by the core New Labour idea of opportunity and aspiration for all, not just some; improving standards and expanding opportunity in every school, not just a handful in each area.

Balls to that one, too.

[The Tories’] proposal is that, regardless of local need, those parents with time on their hands should be given taxpayers’ money to set up and run a new school for their children, including those now in private schools.

Misrepresentation. From what I understand, their proposal is that, actually, anybody with ‘time on their hands’ could set up and run a new school – meaningfully, this includes teachers, who not only know how to do such a thing better than random parents, but many of whom would also love the chance to free themselves from the shackles of state-school regulations, paperwork, and bureaucratic oversight. Many private-school teachers would jump at the opportunity, too.

Hyperbole:

And this year, Britain faces the starkest choice for decades – on the economy, public services and our relations with Europe.

Sure, sure. Every election is the starkest choice for decades, every election is the most important since the last big crisis. And yet some party or other wins every election, and shit always happens, and we always need another election. Give this overblown idea a rest.

Tory education policy is an elaborate con trick on millions of parents and pupils. Just like the Tory assisted places scheme, or the “pupil passport” proposed by Cameron in 2005, they want to take resources from the many to fund the education of a few.

Yes, that’s exactly what the Tories want to do! Screw 90% of the electorate; they’re only out to help the richest decile! Because, obviously, that’s a great strategy for winning elections. Seriously, what is this man on? And why does he imagine it’s perfectly fine for the minority (whatever kind of minority) to suffer for the good of the majority?

Oh yeah – because that’s the political philosophy his ‘core’ supporters cherish:

This, after all, is the tragedy of political decision-making: sometimes some people just have to lose and it’s up to the political decision-maker to choose which.

All politics is struggle and conflict; the sacrificing of some values and people in favour of those you prefer.

Nonsense:

Do we guarantee one-to-one tuition for children falling behind, and education and training up to 18 for all young people? Do we stop treating vocational qualifications as second class? Do we give parents more information on how local schools are performing by introducing new school report cards?

With a national shortage of teachers, the barriers to entry into the teaching profession being raised ever higher, and powerful teachers’ unions, where is the country going to find one-to-one tutors and teachers to guarantee a further two years of education to everybody? How is the country going to pay such people? How will the government force employers to consider vocational qualifications as ‘first class’? In what way is a ‘school report card’ different from a league table? How is such a thing going to make one bit of difference when most parents can’t choose their child’s school anyway? Labour have not considered these questions; these policies are plainly unfeasible.

But we would never forgive ourselves if we allowed the Tories to emerge from [the election] claiming by default a mandate for their policies to wreck our economic recovery and frontline public services.

Actually, I think the Labour party would adore to lose the next election, and see the Conservatives reap the unpopularity from the disaster Labour have sown. They will crow as the country falls to ruin and blame it entirely on Tory policy. They will campaign in four years’ time as the party who presided over boom and prosperity, hoping that everyone forgets they caused the national budget collapse, and they will absolve themselves of all responsibility for whatever pain and austerity the British people face over the course of the next five years.

Our country faces hugely important choices. And on education, the Tories have made theirs: to pursue a reckless free market experiment with the state system, and to cut the frontline schools budgets relied on by millions to give an inheritance tax cut to the wealthiest few.

Ah, all the evil keywords: reckless, free market, cut the frontline, tax cut, wealthiest few. Yes, the Tories’ Swedish plan is a reckless experiment that has worked so poorly in Sweden that, if we were to try it here, we’d have to cut inheritance tax and favour the wealthy few over the ‘millions’ of poor.

The sad thing is, Balls doesn’t seem to realise that, after twelve years of Labour education and redistribution policy, many people are still poorly educated, and most people are still ‘poor’ (i.e. not rich). Nobody was talking about one-to-one tuition twelve years ago, because there weren’t that many pupils falling behind. Nobody was talking about extending education for a further two years, because 16-year-old school leavers could still get jobs. Nobody was talking about school report cards, because parents weren’t so dreadfully dissatisfied with their local state schools. And now these things are on Ed Balls’s to-do list, not because schools have got so much better under Labour, but because they’ve got so much worse.

He says Tory policy won’t work; fair enough, maybe it won’t. But Labour policy is trying to mend the giant rents they themselves have made since 1997. And that’s not exactly a great advertisement for the Labour party.

Dec 082009
 

As some of you may remember, I have had tremendous difficulties navigating my way through the UK Border Agency’s Byzantine bureaucracy in my attempts to maintain settlement here this year.

First, I was told in February that, because of the change in immigration laws, I would no longer qualify for renewal of my sponsored work permit. Teaching had been classed as a shortage occupation, obviating the need for employer-sponsors to justify hiring non-EU employees. After the change in laws, this applied only to teachers of maths and sciences – and, as a result, my school informed me they would not be able to continue employing me after my work permit expired.

Second, I decided to apply for a Tier 1 (Highly Skilled Migrant) permit, which would not be tethered to a particular job or employer. The application was tremendously complex, involving 50 pages of guidance notes, the provision of innumerable documents proving my recent earnings, educational attainments, mastery of the English language, maintenance of funds, and an £820 ‘processing fee.’ The endeavour was so complex that I had to call the Immigration Enquiries Bureau to clarify that I was doing it correctly.

Meanwhile, in the hope that I would receive this Tier 1 permit, I applied for a job at a different school and was offered the position.

I finally submitted the application in May; at the beginning of June, it was returned, marked ‘Refused,’ because, as it happened, the Immigration Enquiries Bureau didn’t know what they were talking about. When I rang them again, the same day I received the refusal notice, to clarify the same point that had resulted in refusal, they gave me the same incorrect information.

I wrote a pleading letter to the UKBA asking for reconsideration, and a pleading letter to my MP asking for advisement. My MP replied quite quickly to tell me he had taken the matter straight to Alan Johnson, the then-new Home Secretary. UKBA…didn’t reply at all.

Meanwhile, I contacted the new school where I was to start work in September and asked them to pursue a sponsored work permit. They told me they’d have to rescind the contract we’d signed and re-advertise the position in order to prove there were no qualified British/EU applicants.

At the beginning of July, my MP forwarded on to me a letter he had received from the Deputy Chief Director of UKBA. The DCD and his caseworkers had, according to the letter, reviewed my case and decided to stand by the original refusal. The same day I received this communication, the new school wrote to inform me that, alas, there were many qualified British/EU applicants for my position, and they were going to have to hire one of them instead of me. So, no sponsored work permit would be forthcoming (as I had suspected would be the case anyway).

Devastated and facing ‘voluntary repatriation,’ I travelled to the US for a week for a friend’s wedding. Upon re-entry to the UK at Heathrow, I was detained by the immigration officials, even though I had done nothing illegal and my work permit was not due to expire for another 28 days. Their justification for detaining me, they said, was that I might overstay my visa at some point in the future. They could also see, on their passport database, they the Tier 1 permit I’d applied for had been refused; but as their database didn’t tell them the circumstances of that refusal, I looked doubly suspicious to them. Since, however, they could not get away with further detaining me or deporting me, given they had no evidence of actual wrong-doing, I was allowed back into the country.

Which I then left again, almost immediately, with DK to get married in Cyprus. When we returned, the border agent seemed inclined to detain me again and questioned me pretty searchingly, but ultimately decided not to make an example of me.

At that point – with 4 days remaining on my work permit – I applied for a spousal visa, at a cost of producing more innumerable proofs of probity and a £465 ‘processing fee.’

Some weeks later, I received a letter commanding me to present myself for biometric enrolment – a condition of evaluating a spousal visa application. As I should have expected given their laughable identity management, the biometric enrolment officers were unable to tell me what would be done with my fingerprints and facial scans should my visa application be refused (again).

Here’s the new part – the shameful, jaw-droppingly incredible part – of the story.

Nothing further took place until mid-November, when I received, out of the blue, an email from the Tier 1 office which said:

Thank you for your letter of 5th June 2009 asking for a reconsideration of the decision to refuse your/your client’s leave application under Tier 1 (General) of the Points Based System.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding to your letter.

Due to you receiving the incorrect advice from the Immigration Enquiry Bureau I am exceptionally able to accept additional evidence to support your claim for previous earnings and will reassess your Tier 1 (General) application.

This, then, was the response to the pleading letter I’d written to the UKBA five months beforehand; and here it was also coming four months after my case had been reviewed at the special request of my MP and definitely refused by the Deputy Chief Director himself. What, I wondered, is all of this?

I sent along the additional evidence, of course, with a curious question about why the DCD had changed his mind. This was the UKBA’s reply:

Having spoken to Managers and checked our system we are unable to find any record of the MP’s correspondence or your application being reviewed.

Therefore, can you please send me the following documents:-

********** to cover the period stated in my previous email
Your passport
Copy of the MP’s correspondence you received.

Um, what? No record of my MP’s correspondence? So I posted my copies of those letters along, too.

Less than a week later, another email from the UKBA:

I can confirm that we will be overturning our initial refusal decision as I have sufficient evidence to award points for previous earnings.

As soon as I have received your passport I will ensure your leave is endorsed ASAP.

As you Tier 1 (General) application is now a grant what would you like to do regarding your spousal visa application. If you are no longer wishing to continue with the spousal visa application please let me know and I will arrange for the application to be withdrawn and the relevant fee refunded to you.

Result! I get the Tier 1 permit after all (only costing me £820, seven months of stress and anxiety, one job, and to date loss of four months’ earnings) and a refund for the spousal visa application! And yet, what about this correspondence of which there is no record?

The MP’s letter does state that someone has reviewed your application and decided to uphold the initial decision. However, having discussed your case with my Manager and the department who deal with MP’s
correspondence we could find no record of the response you received. It appears that its an administration error in the fact that this letter or the review haven’t been logged on the system. I am currently taking this forward with the relevant department.

Okay, so… neither the letter my MP wrote, nor the review it resulted in, nor the response he received from the DCD were logged into the system. Because of ‘administration error.’

Riiiiiiiight.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s worked out well for me. The visa itself arrived, shiny in my passport, last Friday. (That the visa is now firmly in my sticky paws is the reason I feel able to describe the climax and denouement of this whole sorry business.) But I can’t help suspecting that the complete absence of any kind of record of my MP’s involvement means something vaguely dodgy has gone on.

The MP in question is a well-thought-of guy, clean on expenses, and generally praised as being a model of integrity (as much as a politician can be such a thing). I doubt very much that he fabricated a review that never took place and forged a letter from the Deputy Chief Director of the UK Border Agency. Which leaves me wondering: did the DCD, or his minions, bullshit my MP? Because it mos def looks that way from where I’m sitting. And I’m certainly wondering if I should contact him again and tell him all of this. I imagine he’d like to know.

Especially given what Phil Woolas has been shooting his fucking mouth off about today: £295,000 in bonuses for UKBA senior officials! I wonder if the Deputy Chief Director and his non-existent reviews administration errors will be receiving some of that money.

Mr Woolas told presenter John Humphreys: ”I think the UK Border Agency should be praised – they are very brave men and women who protect our borders and they are getting on top of the situation.

”The chair of the (Home Affairs) Select Committee has said we are not yet fit for purpose and I’m defending my staff who put their lives on the line for us.”

Yeah, okay. Whatever. The UK Border Agency is a clusterfuck of gargantuan proportions and its officials patently couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. And Phil Woolas is a colossal asshole who should be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

And for the record, I still don’t know what’s happened to my fingerprints and facial scans…

Dec 022009
 

This from Bob Ward: ‘Climate change denial is the new article of faith for the far right.’

Illustrated by a photograph of Nick Griffin.

‘No evidence of research misconduct,’ George Monbiot guilty by implication of joining the ‘climate change denial lobby’ because he called for the resignation of Phil Jones, ‘hysterical witch hunt…desperation’ etc.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hysterical atmosphere created by the emails has encouraged more of the denial lobby to emerge from the shadows. The British National party leader, Nick Griffin, gave a speech in which he claimed that climate change was a leftwing conspiracy, in much the same way as Lord Christopher Monckton has in his recent speeches in the United States. Monckton and Prof Ian Plimer then helped the UK Independence party to launch its own declaration of climate change denial this week. Suddenly climate change denial has become a new article of faith among the far right.

I’m much less interested in this piece for its arguments about climate change than for the tone of its debate.

Humans are very good at creating word associations and reading their connotations, and the chain of association Bob Ward appears to want his readers to follow is this:

Climate change denial = Nick Griffin = racism = evil.
Climate change denial = Nick Griffin and UKIP = far right = fascism = evil.

Thus by the imposition of Nick Griffin into our tautological exercise, the transitive property eventually gives us climate change denial = evil. (Leave aside for the moment that somehow UKIP has become part of the ‘far right.’) Now, Bob Ward never says this directly, but nevertheless these are the associations he wants us to make. It’s not so much that he thinks climate change denial is wrong-headed and happens to be supported by Nick Griffin; it’s that climate change denial is wrong and anyone who supports is complicit with an evil racist fascist.

I’d like to try Bob Ward’s strategy myself.

Now, according to the BNP’s website, that party (and, obviously, its leader Nick Griffin) advocate:

Power should be devolved to the lowest level possible so that local communities can make decisions which affect them.

We will implement a Bill of Rights guaranteeing fundamental freedoms to the British people.

According to the Labour party website, it advocates:

Ensuring a fair say for all by devolving power away from the centre and to local people; giving councils more power to promote local democracy to increase citizen involvement and improve services by making them more responsive to local needs and ambitions.

A green paper to examine the case for developing a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

So.

Power to the people = Nick Griffin = racism and fascism = evil.
Labour Party = power to the people = Nick Griffin = racism and fascism = evil = climage change denial.

Using Bob Ward’s Griffin Tautological Principle (reductio per Griffinum), I think I’ve just proved that the Labour Party are all climate change deniers and that local democracy and rights are a fascist evil.

Bob Ward is guilty of a tremendous number of argumentative fallacies, the worst of them being false attribution. Because Nick Griffin is a racist fascist (and therefore evil) does not mean everything he says is wrong or distasteful. The fact that he is a racist fascist has absolutely no bearing on the climate change debate. If climate change denial is wrong, it is because it is contrary to truth, not because it is a belief held by certain unpleasant people. If the ‘far right’ are wrong, it is not because some of them deny anthropogenic climate change. Deliberately conflating these propositions, in order to associate a view the author disputes with an unrelated view many people dispute, is dishonest, manipulative, and lazy.

If climate change admitters, or whatever they call themselves, want to win more flies, they should stop implying that ‘deniers’ are evil by association, and try honey instead. There are many ways to sweeten the pill of dealing with climate change. Most people would be happy to change their behaviour if it meant a better life in the short run as well as the long run. Finding out how to make that possible shouldn’t be impossibly difficult. But, as a commenter on Ward’s piece points out, the admitters are manifestly against that:

Is it any wonder that many people think climate change is a left wing conspiracy when the proponents of the AGW theory make statements such as these:

  • “We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination… So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts… Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” – Stephen Schneider, Stanford Professor of Climatology, lead author of many IPCC reports
  • “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.” – Sir John Houghton, first chairman of IPCC
  • “We’ve got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy.” – Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation
  • “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony… climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.” – Christine Stewart, fmr Canadian Minister of the Environment
  • “The only way to get our society to truly change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe.” – emeritus professor Daniel Botkin
  • “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsiblity to bring that about?” – Maurice Strong, founder of the UN Environment Programme
  • “A massive campaign must be launched to de-develop the United States. De-development means bringing our economic system into line with the realities of ecology and the world resource situation.” – Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies
  • “The only hope for the world is to make sure there is not another United States. We can’t let other countries have the same number of cars, the amount of industrialization, we have in the US. We have to stop these Third World countries right where they are.” – Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental Defense Fund
  • “Global Sustainability requires the deliberate quest of poverty, reduced resource consumption and set levels of mortality control.” – Professor Maurice King

http://www.informationliberation.com/?id=27941

Now, I haven’t sourced those quotes, so I’m just taking this person’s word for it that they’re genuine. The real kickers come from Maurice Strong, Michael Oppenheimer, and Prof. Maurice King. They appear to welcome the collapse of industrialisation, the continued poverty of the third world, and global poverty in general, as a consequence of mitigating climate change. Is it any wonder, then, that ‘deniers’ are so obdurate? Admitters are looking forward to the collapse of society and impoverishment of the human race, whilst calling those who disagree with them evil (and labelling them with a frankly inflammatory word that is obviously meant to associate climate change ‘deniers’ with Holocaust deniers).

Anyone who thinks climate change is ‘all about the science’ is either lying to themselves or lying to everybody else. This issue is no longer about science or truth. And the more acrimonious the debate becomes, the less the truth even matters, because even if it could be demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt, the people who ended up being on the ‘wrong’ side would, out of pride, stubbornness, and resentment, refuse to believe it.

And the onus for stopping the acrimony is, I’m sorry to say, firmly on the admitters. As long as they keep insulting, belittling, and misrepresenting everybody who doubts their claims, and drooling expectantly at the thought of poverty and the demise of the industrialised world, they’re never going reach a ‘scientific’ consensus, let alone a social one.

Nov 132009
 

I have never had quite the problem with Gramsci that some of the writers of the Libertarian Alliance blog have – as I mentioned to David Davis (not that one, the other one) at the LA conference a few weeks ago. And I admit to feeling rather dubious when Melanie Phillips popped up as a defender of liberty against these insidious underminers of culture.

I didn’t actually get around to reading her article until today, however, when I happened across David Osler’s reaction to it on Liberal Conspiracy. Presented with an argument by somebody I tend to disagree with, and a refutation by somebody I tend to disagree with, I was intrigued: which of them would I agree with?

The answer is, predictably, neither.

Here’s Phillips’s redux of Gramsci:

This was what might be called ‘cultural Marxism’. It was based on the understanding that what holds a society together are the pillars of its culture: the structures and institutions of education, family, law, media and religion. Transform the principles that these embody and you can thus destroy the society they have shaped.

This key insight was developed in particular by an Italian Marxist philosopher called Antonio Gramsci. His thinking was taken up by Sixties radicals  –  who are, of course, the generation that holds power in the West today.

Gramsci understood that the working class would never rise up to seize the levers of ‘production, distribution and exchange’ as communism had prophesied. Economics was not the path to revolution.

He believed instead that society could be overthrown if the values underpinning it could be turned into their antithesis: if its core principles were replaced by those of groups who were considered to be outsiders or who actively transgressed the moral codes of that society.

So he advocated a ‘long march through the institutions’ to capture the citadels of the culture and turn them into a collective fifth column, undermining from within and turning all the core values of society upside-down and inside-out.

So far, so uncontroversial. When you remove the qualifiers – Gramsci was a Marxist taken up by ‘Sixties radicals’ who was opposed to particular values – he’s actually right. What holds a society together are the pillars of its culture; undermine them and replace them with the values held by the moral ‘outsiders,’ and you change the society. This happens all the time, now and throughout history, and usually it happens deliberately. Undermining the pillar of the Roman Catholic church certainly overhauled European society in the 16th and 17th centuries; undermining the pillar of totalitarianism caused the fall of the Soviet Union (which, incidentally, appears to have inspired Phillips’s writing of this article). Gramsci was stating a simple truth about one of the ways in which society evolves.

This is why I don’t have a problem with Gramsci; for if you accept the fact that our previously liberal, free-market oriented society has been undermined from within and replaced with restrictive redistributionism, then you also must accept that the only way we’re going to change that is also to employ Gramsci’s plan and undermine the current value systems of society. Essentially, cultural ‘Marxism’ can be used by anyone, for any purpose, and (and this is what makes Gramsci’s insight so valuable) ought to be, as it’s both more gradual and more peaceful than other common methods for change, such as violent revolution. It also means that the ‘winners’ don’t usually have to enforce their values at the point of a gun, as they’ve succeeded in persuading the ‘losers’ to accept those values on their own initiative.

So Gramsic’s ideas are actually useful; it’s only sets of values that are good or bad.

And as I suspected would be the case, I don’t entirely agree with what Phillips sets out as a good set of values.

The nuclear family has been widely shattered. Illegitimacy was transformed from a stigma into a ‘right’. The tragic disadvantage of fatherlessness was redefined as a neutrally-viewed ‘lifestyle choice’.

Education was wrecked, with its core tenet of transmitting a culture to successive generations replaced by the idea that what children already knew was of superior value to anything the adult world might foist upon them.

The outcome of this ‘child-centred’ approach has been widespread illiteracy and ignorance and an eroded capacity for independent thought.

Without wishing to go too much into my own strange ideas about family, I will say that fatherlessness and illegitimacy are not the problem. Single-parent households are the problem. Having two mothers, or two parents who are unwed but live together, is not a tragic disadvantage. Being raised by one parent is, if you believe the statistics. Nor is the removal of ‘stigma’ the problem; coercively funding this lifestyle choice through taxation is. I don’t think any child should face being stigmatised for choices that weren’t his own, and I wish that every child born could have the kind of healthy, non-deprived upbringing we all want for our own children. But the reason we have single-parent households is because the state subsidises them, not because we’ve removed the stigma and destroyed the appeal of the nuclear family.

Likewise, education has not failed because we tell children they are all little Einsteins; it’s failed because we tell them they aren’t. Capacity for independent thought hasn’t been eroded, but the desire for it has. Free thinking leads to culture’s not being transmitted, as free thinkers are able to reject the moral contradictions in any and every culture and argue for their abandonment. The key to transmitting the culture you want to impressionable children is to deny them an outlet for their free thought and prevent them from accessing ideas that might result in the rejection of that culture. Children are smart; they perceive things in ways adults don’t. But we’re not in the business of educating them to perfect their thinking; we’re in the business of teaching them memes. And with a curriculum developed centrally by government-directed education ‘experts,’ this should be no surprise.

Law and order were similarly undermined, with criminals deemed to be beyond punishment since they were ‘victims’ of society and with illegal drugtaking tacitly encouraged by a campaign to denigrate anti-drugs laws.

The ‘rights’ agenda  –  commonly known as ‘political correctness’  –  turned morality inside out by excusing any misdeeds by self-designated ‘victim’ groups on the grounds that such ‘victims’ could never be held responsible for what they did.

Feminism, anti-racism and gay rights thus turned men, white people and Christians into the enemies of decency who were forced to jump through hoops to prove their virtue.

Again, here it is not the theory that is wrong, it is the practice. What causes crime? Isn’t it a good idea to eradicate those causes? We’d end up with fewer criminals down the line. What’s happened is that we’ve put the cart before the horse, and started trying to pretend criminal behaviour can be mitigated before the causes of it have been eradicated. The same with the ‘rights’ agenda Phillips dislikes: it is absolutely true that there has been historical oppression of minorities, and as a society we started to recognise that that was inexcusable. But now we’re over-compensating by granting those historical minorities entitlements not available to the rest of the population.

And let us not be ridiculous: men, white people, and Christians have been the perpetrators of many acts inimical to decency. Their virtuousness is not a given. We should all have to prove our virtue, majority and minority alike.

This Through The Looking Glass mindset rests on the belief that the world is divided into the powerful (who are responsible for all bad things) and the oppressed (who are responsible for none of them).

Well yes – that’s right, isn’t it? People without power to do things are, y’know, without power to do things. Right after this paragraph would have been a great opportunity for her to continue, ‘But the world is divided into individuals, who are responsible for their own actions, and even the oppressed are capable of harming others, while the powerful are capable of benevolence.’

She doesn’t say that, however, because she doesn’t actually believe in individual responsibility, viz. ‘illegal drugtaking’ above.

This is a Marxist doctrine. But the extent to which such Marxist thinking has been taken up unwittingly even by the Establishment was illustrated by the astounding observation made in 2005 by the then senior law lord, Lord Bingham, that human rights law was all about protecting ‘oppressed’ minorities from the majority.

What the fuck? That is what human rights law is all about! It’s about saying, ‘I am a human being, I have certain inalienable liberties, and not even a democratically-elected majority can deprive me of those liberties, because those liberties are protected by the rule of law.’ If that’s Marxist, then I’m a fucking Marxist too. Sign me up.

However, the terrifying fact is that they form a totalitarian mindset that replicates the way communist societies clamped down on any other than permitted views. Thus the intolerance  –  or even arrest  –  of Christians opposed to gay adoption and civil union, or the vilification as ‘racists’ of those opposed to mass immigration.

This mindset also led to the belief that a sense of nationhood was the cause of all the ills in the world, precisely because western nations embodied western values. So transnational institutions or doctrines such as the EU, UN, international law or human rights law came to trump national laws and values.

Okay, these are both true. But that doesn’t really support Phillips’s premises, except insofar as we’re not clamping down on what she thinks are the right views to clamp down on (Christian views okay, pro-drugs views bad; Western national laws and values good; non-Western national laws and values bad).

But the truth is that to be hostile to the western nation is to be hostile to democracy. And indeed, with the development of the EU superstate we can see that the victory over one anti-democratic regime within Europe  –  the Soviet Union  –  has been followed by surrender to another.

For the republic of Euroland puts loyalty to itself higher than that to individual nations and their values. It refused to commit itself in its constitution to uphold Christianity, the foundation of western morality.

Also true. But democracy is not a perfect system (although it tends to be better than anti-democratic ones), and I for one am pretty pleased that we are not constitutionally bound to uphold Christianity and its moral system – at least as practised throughout most of history, or even as practised today, when it tends to manifest as ‘bend over and take it – self-sacrifice is the highest virtue.’

My essential problem with Melanie Phillips is that she appears to have no problem with cultural ‘Marxism’ in principle, just that it’s been deployed to undermine her own particular values. And as her particular values appear to be stigma, indoctrination, the tyranny of the majority, and white Christian nationalism, I’m kinda glad she hasn’t got her way.

I’m not so happy that the pillars of society I do value have also been undermined – individual responsibility, equality under the law, and the protection of inalienable rights – but at least I’m not bitching about the mechanism that was used to accomplish it. I’m hopeful that I, and like-minded people, use the same mechanism to turn things round again.

Winning the ideological battle is, in large part, a result of being able to frame the terms of debate. Gramsci recognised this, and he was right. It’s the difference between asking, ‘Should we redistribute wealth?’ and ‘If we were going to redistribute wealth, how should it be done?’ The first question wonders if redistribution is a good thing; the second question assumes that it is. The second question is framing the terms of the debate. That’s how the enemies of liberal society have been getting away with their policies for decades; we, as liberals, ought to take a page out of Gramsci’s book and do the same thing. No more of this ‘Should the scope of government be reduced?’ We should be asking, ‘If we’re going to reduce the scope of government, where should we start?’

Ron Paul did this to great effect when he went on the Colbert Report a couple of years ago. I’m having trouble finding a link, but what happened was this: Stephen Colbert announced that he was going to start reading out the names of government departments, and he wanted Ron Paul to raise his hand at each one he would abolish. Ron Paul said something like, ‘Well, I’d rather just keep my hand up, and put it down if you say the name of one I’d like to keep.’

That’s framing the debate. Colbert assumed that all government departments are necessary except for those one might like to abolish; Ron Paul insisted on the assumption that no government departments should automatically be maintained.

UPDATE: Commenter Celteh has provided a link to this video. And I discover that I’m wrong; it’s Colbert who says, ‘Keep your hand up, and put it down when I read the name of a department you’d like to keep.’ The point about framing the debate still stands, of course, but I should remember to give Stephen Colbert the credit he deserves.

This is where David Osler’s reaction to Phillips comes in; his allies have been so successful in framing the debate that he no longer recognises that the debate has a frame at all. He could have made the objections to her that I just did: that she’s just not happy with her pet pillars being undermined, that she has no respect for individual liberties or the rights of minorities, but he doesn’t do that. What he actually seems to believe is that society is exactly how Phillips has always wanted it, and that he and his political allies have been fighting a losing battle against the forces of exploitation and oppression. There must be some sort of psychological term for looking at your victories and calling them defeats, but I don’t know what it is.

After basically accusing her of plagiarism (and what do I know, he might be right), he says:

Our basic problem is that we are ‘hostile towards western civilisation’ and thus seeking to bring it down. We just can’t help hating freedom, thanks to our ‘totalitarian mindset that replicates the way communist societies clamped down on any other than permitted views’. This is tantamount to reconstituted ‘communist ideology’ that is actually worse than full on Stalinism, being ‘even more deadly’ as an ‘active enemy of western freedom.’

Got that, folks? Forget the Red Terror, forced collectivisation, the Great Purge, Hungary 1956, the Cultural Revolution, the suppression of the Prague Spring, and Cambodia in the Year Zero. Political correctness is ‘even more deadly’.

This is from a guy writing on the same website that will allow commenters to call Daniel Hannan a ‘cunt’ for daring to criticise the NHS whilst claiming that his ideas are too patently false to bother debating (’cause that’s not clamping down on un-permitted views). And this is from the same guy who called a rape victim a ‘starstruck teenybopper’ and an ‘LA Lolita’ on a website that supposedly prohibits misogynistic comment.

There could not be a better demonstration of the ‘what we say is okay, what you say is outrageous’ mindset than David Osler writing at Liberal Conspiracy.

But hey, LC isn’t putting anybody into camps or massacring them, so they don’t hate freedom or prohibit views and debates.

Indisputably, there has been an erosion of social cohesion in Britain since the 1970s. But the primary reason is not the clandestine machinations of closet Gramscians, but the abandonment of social democracy for exactly the kind of inegalitarian society driven by the very market forces that Phillips applauds for ‘carrying the torch of liberty’.

And if feminism, anti-racism and gay rights really are that wicked, with what should they be replaced? Presumably the return of the traditional mother and wife, penalty-free racial discrimination and a retreat to the times of hush-hush homosexuality.

According to David Osler, we’ve actually abandoned social democracy, and the free market actually erodes liberty and equality. And the only alternative to special pleading is, apparently, 1950s-style sexism, racism, and cultural oppression.

These people just do not get it; just because some people are ‘less oppressed’ than they used to be doesn’t mean others aren’t more. We’ve exchanged one world in which some people are demonised and unfree for another world in which other people (market apologists, as you can see) are demonised and unfree. But the demonisation and lack of freedom continues. Osler doesn’t see this, of course, because he’s actually partially succeeded in his aims. But like a child, he complains that he and his ‘mates’ have been on the back foot for thirty years.

Whatever anyone thinks of society today, it is the creation of Thatcherism and Blairism, which are both essentially variations on a neoliberal theme. Lenin would not – as Phillips crassly concludes – be smiling if he could somehow see it from his mausoleum. But Hayek certainly would be.

Any real liberal will tell you that Thatcher and Blair were just as much the enemies of freedom as Lenin and Marx; and Hayek, after weeping silently from the great beyond for the past 17 years, is now spinning in his grave at this bastardisation of what he’d be smiling at. Hayek, smiling at Britain in 2009? David Osler, you are both ignorant and blind.

In short, Phillips already lives in the kind of country that is the only conceivable outcome of the brand of rightwingery she herself represents; she might at least be that little bit more graceful about it.

Yeah, she does; and you live in a country that is one of the milder forms of the brand of leftwingery you yourself represent; you might be a little more graceful about it, and thankful that it hasn’t turned into any of those hideous tragedies you mentioned above. Because you’ve both gotten exactly what you wanted: a culture of liberty and individual responsibility demolished, and a society of restriction, coercion, and collective punishment raised up in its place. The two of you are a hell of a lot more alike than you are different.

And poor Gramsci is probably sitting there next to Hayek saying, ‘I know, man. WTF.’

Nov 072009
 

Via the West Virginia Rebel, I am directed to some commentary about the recent shooting at Ft. Hood.

For those of you perhaps not au fait with this, as it happened on 5 November, a US army psychiatrist recently promoted to the rank of major and about to be deployed to the Middle East entered a building on the base at Ft. Hood and opened fire on the soldiers and civilians there, killing 13 people and injuring at least twice that number. He himself was wounded but not, apparently, killed, and is in hospital.

Mark Noonan, who should himself perhaps consider seeing a psychiatrist, reacts with all the illiberal, childish venom I’ve come to expect from American political discourse:

A terrible event – but I don’t want anyone to call it an “act of violence” or “a terrible tragedy”. It was an attack – one or more men decided with malice to attack a US military base. We need to get right down to the bottom of this – and, liberals, if the stories of accomplices in custody are true, this is where harsh interrogation might be needed: whoever was involved in this most emphatically does not have a right to remain silent.

This shooter, however heinous his crime, is an American citizen and, before two days ago, would have been just as staunchly defended by these types as a patriot to be supported with the ubiquitous yellow ribbon.

Now, apparently, he deserves torture and the loss of his constitutional rights. Why?

Because (a) he shot some soldiers, whose lives are evidently de facto more valuable than anyone else’s, at least when they’re on home soil. And because (b) he happens to be a Muslim.

I’ve read no credible reports to suggest that this shooting was any more a ‘terrorist’ attack or any more religiously or culturally motivated than, for example, the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. What I have read is that the man is a natural-born American and served his country for decades before choosing this destructive course of action. That he is a Muslim, or the child of immigrant parents, means nothing.

Mark Noonan and his commenters, many of whom are crazier than he is, would deny this man the protections the law gives him because they don’t like what he did or the reason for it which they ascribe to him. Shooting people is a dreadful thing to do – one for which I am hard pressed to express my feelings – but overturning the rule of law because you’re a pissed-off little prick is arguably more dangerous. A gunman can only harm people within the range of his gun; a mockery of a justice system propped up by a democracy that excuses torture harms everybody.

Oct 202009
 

Unity, writing at Liberal Conspiracy, has written a pretty cool interpretation of the difference between liberals/libertarians and conservatives, mainly in response to the debate sparked by John Elledge’s post there a couple of weeks ago. He’s linked to my own response, for which I’m grateful, and pointed out some angles to the question that I, never having read Edmund Burke, hadn’t considered.

Nevertheless, as usual, there are still some commenters at LC who don’t get it, Will (no. 45) in particular displaying a total want of thoughtfulness. There’s the usual conjunction of libertarians and hippies (though strangely a comparison rather than contrast):

Libertarians are not a bad lot on the whole – much as hippies are fine and dandy until they want you to join their lifestyle and you see it really isn’t for you.

Accusations of self-absorption:

I just see them as a set of people who just want the world to revolve around them and fuck anyone else.

And weird misrepresentation of a libertarian position:

…a Libertarian is a person who would have the mindset of small towns folk who believe in local farmers and purveyors of goods who live locally.

I don’t know many libertarians who have that mindset, I must say, especially since the whole ‘buy local’ view is much more openly held by what we might call green progressives rather than supporters of the free market, which is what most libertarians tend to be. Or maybe I’ve misunderstood, and this is just a drawn-out way of calling libertarians parochial.

Whatever the case, Will is a fool, and a rude one, given that he manages to call Tim Worstall, one of my personal heroes, a fucker and a twat in the space of two sentences. I can only hope that’s an inside joke.

So let’s lay to rest, once and for all, this ‘libertarians want the world to revolve around them and fuck everyone else’ crap.*

Yes – libertarians are self-centred. I’ve said it, it’s true, amen brother. Of course we are concerned with the self. The self is the only entity over which we do have and should have control. A libertarian is not concerned with others, because it is not for us to say what is good for others, or what others should and shouldn’t do. Our comprehension of others is determined by how those others affect the self. A libertarian refrains from affecting others in ways he would not himself want to be affected. A libertarian respects others who hold this same principle, because he knows they too have selves with which they are concerned.

Is that selfish? Yes. Is it wrong? No, because the self is always the first point of reference. First, not only. I’m afraid there is no getting around that, however much others might wish there were. It is impossible to act without reference to the self.

Libertarians, in the main, have no objection to helping others, or directing their concern toward others, as long as it is done voluntarily, in the absence of third-party coercion. Libertarians give to charity, they help homeless people on the street, they advocate policies that they truly believe will be to others’ benefit. But they do not want to do any of those things because someone has forced them to, and they do not want to do it at a cost to the self. Why is that so wrong?

I would even go so far as to suggest that the goal of libertarian action and policy, the ultimate goal, is for the satisfaction of the world’s people to rise. There are as many varieties of ‘satisfaction’ as there are people, so people must be free to pursue their version as they see fit, provided they do not employ coercion or fraud to do so (if they did, of course, net satisfaction would not increase).

What libertarians object to, as Will doesn’t seem to understand, is that currently we have a system of what I might call, in my less objective moments, third-party slavery. For example:

Person A has resources. Person C does not. In a libertarian world, they would both be free to work out an exchange that is mutually beneficial. Person C might choose to help Person A increase his resources in exchange for some of that increase. Or Person C might choose to trade unrelated labour in exchange for resources. Thus is Person C’s situation improved, and Person A’s situation is improved, and there is a bond of mutual benefit between them.

Now let’s consider what actually happens. Person A has resources. Person C does not. Person B compels person A, under threat of harm or imprisonment, to give him some of those resources, which he then turns over to Person C. Person A does not know Person C, or the particular circumstances of his need. He only knows Person B, who has extorted from him his resources, ostensibly for the good of someone else. Person C does not know Person A, or anything about how those resources were acquired or intended to be used. He only knows Person B, who has given him a handout for which he did not give any benefit in return and for which his only qualification was that he needed it.

And not all of the resources have made it to Person C, because Person B has creamed a bit off the top to recompense him for the labour of extorting and handing out.

Person A does not hate Person C, or look down upon him for lacking resources. Person C does not hate Person A, because he does not even know him.

But it is in the interest of Person B that his two victims should hate each other, lest they realise that he is the one perpetrating the true evil, that of stealing from one and infantilising the other. He wants Person A to believe that Person C is a shiftless layabout, a useless human being whose utter lack of ability should be punished, not rewarded with free resources. He wants Person C to believe that Person A is an exploiter, a monopolist, who would keep all the resources for himself and let everyone else rot.

And somehow, in this world, Person B has achieved this. There are those who hate the feckless, because it is in their name that resources are extorted from the productive. And there are those who hate the productive, because they have to be forced to share their resources with those who have none.

Libertarians? We hate Person B. Call it the state, the welfare system, socialism, whatever – we hate whatever third party is interfering, to the detriment of Persons A and C, in what could otherwise be a peaceful and mutually beneficial exchange. Person B robs us all of our freedom and our dignity by imposing his ‘selfless’ concern for others into a relationship that would be much better conducted by the interested parties themselves.

And this hatred isn’t limited to economic exchanges. We hate anyone who would interfere in any way with mutually beneficial, voluntary relationships between human beings.

That’s what libertarian selfishness is. I think it’s a virtue. There’s nothing to me more abhorrent than the ‘selfless’ man who demands that I injure myself for the sake of someone else and then calls me an asshole when I say I’d rather not. As the Devil’s Kitchen has pointed out today, it’s war. But it’s not Person A against Person C; it’s all of us, together, against Person B.

*This insult usually manifests in outraged cries of ‘Solipsist!’ Libertarians are not solipsists in the (accurate) philosophical sense. We believe that things other than our own minds exist. Quite obviously, in fact, since we believe there are entities outside of the self that would impose their will on us. This view is logically inconsistent with solipsism. QED.

Oct 122009
 

After racist homophobic anti-semites, libertarians are the Left’s favourite whipping boy, as this post at Liberal Conspiracy confirms. The author has paraphrased the statements of a Tory MEP at the Tory conference and, because one or two of them had a libertarian bent, has asked, ‘Are all libertarians this childish?

Short answer: no, but I’ll allow you the question because it’s obvious you’ve never come within spitting distance of an actual libertarian.

The comments then devolve into an argument about labels and the nature of libertarian ideology. I don’t comment at Liberal Conspiracy, but happily I have my own blog.

Picking some randomer from some other part of the political spectrum who advocates a single vaguely libertarian idea and calling him a libertarian does not, in fact, make him a libertarian.

Meanwhile, spouting one’s interpretation of libertarianism as ‘Hands off my Lexus, hippy,’ or ‘only freedom from taxation’ does not, in fact, mean that is what libertarianism is. I don’t even own a Lexus, and the tax I personally pay is not overly onerous.

The truth is that advocates of freedom are found all over the political spectrum, but the only true libertarians are the ones who advocate it at all times in all circumstances, from the bedroom to the wallet – who believe that ‘freedom from’ is the only state of being consistent with the dignity and majesty of humankind.

‘Freedom from’ is the most important part of that ideology. Freedom from coercion. Freedom from interference. Freedom from oppression.

‘Freedom to’ is where the misunderstandings enter. People on the right think libertarians are advocating freedom to burgle, rob, rape, murder – because they read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’

People on the left think libertarians are advocating exploitation, pollution, callousness, and the primacy of making (and keeping) money above all else – because they read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’

And both sides think libertarians consider the laws we have prohibiting these activities to be a restriction on freedom.

When will they realise that they don’t understand?

Libertarians believe you should be free from coercion – and that you must not coerce anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from interference – and that you must not interfere with anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from oppression – and that you must not oppress anyone else. Because these are to be universal freedoms: what you do not wish done to you, you must not do to anyone else.

For the libertarian, there is no ‘freedom to.’ Freedom represents an absence, the absence of force and fraud. It does not represent a licence to do anything, or a right or entitlement, except the absolute human right not to be forced or defrauded.

‘Freedom to’ is where conflict enters the system. ‘Freedom to’ often becomes a right: a right to a family, a right to cheap healthcare, a right to a job, a right not to starve. In this way a person can argue that poverty constitutes a lack of freedom, because poor people are not, to use the most extreme example, free to eat. And so a non-libertarian may say, their right to eat must override someone else’s freedom from coercion.

A libertarian may say, are the poor victims of coercion, interference, or oppression? If so, it must stop – and then they may be able to provide themselves with food. Thus not only are the freedoms of the poor restored, they are helped without obviating anyone else’s freedoms. No conflict exists; the principles of freedom are not only maintained, they are extended.

And for holding this principle, for advocating it, and for trying to practise it in their daily lives, libertarians are ‘childish’ and vilified as ‘Hands off my Lexus, you hippy.’ We, who are concerned only with the heights of dignity and achievement all humans could reach if only they were freed from coercion, interference, and oppression, are called ‘selfish’ and ‘misanthropic.’

So be it.

How the pendulum does swing

 indolence, stupid-heads  Comments Off on How the pendulum does swing
Oct 062009
 

Madeleine Bunting, 28 June 2009:

Powerful, grand narratives legitimise power, win our allegiance and frame our private understandings of how to measure value and create meaning. They also structure time – they fit the present into a continuum of how the past will become the future. This is what all the grand narratives of communism, socialism, even neoliberalism and fascism offered; as did the grand narratives of religion. Now, all have foundered and fragmented into a mosaic of millions of personal stories. It is a Tower of Babel in which we have lost the capacity to generate the common narratives – of idealism, morality and hope such as Sandel talks about – that might bring about civic renewal and a reinvigorated political purpose.

Curtis argues that we are still enchanted by the possibilities of our personal narratives although they leave us isolated, disconnected, and at their worst, they are simply solipsistic performances desperate for an audience.

Madeleine Bunting, 30 September 2009:

I can launch my own catalogue of complaints against Gordon Brown as well as the next columnist, but I’ve no appetite right now to join what increasingly sounds like a mob lynching. There is something about the assembled chorus of received wisdom which makes me go contrary; group think rarely produces good judgments.

I dunno, Maddy: perhaps that grand narrative you were looking for all along, that ‘group think’ you now distrust, is the ‘received wisdom’ that Gordon Brown is a colossal fuck-up. It certainly seems to have, in your words, won our allegiance and brought about ‘civic renewal and a reinvigorated political purpose.’

Be careful what you wish for…

H/T the Heresiarch.