May 012010
 

The other night, I encountered* a homeless man named Ian chilling on the sidewalk outside a branch of NatWest with his bull terrier, Tyson. He greeted me in friendly fashion as I walked up and did not ask for my spare change.

This may sound ridiculous, or condescending, or both, but that fact had me asking him if I could give him some money – I didn’t want to offend his pride. He said yes rather appreciatively, so I gave him all the cash I had on me, and as I was in no hurry to be anywhere, I sat down next to him for a bit of a chat.

We talked for a while about Tyson and the fact that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Ian clearly loved his dog, and Tyson was as good-natured a pet as I’ve ever encountered. He sniffed my hand for a bit, then came over to lean on me in that way dogs do so I could rub his back.

Our conversation eventually led to how this man had ended up with two blankets outside of the NatWest, and it was a sorry tale indeed. He had lost his council home when his wife had left with their son – single men are automatically bumped to the bottom of the social housing queue. He was turned away from several shelters – homeless people without drugs or drink problems are at the bottom of shelters’ priority list. Unable to find a legitimate place to sleep, he had taken to spending his nights in car parks and loading docks when he couldn’t beg enough during the day to hire a spot in a hostel, though even that was difficult because most of the hostels don’t allow dogs. When he did manage to beg sufficiently during the day, the police sometimes arrested him for begging, and he was forced to spend his takings on court fines.

That day, he told me, he’d been trying to acquire enough money to buy a sleeping bag – though not by begging, which was why he hadn’t asked me for my change. He was hoping for people’s unprompted generosity, and hampered by the fact that he couldn’t explain his need, for fear of being arrested, unless somebody actually asked him.

‘What about work?’ I asked him.

‘I’m looking,’ he answered, ‘but I don’t have an address. Nobody wants to hire someone who can’t even give a shelter as their address.’

‘What a perverse situation,’ I said, and he nodded in agreement. ‘But there’s an election on,’ I added, aware this was small comfort. ‘You have the vote, you can try to vote for people who will fix that stuff.’

‘I can’t,’ said Ian. ‘You can’t vote if you don’t have an address. And I wouldn’t vote for any of them anyway. I’m tired of politicians saying they help people when all they ever do is make things worse.’

We talked for a little while longer, and I told him I wished there were more I could have done for him. Even as I said it, I was aware of how feeble that statement was. I could have given him more money – enough for him to buy a sleeping bag the next day. Enough to make him comfortable for food and drink for a few days at least, provided nobody robbed him in the night. Had we been anywhere near a shop, I would have bought him some food myself there and then, as I’ve done for other homeless people. And all of that would have helped at least a little bit.

But it wouldn’t have gotten him into a shelter, or found him a job, or protected him from police who find it useful to arrest beggars. And it certainly wouldn’t have restored the franchise to him, the franchise which every British person treats as a natural right. This most vulnerable of individuals, because he has no home, is denied even the tiniest bit of power the vote brings with it. That vote, which so many people have but choose not to exercise, is denied to Ian and people like him because they have no home.

I know he said he probably wouldn’t have used it anyway. I’m also aware that he could have been lying to me through his teeth about his circumstances (though for what it’s worth, I don’t think he was). But even in the midst of all the perverse incentives this man was facing, his disenfranchisement struck me as the most significant. There are hundreds of thousands of homeless British people. Presumably many of those are prevented from exercising this most basic privilege of citizenship.

People told me afterward that the electoral register is linked to addresses to prevent voter fraud. I’m sure that works really well, what with people who have more than one address getting more than one vote. Nevertheless, I find I can’t really countenance a system of electoral fraud prevention that effectively restricts the suffrage of a giant bunch of British citizens.

Can anybody explain to me how this squares with the whole ‘social justice’ thing? Does anybody know if the electoral commission, or any of the parties, have a plan to fix this, or even consider it an issue?

Or is the British body politic perfectly happy with this property-based ‘universal’ suffrage?**

*In Leicester. I swear.

**Please note that I am not making an argument about who, objectively, should have the vote, or whether it should indeed be somehow rooted in property or other kinds of economic activity.

UPDATE: RC informs me that homeless citizens can register to vote by making a ‘declaration of local connection’ at their local Electoral Registration Office. This seems reasonable, but it is clearly not common knowledge amongst the homeless. Also, it occurs to me that people who are eligible to vote but aren’t registered can be liable for a £1000 fine.

Apr 102010
 

We’re going to burn you in effigy! Slim down, or next time we’ll put you in there when we light it on fire. For the sacrifices of those caught in some offence are more pleasing to the gods, but if the supply of such people runs out, we will not hesitate to sacrifice innocents.’*

Can we expect to see Jamie Oliver officiating as Chief Druid?

Hat tip to Longrider, Leg-Iron, and Ambush Predator.

*Adapted from Caesar, De Bello Gallico VI.16 for maximum absurdity value.

Apr 102010
 

I am coming late to this, I realise, but in case you were not aware, LabourList decided it would be a sweet idea to post, on Easter Sunday, an article by Christian Socialist Andy Flannagan called ‘Ten Reasons Why Jesus Might Vote Labour.’ Apparently the original version was an ‘old draft’ and the post has since been updated ‘in its full context’, so I don’t know what nonsense it might have contained when it was first posted – but the nonsense it currently contains is enough to be getting on with, really.

Many of readers here are, of course, not Christians, so I will try not to be too theologically tedious*; but we all hold certain ideas and principles quite dear, so I hope you can sympathise with my incredulity that Labour have attempted to co-opt Jesus, and with my desire to point out just how pathetic and mistaken are their justifications for it. (Imagine, if it helps, how furiously you would want to fisk an article called ‘Ten Reasons Why Libertarians Might Vote Labour’ in which absolutely no mention was made of the central principles of libertarianism.)

I’m not exactly taking issue with Flannagan’s characterisation of Jesus; he lists nine of Jesus’s qualities or beliefs that are, as far as I know, reasonably accurate (and heavily paraphrased by me to strip out Flanagan’s politics-speak):

1. Jesus identified with the poor and the marginalised.
2. Jesus believed the kingdom of God was more important than any earthly kingdom.
3. Jesus promoted working for ‘the common good.’
4. Jesus is central to the story of creation and redemption.
5. Jesus warned against the hypocrisy of speaking for him while acting against him.
7. Jesus affirmed the dignity of work.
8. Jesus was passionate about families.
9. Jesus asserted that all were equal in God’s eyes and image.
10. Jesus believe there was such a thing as society.

[I’ve omitted no. 6 because the insertion of the concept of trickle-down economics into the early Roman empire is an absurdity.]

Indeed, these are all true. But Jesus was not a social worker. Jesus was, according to Christians, the Son of God, and according to most Christians, true God from true God, of one being with the Father. I would expect the Director of the Christian Socialist Movement to be at least as well versed in the theological tenets of Christianity as any Catholic child who goes to Mass regularly enough to have learned the Nicene Creed. Why is this relevant? Because Jesus’s teachings, whatever they may suggest to us about the proper ordering of human interaction, were ultimately eschatological: that is, concerned with the final outcomes of death, judgment, and the destiny of the human soul. His advice is to individuals: how to purify the soul in anticipation of meeting God. Actions, such as caring for the poor, working for one’s sustenance, and treating others as equals, are merely the outward manifestation of a genuinely held personal belief that the most sinless soul is the one that wishes only good, wishes no harm, and accepts God’s love as a gift given in spite of our imperfections, not because of our good works.

Good actions that are driven by the desire to perfect an earthly society, rather than the individual soul, are the hallmark of the non-Christian. I am not saying this is a bad thing; far from it, actually. But advocating good works for the sake of perfecting society is not a religious attitude, and Christianity is a religion, not a charity club. And the desire to perfect the soul before God is what differentiates a Christian from a nice person – and we all know the world is full of nice people who are not Christians.

So this characterisation of Jesus and Christianity as being focused on improving society actually strips both of their essentially religious nature. Doing good works is wonderful, because it makes life on earth liveable; but the distinguishing feature of Christianity is that of the perfection of the soul in preparation for death on earth; and each of us dies alone, and will face judgment alone in front of God, with Christ co-substantial and co-eternal at His right hand.

But, of course, that is only part of the religion that is Christianity. I’ll say again, Jesus was not a social worker. Jesus was and is the path by which Christians perfect their souls. Again, I would expect the Director of the Christian Socialist Movement to understand this, especially since he makes special mention of Jesus’s central role in redemption. For if you are a Christian, Jesus is the Redeemer, God’s gift to humanity of His mercy, and Jesus’s death was the Atonement in advance for our imperfections. Before Jesus, God punished wrong acts, as a manifestation of inward imperfections, immediately and directly on earth. The Old Testament is full of examples of this; God was above all a just God. After Jesus, God ceased to punish wrong acts on earth; the God of Christians, the God of the New Testament, is a merciful God, who forgives you your imperfections for the whole of your long life, knowing that the entire length of your life is necessary in order for your soul to pursue perfection. That punishment, which before Jesus He would have visited immediately, was taken by Jesus in your place, in advance, to provide you with the free will to pursue perfection at your own pace, in the ways which are open and suited to you as an individual.

The road to perfection, therefore, is to wish good and thus to do good, to wish no harm and thus to do no harm, and with gratitude to accept the free will granted by Jesus’s self-sacrifice and to use that free will to pursue closeness to God. To focus, as Flannagan does, only on the good of society and others as what Jesus taught, is to obviate Jesus’s absolutely central role in individual redemption.

Now, I understand that for many non-Christians, the idea of anyone’s (even Jesus’s) suffering punishment, for not believing in a God whose existence is unproved and not believing in a soul whose existence is unproved, is barbaric. I understand that many non-Christians accept that there is only one life, to be lived on earth, and that there are only right acts and wrong acts, and that right acts improve this one life and wrong acts damage it. I love that this is so, because it makes everyone’s life on earth better and harms nobody else. Thank God for the non-Christians, because they will not accept that life is a vale of tears, and in their non-acceptance, they ensure that life is not a vale of tears. In their way, they pursue perfection too.

For non-Christians, then, actions are all. For Christians, however, actions are a by-product of the state of the soul. I would expect anyone, like the Director of the Christian Socialist Movement, who presumes to speak as a Christian authority to recognise this. But it seems that for such people, Christianity is now a brand to be decontaminated, and apparently that means downplaying its ‘barbaric’ theology and promoting only those aspects of it which are, in fact, not ‘Christian’ at all, but practically universal among humans, be they Muslims, atheists, or even Druids.

For this reason Flannagan’s ‘reasons’ why Jesus might vote Labour are worse than just a cynical ploy to reconcile his beliefs with his politics; they are also completely devoid of any specific Christianity. Tim Montgomerie, who I’m told is also a Christian, attempts a fisking and falls neatly into the same trap. To the contrary, he cries, Labour’s policies as Flannagan has interpreted them are not in line with Jesus’s teachings as above! For every Labour policy that Flannagan asserts is totally Jesus-compatible, Montgomerie points out one that is totally Jesus-contradictory within the same sphere. But like Flannagan, Montgomerie ignores the fact that in Christianity, actions are a by-product and the soul is all. The only real way to measure how Jesus-like Labour’s policies are is to ask, ‘Has doing this helped to perfect the soul?’ As government policies have everything to do with society and nothing to do with the individual soul, the only possible answer is ‘No,’ regardless of which party’s policies are in question.

***

So how would Jesus vote, if he could vote in this election? (He couldn’t, of course, being a non-European immigrant.)

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, he said. If Caesar, in the guise of democratic duty, requires your vote, you vote. Fortunately, Caesar does not quite control how we vote; so if you feel compelled to render unto him a ballot, you may at least choose from the options on it that which best fits your conscience and your pursuit of spiritual perfection.

But Jesus has no conscience. Jesus, being of one substance with God, is already perfect. For him, there is no party or candidate who is a ‘best fit.’ To him, all parties are imperfect, all parties are wholly worldly; none are concerned with the redemption of the human soul. The choices available offering no avenue for individual spiritual perfection, and Jesus in need of no such thing anyway, I doubt you would find him at the ballot box at all, much less voting according to the conscience of Andy Flannagan or Tim Montgomerie.

*Sorry, I failed.

Feb 272010
 

The snowballing response made her the de facto coordinator of Coffee Party USA, with goals far loftier than its oopsy-daisy origin: promote civility and inclusiveness in political discourse, engage the government not as an enemy but as the collective will of the people, push leaders to enact the progressive change for which 52.9 percent of the country voted in 2008.

Hooray! A new group which urges Americans to trust the government, the majority, and the progressive impulse. Way to fill a huge gap in the ideological market!

Wait, though. Don’t we already have a group like that? Hmm, now, let me think, what’s it called…

…oh yeah. The government.

Feb 212010
 

The non-existence of intellectual property demands the existence of copyright. Observe:

Let’s begin from the assumption that there is no such thing as intellectual property – only physical property.

Pretend I have written some music, played it, and recorded it onto a CD at a material cost to myself of some £3000 and 40 hours of labour time. My CD is physical property only, and my estimation of its worth is £3000, plus let’s say £120 for labour (at £3 an hour, that’s a bargain), plus an ideal, though small, profit margin of 8% – a grand total of £3370.

I could make 337 copies of this CD, which would also be my property, and sell them for £10 apiece – fine. But it’s not in my interest to do so unless I sell all 337 copies at once. Because once I’ve sold the first copy, which is after all only physical property, the new owner of that CD can duplicate it and give it away for free, thus making my £10 copies less attractive in the marketplace and therefore less likely to find willing buyers.

Possibly my solution here is to invite pre-orders. Once 337 people have pre-ordered and pre-paid – and the £3370 is comfortably in my bank account – I can send out all of the CDs at once. Fine.

But suppose more than 337 people order a copy of my CD. Very well; I shall make more copies and make those available for pre-order and pre-payment too. In fact, I will make as many copies and sell as many pre-orders as the market demands; but nobody will receive their CD until that demand is exhausted and the profit guaranteed (by its presence in my bank account), because the minute I actually hand over the first disk, everything on it ceases to be my property and can be made available for free.

My other option is to make no additional copies of the CD, and to sell my single existing copy for £3370. (This is, for example, what happens with unique pieces of art.)

Essentially, therefore, if the CD and everything encoded on it is purely physical property, I have absolutely no incentive to make it someone else’s property until I have received the compensation I desire. This is not so much a problem if I sell it as a single entity to one buyer for £3370 (although I think few people would pay that amount for a music CD).

But if I want to sell copies of it at reduced cost to multiple buyers, it makes sense for me to hold onto all copies until I have as many confirmed buyers as possible. This could end up being ridiculous; there could be a time lag of literally years between when the first buyer pays me and when I send him his copy.

Buyer #1 obviously does not want to wait years; in fact, since he has already paid me for his copy of the CD, it is now his property, and I have no right to withhold it from him. But if I send it to him immediately, the CD and everything on it becomes his property, and he can duplicate it and give it away for free, meaning people will be less likely to buy copies from me, meaning I am likely to make a massive loss. In fact, if I sell him his copy for £10, he makes his property available for free, and nobody buys copies from me, I have made a loss of £3360.

But wait! There may be another way. Let us say that I agree to sell a copy of my CD to Buyer #1 as long as he agrees not to make the material on it freely available for x number of years, x being the time during which I reasonably predict demand for my music CD to exist. This will naturally involve a reduction in price to compensate him for voluntarily restricting his use of his property, but fine. If I can get all of my buyers to agree to the same terms of sale, they will get their property, and I will get my money, and all will be happy.

And lo and behold, we have just invented ‘copyright': the agreement by which the buyer gets his purchase of property at a discounted price in return for not making that property freely available for x number of years. This enables the seller to compensate for that discounted price by making up the difference in volume of sales.

Since we have copyright, as a good way to satisfy both buyer and seller with respect to their property and money, I therefore conclude that intellectual property does not exist.

Feb 212010
 

I’m feeling bitchy today regarding the following subjects. Feel free to have a go at me in the comments if you like, as this will soothe and satisfy the argument-demon that’s taken up residence in my psyche.

Today’s Pet Peeves

1. People who ‘don’t get’ the left wing.*

Seriously, not getting something and not agreeing with something are not the same thing. Occasionally a left-wing proposition I’ve not yet been exposed to knocks me upside the head and my disbelief splutters out – but even a few minutes’ careful thought makes me ‘get’ it.

And even when individual propositions may be confusing, one should always keep in mind the fall-back position, that to be left-wing is easy. The left wing is the fashionable, the powerful, the self-styled intellectual faction of our modern West. It self-represents as the pinnacle of both reason (‘we are right’) and emotion (‘we are good’). It self-represents as the melding of the ideal and the utilitarian, working on the best possible principles to achieve the best possible outcomes. Not to be left-wing is to choose deliberately an uphill battle against a force which claims a monopoly on both morality and praxis. Not to be left-wing is what most people ‘don’t get’, as I’ve been told on a number of occasions.

Nothing the left wing does need be supported by any universally-accepted logic for, like America, because it claims to be good, even its seemingly illogical behaviour must also be good, because nothing that comes from good can be evil or wrong. (This is, it should be noted, a complete inversion of the once widely-accepted proverb ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’ Instead, we shall now know them by their roots, and if the roots are sufficiently good, the quality of the fruits is incidental and not really worth investigating.)

To expound a left-wing proposition is to align oneself with the prevailing majority conceptions of both power and right. There are many left-wing propositions that have value, of course, and one must recognise those if one believes in either truth or justice. But even left-wing propositions that appear to have no intrinsic or objective value whatsoever can be ‘got’ when advocated by some individual, for the reasons mentioned above.

In short, one should begin by investigating the logic, for this is only fair; if no logic is to be found, the fact that being left-wing is easy and makes you look good should be the motivation ascribed to those doing the proposing. Adopting left-wing attitudes is an adaptive behaviour, because nobody who wants to get anywhere gets anywhere these days if they fail (or worse, refuse) to adapt in this way. Is simples.

2. People who announce their departure and reappearance in internet forums.

‘Hey, guys, things in RL are getting really hectic. Don’t expect to see me for a while.’

‘Hey, guys, I’ve sorted out RL and I’m ready to jump back in. What’d I miss? Oh, and a shout-out to X, Y, and Z – thanks for thinking of me while I was gone!’

Why do people do this? Common courtesy, I suppose, the way you might excuse yourself from the dinner table to visit the toilets. However, much of the time this behaviour strikes me as some kind of self-imposed exile/martyrdom, of the view that to absent oneself totally is preferable to reducing one’s participation to a few remarks here and there when the time for it can be spared. Or, maybe, it belongs to the school of thought that says one must slice the trivial out of one’s life in order to focus on the nontrivial. Which seems rather bizarre to me, because to focus with such intensity on the nontrivial would appear to invite more stress than taking the occasional break to waste time on the series of tubes.

3. People who ‘don’t get’ the right wing.*

Frequently, I hear right-wing beliefs or attitudes ascribed to one or more of the following personal flaws:

(a) being ill-informed or uninformed
(b) stupidity
(c) suggestibility
(d) callousness

If I’m going to pay the left the courtesy of listening to its propositions and trying to understand their underlying premises, I think I (being, after all, frequently labelled ‘right-wing’) may with some justice expect the same courtesy. I am perfectly willing to admit to being uninformed (but rarely ill-informed), but I am not particularly stupid or suggestible or callous.

As I have mentioned in other posts, quite often the apparent paradox of the intelligent, decent, sensible right-winger makes people’s heads asplode. Enough already; stop looking for the source of our ‘delusion’ in our parents’ politics or corporate sponsors. At least allow us the initial assumption that we came to our beliefs through reasoned analysis. While this may not always prove true, at least it’s a respectful place to start.

4. Blogs without search functions.

Argh. ‘Nuff said.

5. People who dislike immigrants on grounds of ‘preserving culture.’

The intense dislike some individuals exhibit regarding unchecked immigration into their space is not particularly difficult to understand when expressed in economic terms. Increases in the supply of labour drive down wages, whether these newcomers are skilled or low-skilled or unskilled, and of course if one happens to live in a generous welfare state, an influx of people who receive the state’s bounty but do not greatly contribute to the coffers will chap the hide of the long-suffering taxpayer.

But leaving aside the economic implications of immigration, there is also a strand of anti-immigrant feeling that revolves around preserving the indigenous culture from the influence of, if not exactly ‘weirdos’, then people whose culture is demonstrably or perhaps worryingly different.

But culture is neither static nor necessarily good. Without wishing to be relativist, I think I can safely assert that the culture of a particular people or place is neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but simply is, as a result of various events and trends that have taken place over time amongst that people or in that place. It seems a futile desire to wish to ‘preserve’ that which is always changing (even in the absence of weirdo immigrants), largely as a result of the evolving values and desires of the so-called indigenous people.

For example, let us consider Britain. If one listens to ‘reactionaries’ like Peter Hitchens, British culture has become less stoic, more saccarchine; less entrepreneurial, more dependent; less law-abiding, more criminal, since the death of dear Churchill. Is this the result of immigrants? Or the result of changing attitudes amongst the British themselves? Did the influence of immigrants cause the British to exhibit massive and public grief when Princess Diana died? (Hitchens identifies this as a particularly undignified episode.) Has the influence of immigrants created the dependency on the state exhibited by so many?

Frankly, I do not think so. British culture has its failings as well as its virtues. To wish to preserve its virtues is laudable; but to defend its failings because they are *native* failings is ridiculous. And really, I was under the impression that ethnic nationalism had gone out of style in the West. Just because one doesn’t advocate murdering the weirdos doesn’t mean one is free from the taint of ethnic nationalism. The difference between disapproving of foreign influence and violently eradicating foreign influence is really just one of degree.

6. Republicans/Conservatives.

The function of the Republican party in the United States and the Conservative Party in Britain is to disguise the fact that the country is ruled by what is essentially a one-party statist blob. Superficially, R/Cs may differ from Democrats/Labour on such issues as abortion, gay marriage, the role of family, etc – but the keen observer will notice that regarding all of these superficial issues, the solution on both sides is statist intervention of one form or another. Abortion – legal or illegal? Gay marriage – legal or illegal? Whatever the outcome, it will always be determined by some fiat legislation or judicial decree. Rarely does either side say, ‘Hey, these things are not for the government to decide.’

This political ‘dichotomy’ appears particularly schizophrenic to those of us who are neither centrists nor moderates, but occupy the ‘fringes’ (read: consistent factions) of the left and right. This is how we get complaints that, e.g., New Labour are in fact Thatcherite, and New Tories are in fact New Labour.** Actually both groups are ridiculously inconsistent in their ideologies, but at least Democrats/Labour do not pretend to be in favour of a limited state. Republicans/Conservatives do, but their actions when in charge rarely bear this out.

Furthermore, Republicans and Conservatives, by their insistence that they are materially and ideologically different from the Democrats/Labour, facilitate the claim of the left that right-wing hegemony carries on apace and the demon capitalism continues to oppress the working man. Whenever Republicans or Conservatives win elections, the cry from the left goes up: ‘See! There is still much work to be done in eliminating this wealthy-elitist scourge from society!’ They imagine themselves to be heirs of their 1960s forbears, struggling against an Establishment that is ranged against them in every possible sphere with powerful weapons.

In fact, they are the Establishment, and every protestation by Republicans/Conservatives that they offer a real alternative allows the left to pretend that they are still fighting The Man.

Which leads me to my next peeve…

7. Baby-boomers.***

There appears to be some justice in the common belief that the baby-boomers, having got into power since the 1960s, reordered society to suit themselves and pulled the ladder up behind them. Baby-boomers rule the Western world: they are the politicians, the bureaucrats, the professors, the journalists, the managers and CEOs, the head teachers, etc. All of the levers of actual power are in their hands. They direct policy and opinion and continue to shape the world according to their views. In their minds this is right and just, both because they possess ‘experience,’ and because they represent a considerable voting block in our much-revered system of democracy. They possess both seniority and numbers, which as we know are the accepted, legitimate reasons for allowing people to have what they want.

In an honest world, this would not be much of a criticism. But we live in a curiously dishonest world, wherein baby-boomers hold all of the power and then complain that the youth are disaffected and disengaged, unlike themselves when they were ‘the youth.’ In fact, most of the policies advocated by the baby-boomers in power seem deliberately designed to keep ‘the youth’ dependent on them, which is a perfect recipe for further disaffection and disengagement.

Let us consider recent proposals in Britain dealing with ‘the youth.’

(a) Compulsory education or training to age 18. This keeps ‘the youth’ under the control of the state (read: baby-boomer run) education system until legal adulthood.

(b) Sending more of the population to university. This keeps ‘the youth’ under the control of the state (read: baby-boomer run and operated) education system until well into adulthood.

(c) Government-provided work and training for graduates who can’t find jobs. This keeps ‘the youth’ (who are now into their twenties) dependent on the state (run by baby-boomers) for sustenance and the acquisition of skills.

(d) Parent training courses. This sends the message to ‘the youth’ who have dared to reproduce that despite their biological fitness for the job, they are mentally and emotionally unfit to raise offspring without guidance from the state (i.e. baby-boomers, those proven experts in child-rearing).

All of these policies could not make more perfectly clear the belief of baby boomers that ‘the youth’ of today are unfit to make decisions for themselves, support themselves, or support other humans; and yet still the baby boomers complain that ‘the youth’ don’t take responsibility for themselves and agitate for their own benefit. But why should they? They’ve been told they’re not competent to do this, and even the few who truly desire power (those who have somehow evaded the systematic demoralisation perpetrated on them) are content to wait, having accepted the baby-boomer creed that power comes automatically from seniority and numbers. Those people will simply wait until the baby boomers are all dead; the rest of us will continue to be disaffected (if not always disengaged) by the fact that the generation now holding power obviously think we are too stupid and childish to govern ourselves.

The cry of the baby boomers: ‘You can’t do anything without us! But why aren’t you trying anyway?’ Maybe it’s because, however stupid and childish we may be, we have at least learnt the futility of bashing our heads against brick walls.

*To my left-wing friends and acquaintances: Obviously I consider you exceptions to these unfriendly stereotypes, as I know you possess genuinely-held beliefs about the betterment of mankind and none of you have ever implied that I was stupid, ill-informed, suggestible, etc. for disagreeing with your desired methods of achieving this laudable aim.

**Consider the following symbolic logic: New Labour = Thatcherites (i.e. Old Tories); New Tories = New Labour; ergo New Tories = Thatcherites (i.e. Old Tories) and it becomes perfectly clear why the ‘fringes’ are screaming ZOMG THEY ARE ALL THE SAME!

***To my baby-boomer friends, acquaintances, and parents: Obviously I consider you exceptions to this unfriendly stereotype, as none of you are in positions of actual power and you all seem to be as frustrated with your generational compatriots as I am.

Jan 162010
 

NB: The un-updated version of this post was reproduced in its entirety on Infowars. Without permission, I might add, and without linking here. Since they have not bothered with this common courtesy, I must ask you all to believe the conspiracy theory that THEY SUCK. And, ha, in light of the contents of this post, I must disclaim that I have anything to do with Alex Jones, his website, or his political views. That is all./NB

Thanks to the author of the Bleeding Heart Show, I have got my hands on a copy of Sunstein’s white paper entitled Conspiracy Theories (2008). I’d like to draw your attention to some interesting features.

According to the introduction of the paper, polls suggest that roughly one-third of Americans subscribe to a ‘conspiracy theory’ about the September 11th attacks in NYC, whether it be that the government knew about it in advance, conspired in it themselves, or covered up Israeli involvement. In most illuminating fashion, the paper then states:

When civil rights and civil liberties are absent, people lack multiple information sources, and they are more likely to accept conspiracy theories.

And in the footnote:

we assume that low civil liberties tend to produce terrorism, a hypothesis that is supported by the mechanisms we adduce.

These are both impeccable reasons for ensuring that the government does absolutely nothing to curtail domestic civil liberties. Unfortunately, the US and the UK have adopted the opposite strategy. Do I begin to hope that Cass Sunstein will be able to sway the Obama administration away from the apparently disastrous policy of restricting civil liberties in response to terrorism?

Carrying on, we find a definition of conspiracy theories for the purposes of the paper:

We bracket the most difficult questions here and suggest more intuitively that a conspiracy theory can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role. This account seems to capture the essence of the most prominent and influential conspiracy theories.

Hmm. Except that sometimes powerful people do plot and plan whilst concealing their role in events. In fact, this sort of behaviour by powerful people is not at all rare; we have special government departments for doing just that abroad. It would be enchantingly naive to think such machinations did not also take place, at least a little bit, at home.

Sunstein’s good, though; he identifies this problem:

Of course some conspiracy theories, under our definition, have turned out to be true. The Watergate hotel room used by Democratic National Committee was, in fact, bugged by Republican officials, operating at the behest of the White House. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency did, in fact, administer LSD and related drugs under Project MKULTRA, in an effort to investigate the possibility of “mind control.” Operation Northwoods, a rumored plan by the Department of Defense to simulate acts of terrorism and to blame them on Cuba, really was proposed by high-level officials (though the plan never went into effect).

But wait!

Our focus throughout is on false conspiracy theories, not true ones. Our ultimate goal is to explore how public officials might undermine such theories, and as a general rule, true accounts should not be undermined.

But… but… how does a person not in possession of an unelected, unaccountable high-government job know the difference? How does the average American twerp distinguish between false theories that public officials rightly undermine, and true theories that public officials undermine in the name of security? After all, public officials have been known to do just that. How do we know whether a public official is telling us the truth or lying to us? Perhaps Sunstein will tell us…

He sort of does, in fact, when he discusses the distinction between justified and unjustified false belief. For example:

…the false belief in Santa Claus is justified, because children generally have good reason to believe what their parents tell them and follow a sensible heuristic (“if my parents say it, it is probably true”)…

I posit that the belief (true or false) that politicians lie to the electorate is also a ‘sensible heuristic.’ It has been known to happen rather more often than is comfortable to the electorate. Politicians wishing to disseminate true information to dispel conspiracy theories are caught in a trap of their own devising: they are the Boy Who Cried Wolf. People would be far more willing to trust the establishment if the establishment were more trustworthy, and if its members were not caught lying, misrepresenting, prevaricating, and peculating so depressingly often.

Sunstein goes on:

A broader point is that conspiracy theories overestimate the competence and discretion of officials and bureaucracies, who are assumed to be able to make and carry out sophisticated secret plans, despite abundant evidence that in open societies government action does not usually remain secret for very long. Recall that a distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is that they attribute immense power to the agents of the conspiracy; the attribution is usually implausible but also makes the theories especially vulnerable to challenge. Consider all the work that must be done to hide and to cover up the government’s role in producing a terrorist attack on its own territory, or in arranging to kill political opponents. In a closed society, secrets are not difficult to keep, and distrust of official accounts makes a great deal of sense. In such societies, conspiracy theories are both more likely to be true and harder to show to be false in light of available information. But when the press is free, and when checks and balances are in force, government cannot easily keep its conspiracies hidden for long.

I quite agree with this piece of analysis; nevertheless it appears to break a fundamental precept of logical argument: namely, it begs the question. Where is the proof that America is a free society? Its conspiracy theories are false. How we do know its conspiracy theories are false? Because it is a free society. Minus 10, Mr Sunstein; see me after class.

He goes on:

This is not, and is not be intended to be, a general claim that conspiracy theories are unjustified or unwarranted. Much depends on the background state of knowledge- producing institutions. If those institutions are generally trustworthy, in part because they are embedded in an open society with a well-functioning marketplace of ideas and free flow of information, then conspiracy theories will generally (which is not to say always) be unjustified.

Let us use Sunstein’s own reasoning. I put it to you that the widespread prevalence of true conspiracy theories, as mentioned above, mean that the knowledge-producing institutions of the US are NOT trustworthy and that there is NOT a free flow of information in American society. Ergo even the false conspiracy theories are justified.

On our account, a defining feature of conspiracy theories is that they are extremely resistant to correction, certainly through direct denials or counterspeech by government officials.

Yes, because of the aforementioned ‘sensible heuristic’ that, on the balance of probability, government officials are liars. When you do not trust the messenger, you do not believe the message.

…the self- sealing quality of conspiracy theories creates serious practical problems for government; direct attempts to dispel the theory can usually be folded into the theory itself, as just one more ploy by powerful machinators to cover their tracks. A denial may, for example, be taken as a confirmation.

Quite.

Okay, look. I have made an effort in good faith to read this paper and give Sunstein a fairer hearing, but stuff like this:

Perhaps conspiracy theories are a product of mental illness, such as paranoia or narcissism. And indeed, there can be no doubt that some people who accept conspiracy theories are mentally ill and subject to delusions. But we have seen that in many communities and even nations, such theories are widely held. It is not plausible to suggest that all or most members of those communities are afflicted by mental illness. The most important conspiracy theories are hardly limited to those who suffer from any kind of pathology.

is beyond the pale. I don’t care that he dismisses the ‘individual pathology’ claim; he’s still making a major mistake.

That mistake is to lay the responsibility for false beliefs and conspiracy theories entirely on the shoulders of those who hold them, and absolve the establishment of any responsibility for the phenomena. Indeed, for Sunstein, conspiracy theories are a problem which government officials must solve, seeking out ways to promote the right sources of information and improve people’s ‘crippled’ epistemologies.

And isn’t that always how it is for people like this? The Herd have a pathology! Government must fix!

Until people like Sunstein realise that it takes two to tango, they’re never going to reach their solution, whether it be through nudging, taxes, prohibitions, bans, thought crimes or any other ridiculous measure that fails to take into account that public officials are part of the problem. So, the government wants people to believe the information it gives them, to trust them, to feel that society is open and transparent free? Public officials, I’ve got your solution right here:

STOP LYING TO US.

UPDATE: I am not alone in my suspicion. Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com says virtually the same thing:

It’s certainly true that one can easily find irrational conspiracy theories in those venues, but some of the most destructive “false conspiracy theories” have emanated from the very entity Sunstein wants to endow with covert propaganda power: namely, the U.S. Government itself, along with its elite media defenders. Moreover, “crazy conspiracy theorist” has long been the favorite epithet of those same parties to discredit people trying to expose elite wrongdoing and corruption.

It is this history of government deceit and wrongdoing that renders Sunstein’s desire to use covert propaganda to “undermine” anti-government speech so repugnant. The reason conspiracy theories resonate so much is precisely that people have learned — rationally — to distrust government actions and statements. Sunstein’s proposed covert propaganda scheme is a perfect illustration of why that is. In other words, people don’t trust the Government and “conspiracy theories” are so pervasive precisely because government is typically filled with people like Cass Sunstein, who think that systematic deceit and government-sponsored manipulation are justified by their own Goodness and Superior Wisdom.

In my own reading of Sunstein’s 2008 paper, my head asploded before I got to the part where he proposed that government insert covert information-disseminators into ‘extremist’ (i.e. anyone who believes what he labels a conspiracy theory) groups and that government pay so-called ‘independent’ experts to bolster its informational claims. And yet here it is, straight from the horse’s pencil:

What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5).

Government counterspeech, government financial solicitation of support – ‘cognitive infiltration’ of groups of anybody who hold what the government deems a false, dangerous, and unjustified view.

But fear not, brave readers!

Throughout, we assume a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate conspiracy theories, or draw their poison, if and only if social welfare is improved by doing so.

Oh. That’s perfectly all right, then. No badly-motivated government that aims to suppress views if and only if their power is thereby entrenched would ever use these same fucking strategies.

Honestly, how sinister can Sunstein get? Is it not enough that he holds an unelected and unaccountable position of almost unimaginable power and is also tipped as a potential Obama Supreme Court nominee? Does he really have to advocate this kind of government thought-control, however benign he might think his methods and however justified (‘THE GREATER GOOOOOOOD’) he might think his reasons?

Why can’t people like Sunstein just leave us the fuck alone?

Jan 152010
 

A thoughtful post from Megan McArdle, in which she ponders Paul Krugman’s assertion that Paris, Frankfurt, and London don’t look poor (which, to be fair, in places they don’t):

But the standard of living in any given profession is much lower. Preserving London’s dazzling antique architecture has meant that most of the people I knew had much longer and more expensive commutes than their American counterparts would. They lived in smaller quarters that were hotter in summer and colder in winter. At any given professional level, you found British people doing things that only much poorer Americans would do, like bringing lunch, hanging their clothes to dry, or going without cable (though the Americans I knew said the cable wasn’t worth it anyway). People in Britain are not poor. But they have a noticeably lower standard of living than Americans do. If they were doing it in 1960’s vintage apartment buildings and tract homes, it would be quite obvious. When I lived there, I literally could not afford to eat meat regularly or take the tube to work, and as a consequence wore holes in my shoes. (In fairness, I was being paid in dollars and the exchange rate was awful–but I wasn’t the only one walking to save money.)

I don’t want to sound as if I’m saying Britain’s a terrible place–it’s lovely, and I miss it. But the amount that people are able to consume is much less than the amount Americans are able to consume, and many of the things they forego make real difference in things like personal comfort.

Leaving aside cable television (I also hear it’s not worth the money) and hanging the clothes to dry (most London flats are probably too small to contain a tumble dryer), on some levels I agree with McArdle, that Americans have in general more personal comfort than the average Londoner. Owning and operating a car is cheaper and more convenient in the US; utilities are cheaper, as are their installation; commutes are shorter for those living in cities with comparable public transport to London; houses and flats are generally cheaper; etc. And that’s only comparing cities to cities. Americans in the suburbs and out in the country pay even less for all of that stuff, and they have roomy houses with all mod cons and big lawns for children to play on.

But this is not to say that living in the US is idyllic. Even though the standard of living I’ve experienced in Britain is a bit lower than how it was in the US, there are certain trade-offs that mean I enjoy living here much more.

The rail network, though many Britons complain about it, is infinitely superior to what exists in the US. For my occasional journeys, I have no trouble getting where I want to go, and most of the time I get to do that travelling in a seat with a nice book. When I was commuting by train, I had the leisure of catching up on my marking with a cup of coffee, something I would never have been able to do if driving. I must also commend the London bus system and the Oyster Card.

High Streets (and their equivalents) are excellent, too. Being able to walk to the bank, the grocery store, the post office, and the corner shop is the height of convenience. I have never been able to do that anywhere I lived in the US; even when I lived in a small university town with a respectable sort of high street, the grocery store was miles away. Pubs, too, are fantastic. Most Americans have no access to anything like a pub; certainly few of them live within walking distance of a drinking establishment. Most of them have to drive if they want to go out for a drink; and in many states, if you want to drink at home, you have to purchase your booze at a state booze-purchasing place. Pennsylvania was particularly bad for this: beer could only be purchased in cases of 24 at the state beer store, and wine and spirits could only be purchased at the (separate, and sometimes all the way across town) state wine and spirits store.

Living spaces are smaller in Britain, of course, but this is not generally a problem for the childless, at least. And if few of your clothes can be put in the tumble dryer anyway, as is the case with mine, you really don’t notice the absence of the dryer.

I’m well aware that many people in London are far less well off than I am (when I’m working), and may have a very different perspective from mine, but quite often I also consider this: without the need for a car, or car insurance, or car payments, or gasoline, or health insurance payments, I already have more disposable income living in Britain. And when I consider as well that I actually pay a smaller proportion of my income in direct taxes here, then those small reductions in standard of living matter a great deal less.

Jan 122010
 

DISCLAIMER: I have not seen Avatar.

DISCLAIMER 2: I mean no disrespect to those who truly suffer from depression or other mental illness.

More from CNN, this time on the curious phenomenon some viewers of James Cameron’s Avatar have experienced: namely, obsessive depression.

James Cameron’s completely immersive spectacle “Avatar” may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.

A user named Mike wrote on the fan Web site “Naviblue” that he contemplated suicide after seeing the movie.

“Ever since I went to see ‘Avatar’ I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na’vi made me want to be one of them. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it,” Mike posted. “I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in ‘Avatar.’ ” [You mean, like, heaven? There’s an app for that. – Ed.]

WTF? That’s really creepy. The only film I’ve ever been remotely obsessed with was Interview with the Vampire – when I was thirteen, brimming with emo angst, and enthralled with the idea of, y’know, being immortal and witnessing multiple eras of human history. As in, the complete opposite of poor Mike.

This sort of reaction to a film, however awe-inspiring it might be, is not normal. That there are numerous people who share this guy’s feelings of futility and longing for the non-existent is even more worrying. Symptomatic of our ‘broken society’ – or just a sign that humans have a lot of leisure these days?

Within the fan community, suggestions for battling feelings of depression after seeing the movie include things like playing “Avatar” video games or downloading the movie soundtrack, in addition to encouraging members to relate to other people outside the virtual realm and to seek out positive and constructive activities.

‘Encouraging members to relate to other people outside the virtual realm.’ Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty good idea.

I wonder if there isn’t an element of extra-instinctive self-loathing involved in this phenomenon. There are lots of people who find the human race in general and many of its achievements despicable. Maybe the same people are the ones who find themselves so seduced by Cameron’s facile utopia that they stop being able to cope with reality. After all, if you hate your species (and, by association, yourself), you’d probably find a world entirely lacking in human influence pretty appealing. Never mind that the idea of nasty, war-mongering, nature-destroying aliens is equally as probable as pure, peaceful, nature-loving aliens.

But then, if these people had any remaining faculty for distinguishing between the probable vs. the improbable vs. the reality, they wouldn’t be depressed because they don’t live in a world of cat-people aliens that James Cameron made up in his own derivative, lamesauce head.

P.S. Am I the only one who finds the picture used to illustrate that article disturbing? All of the people have glowing demon-eyes and the livid complexion of cadavers. I sort of expect their mouths to be forming the word ‘BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINS…’

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.’