Wednesday, 6 November 2019

A Christmas Carol (2019)

The BBC's yearly Christmas carol composing competition has just closed to entries, so it's time for me to release the score of my offering for this year. The words were provided by Imtiaz Dharker.









Sunday, 20 October 2019

Ik sta achter de boeren

Recently, Dutch farmers have – rightly – started protesting against demands of “their” government that they cull their herds of cattle and pigs in order to comply with some idiot EU/UN rule about limiting emissions of ammonia and nitrogen oxides.

Now, isn’t government supposed to be for the benefit of the governed? All the governed? So, what benefit is there to ordinary Dutch people from these limits? None at all, I’d say. Where is the science which, objectively and without political bias, quantifies the bad (or good) effects of these emissions? And what is the loss to ordinary Dutch people (and the rest of us) if their supposedly “liberal” government is allowed to pursue these policies? Biefstuk, ossehaas, spek… I don’t need to go on.

Let’s fast backward to 1984, and Margaret Thatcher’s campaign against the UK coal miners. At the time, I confess, I was so na├»ve that I supported Thatcher. I did so because the miners’ union had gone beyond reasonable bounds of behaviour; and because the trade unions had run the country for most of the previous 20 years, and I was sick of it.

Just two week-ends ago, I played the tuba in my brass band in four performances of “Brassed Off.” (The stage version of a UK film set in a mining community in 1994, in the aftermath of Thatcher’s purges.) Our performances were a great success, and we, cast and band, enjoyed a standing ovation from 300+ people on the Saturday evening – only the third time I have ever experienced that.

And there’s a speech, given by the main character (Danny Ormondroyd) at the end of the play. I’ll quote two excerpts:

“Over last ten years, this government has systematically destroyed an entire industry, our industry. Communities. Homes. Lives. All in the name of progress and a few lousy bob…

“Point is, if this lot were bloody seals, or bloody whales or summat, you’d be up in bloody arms – but they’re not. They’re just men. Honest, decent, fallible men and women. And not one on ‘em with an ounce of hope left. Oh ay, they can knock out a good tune, but what the fuck does that matter? Unless they matter. Unless we matter.”

I’ll adapt Danny’s speech to where we are today. Actually, apart from replacing “progress” by “sustainability,” I don’t need to change anything but the first sentence. The second excerpt is spot on, even today. Whoever wrote it deserves a Knobble Prize for Witterature. So, here’s my opener:

“Over last thirty years and more, political governments, and the EU and the UN, have actively sought to destroy our industries and our civilization.”

Back to my Dutch farmer friends. Like the French gilets jaunes, they are under assault by the corrupt criminal gangs endemic in politics today, and they don’t like it. As yet, unfortunately, like the gilets jaunes they don’t seem to have any real idea of what they want. I have a hint for them: what they should want is for people to matter. You matter; I matter; we matter. Op mij; op ons; op jullie.

I lived in Holland for three years, 40 years ago. While my Dutch may be remedial these days, I have enjoyed the company of many fine Dutch people. And I stand with the Dutch farmers in their struggle against those that would destroy our civilization. Ik sta achter de boeren.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

On How to Pay for Convivial Governance

This is the last of four essays which, taken together, outline my proposed system of minimal governance, called convivial governance. Today, it’s time to ask the thorny question: how should all this be paid for? Again, while I aim to make the general principles of how convivial governance should be paid for as clear as I can, the details may end up being very different from what I have envisaged.

Payment for protection

How to pay for government has been an issue for centuries. John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Government, wrote: “It is true governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit everyone who enjoys his share of the protection should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it.”

From which, I deduce two things about Locke’s view on this matter. First, an individual’s payment must be his proportion of the total. Second, it must come out of his estate. That is, from his wealth, not from his income, or from a cut on transactions he makes. What I think Locke is saying is that an individual’s payment for the “protection” functions of government should be in direct proportion to his wealth. That is similar to what happens with home buildings insurance, where (assuming the risk is constant) the price is in proportion to the amount insured for. And it seems very reasonable indeed, to me at least.

So, the amount each individual must pay each year for the “protection” elements of convivial governance ought to be a (small) percentage of the individual’s total wealth. Once this is achieved, to support these functions there will be no need for any taxes on income, or on transactions, or on anything else.

The services of convivial governance

Referring back to my previous essay, the services provided by convivial governance will be as follows:

At the neighbourhood level (NCG): A small set of functions concerned with neighbourhood matters, migration and representation at the community level.

At the community level (CCG): Military defence. First responders, including police. Setting of local rules as needed. Co-ordination of the provision of infrastructure. Maintenance of the local publicly accessible infrastructure, notably roads. And quality control. Of these, the first two come under the heading of protection, as might quality control too.

At the non-local level (SCG): Detective work on criminal cases. A justice and arbitration system, covering (at least) restitution for wrongs, punishment for crimes, and contract disputes. Together, of course, with its back-ups, such as prisons. Diplomacy, as required. And quality control. Of these, detectives and criminal justice come under the heading of protection. Diplomacy and quality control, too, might reasonably be included under that heading.

Payments for convivial governance

So, here are the various payments, which individuals or households might be expected to make each year, in order to support convivial governance.

First and foremost, payments to the CCG and SCG for those of their functions which come under the heading of protection. In a perfect world, these amounts should be in proportion to the total wealth of the individual or household being protected. Unfortunately, it’s hard to assess a person’s wealth accurately, without knowing so much about them that their privacy becomes compromised. So, at the start, I expect the system might work like home contents insurance, with the payer declaring how much wealth they want to insure, and a “cap” in proportion being placed on the level of protection. But for the longer term, I think there may be a better solution, which I’ll come to a little later.

Second, a payment for the NCG. This, I would expect, would be a small payment per head, just like a personal subscription to any other society.

Third, payments for infrastructure. It is only fair that the costs of infrastructure development and maintenance should be borne by the users of that infrastructure, in proportion to their use of it. For new infrastructure, this can be achieved through pay-as-you-go fees, such as tolls. These fees should include an allowance for the CCG’s work on co-ordinating the development.

As to maintenance, the only payments to convivial governance will be to the CCG for maintenance of local infrastructure in the public space, such as roads and parks. How this should best be paid for will vary from place to place and from asset to asset. In the particular case of roads, it might be achieved reasonably fairly by a small levy (far smaller than today’s fuel taxes!) on fuel sold in the CCG. For other types of infrastructure, the simplest and easiest option may be to include this, and the local rules function, along with the protection payments.

Fourth and last, civil courts would operate much as they do today, with court fees being paid by the loser of each case.

Some numbers – the current system

So, it’s time to start chucking around some ball-park numbers. I’ve been looking at figures for the UK, which ought to be fairly representative among Western countries.

According to Wikipedia, in 2017 the UK government spent about £34 billion on police and the criminal justice system combined, and £46 billion on the military. This is £80 billion out of a total spend of £772 billion, or just over 10% of total government spend. At the then UK population of 66 million, this amounts to £1,210 per head, or £2,900 per household.

The total government spend was £11,700 per head, or just over £28,000 per household. To put that in context, the government spend per household was almost exactly equal to the average worker’s gross pay in that year.

Of the 90% of government spend which did not go on police, military or criminal justice, part is accounted for by infrastructure development. This looks like around £50 billion, or 6.5% of total spend. Under convivial governance, this would be paid for by user fees for the new infrastructure.

Then there are things like welfare and pensions (looks like £270 billion, 35%), health care (£145 billion, 19%) and education (£102 billion, 13%). These, while vital, should never have been allowed to become politicized. In convivial governance, they would be provided by private actors operating in the free market, satisfying the needs and desires of individuals who know their own priorities and know what they need.

The rest of the spend looks to be things like vote-buying schemes, and subsidies to cronies. However, from a different source, I managed to find a figure of £4 billion for road maintenance in that year; a piffling 0.5% of total spend.

Some numbers – convivial governance

Let’s contrast this with how much convivial governance would cost us, shall we? The protection payments to CCG and SCG combined would be about £2,900 per household per year. The NCG annual subscription would be small, probably not much more than £25 per person. The road maintenance charge to the CCG would be of the order of £60 per year per person or (given that there are about 47 vehicles – cars and larger – in the UK per 100 people) £130 per vehicle. We’d also have to pay some tolls when using new infrastructure; add another £250 or so per year for that. Add it all up, put on an extra 15% for contingency, and you get £3,800 or so per year. Per household, not per person. And that’s it!

And that’s it. The rest of our earnings, we can use to buy the things we want, from the people we like to deal with. We can keep our money away from those we don’t like, and those that have treated us badly. For example: politicians, bureaucrats, psychopaths, crony “capitalists” and other rip-off merchants, bullies, killjoys, guilt-trippers, snoopers, bossy busybodies, meddlers, enviers, wasters, thieves, dirty-tricksters, troublemakers, obstructers, stop-the-worlders, peddlers of lies, bullshitters, the dishonest, assholes in general, and anyone that has or ever has had a political agenda. To hell with the damned lot of them. We, the good people of the world, will be able to live our own lives at last!

Demurrage

I mentioned above that there might be a better solution for collecting protection payments. In fact, for collecting any payment whose size should be in proportion to the total wealth of the payer. But it could only work in an ACG (Area of Convivial Governance – in concept, a group of allied CCGs) which is sufficiently large to have its own currency.

This solution is called demurrage. This word has several senses, but the one I mean here is a controlled, predictable inflation of the currency. With the proceeds being passed to CCGs and their SCGs, in proportion to the population of each CCG. This would spread the burden fairly, by in effect taxing fixed assets in the ACG, and other assets denominated in the ACG’s currency, at a rate in direct proportion to their value. It would also eliminate tax bureaucracy!

I envisage this demurrage would probably be done each month, to supply the month’s budget to each CCG and its SCG. And because these are non-profit organizations, any surplus remaining at the end of the month would be fed back to the people in the CCG, in the form of a per capita bonus.

More numbers

Now, let’s look at some numbers again. At 2017 prices, we need to raise £80 billion a year for protection services in a UK sized ACG. Add 15% for contingency, giving £92 billion. Now, the UK GDP (nominal) that year was £2.04 trillion, so the amount we need for the year is 4.5% of GDP. (In contrast to what the UK government actually took in 2017, which was 38% of GDP).

At the historical average wealth to GDP ratio, about 3.5, that would be 1.3% of total UK wealth. Though that ratio is currently higher than 3.5, meaning the demurrage required to cover all protection services is less than 1.3% per year. If we decided to go the whole way, and use demurrage to cover all activities of convivial governance – so no-one would ever have to pay any kind of “taxes” at all – then the inflation needed would still be less than 1.5% per year.

In wartime, there might be additional levies, or a higher demurrage, for an expanded militia. But once we have got rid of the last political states, there will be no rationale for anyone to try to make a war. For, with all individuals on the look-out for real wrongdoings, anyone planning a war would find it hard to avoid detection for long. And under convivial governance and its ideal of common sense justice, anyone seeking to start a war would be extremely harshly punished. So, once the last state has gone, we will be able to reduce, and eventually abolish, all militaries. Along, of course, with the costs that go with them.

A post-script

I won’t try to sum up this essay, or its three predecessors. Instead, I’ll offer a little ditty, to give an idea of what life might be like under convivial governance. It is modelled after the playground song “No more Latin, no more French.”

In a few years, how will things be,
When England is an ACG?

No more taxes, no more wars,
No more scheming behind closed doors.
No more lies or propaganda,
No more “justice” without candour.

No more politician prats,
No more bossy bureaucrats.
No more weasel words from moanies,
No more cushy jobs for cronies.

No more marxists, no more greens,
We all know that they’re has-beens.
No more fascists, no more tories,
We don’t listen to their stories.

No more barriers in the way
Of those who want to earn good pay.
No more taking of earned wealth,
Whether obvious or by stealth.

No more cameras all about,
Spying on us to catch us out.
No more tracking of our bytes,
No more trampling on our rights.

No more stops without good cause,
No more bad, politicized laws.
When England is an ACG,
Then all its people will be free.

Friday, 4 October 2019

On the Institutions of Convivial Governance

This is the third of four essays outlining my system of minimal governance, which I call convivial governance. Today, I’m going to take a look at some of the institutions, which I think are likely to make up convivial governance.

This essay will be far more speculative than my norm. This is because what I am describing will be a bottom-up system, growing organically and adapting, as all organisms do. I believe that I have correctly diagnosed many of the reasons for the failure of current political systems, which is leading to the need for this new approach. So, it’s likely that I will be along the right lines in many of my suggestions; but the details may turn out to be very different.

The structure of convivial governance

Convivial governance will be a bottom-up system. It will focus on the individual, and on small communities of people. It will be networked; closer in concept and structure to the Internet than to a top-down hierarchy. Thus, convivial governance will be organized to serve a network of individuals and small communities.

I foresee, most likely, just two levels of community. One, sufficiently small that those in the community can know each other personally. The other, sufficiently large to be viable as an economic unit in a free market; but not significantly larger. Only when absolutely necessary will these communities make alliances on a larger scale.

The functions of convivial governance

For completeness, I’ll repeat the list of the six valid functions of convivial governance, which I identified earlier.

First comes the maintenance of peace, corresponding roughly to military defence in existing political systems. Second, the provision of objective, common sense justice to every individual; equivalent to a justice and arbitration system, both civil and criminal. Third, the defence of the rights of those who respect others’ rights. The nearest equivalent today would be an honest and non-politicized police force. These three are the core functions of convivial governance.

Three further functions are needed to support this core. Fourth, co-ordinating provision and maintenance of infrastructure in the public space – that is, in places freely accessible to all – as necessary. (But not supplying it; that’s a matter for private industry). Fifth, maintaining good relations with other communities. And last, quality control on all the functions of convivial governance.

Local and distributed services

Some of the functions of convivial governance are, at their roots, local. Part, at least, of each of these services must be delivered in the immediate vicinity of those who need them. Others can, and indeed should, be supplied over a wider area than simply a single small community. Thus, convivial governance will deliver two types of service; the local and the distributed.

This will lead to two main kinds of institution within convivial governance. The first will be local, at either the neighbourhood or community level. The second will be distributed, supplying its services to the governance market in general, potentially across many different communities.

Pools

The human resources, which the institutions of convivial governance require from time to time in order to do their work, will be taken from what I call “pools.” The members of such pools are individuals and groups of suitably skilled people, for example arbitrators, quality auditors or detectives, who can be called upon as needed.

These will be business people, who offer services valuable to governance in return for payment. Some will be one-person independents. Others will band together into, generally small, companies; likely using a partnership model. They will not need to be local to the communities they serve. And many of them will also do business with other customers beyond governance.

The Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG)

Now, to the institutions of convivial governance at the local level.

I expect there will be two levels of local community. The first, which I call the Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG), will be small enough that everyone in it can know everyone else. I would envisage its size, perhaps, as between the maximum size of a group who can function as a unit (generally regarded as 150 or so), and the number of people the average individual can know and interact with at any one time (perhaps 250 to 300). But there will be no hard limits.

While an NCG will broadly coincide with the people who reside in a small geographical area, the link need not be exact. Some in the area may choose to belong to a different NCG. And some, particularly before full roll-out of convivial governance, will not be part of an NCG at all.

The main functions of the NCG I expect to be as follows. One, to assess proposed changes to the character of the area. Two, to assess the suitability of potential incoming migrants. Three, to represent the people of the NCG in the next higher level of community, the CCG.

I imagine that the people of an NCG would meet regularly to discuss matters affecting them. Thus, they would make communal decisions by a form of “direct democracy.” The NCG as an institution would probably be a society of the normal kind, staffed by volunteers.

The Community of Convivial Governance (CCG)

At the second level is what I call the Community of Convivial Governance (CCG). This aims to be a unit large enough to be economically viable in a free market. (This is not the same thing as being self-sufficient without outside trade; that would require a far larger unit.) I would expect its size to be something like 22,500 to 90,000 people, the squares of the likely NCG size range.

I would expect the CCG, as an institution, to be a non-profit company, and to perform the following functions. One, to organize those functions of convivial governance which must be delivered at the local level, such as local military defence, and first response to incidents. Two, to make “local rules” which are appropriate to the area. Three, to maintain the local infrastructure. And four, to select those who will represent the CCG in any alliances or negotiations with other CCGs which might be necessary. Perhaps through a ballot of all those in NCGs in the CCG, or perhaps through a “town meeting” of representatives from the NCGs.

A brief clarification about local rules. These are sane, sensible, non-politicized conventions for the benefit of all users of the public space in the local area. For example, rules of priority for traffic junctions. But local rules must be kept to a minimum. They must be clearly publicized and signed, and should not vary unreasonably between neighbouring locations.

A CCG will also require a quality control operation, to vet its suppliers and audit its own processes. Most of the people, who actually perform these exercises, are likely to be sourced from a pool of independent quality auditors.

As with NCGs, the correspondence between CCGs and people in a geographical area will not be exact. Particularly near the edges, people may belong to different CCGs. But I envisage that an NCG will belong at any one time to one, and only one, CCG.

Friendly secession and friendly union

I expect that at any time, subject to reasonable notice, NCGs and CCGs will be able to split or join as they see fit. In a friendly secession, an NCG might leave a CCG, and either join another CCG, or form a new “friendly union” CCG with other neighbour or near-neighbour NCGs. In an extreme case, where they are dissatisfied with the performance of a CCG, the representatives of the NCGs can agree to dissolve it and form a new CCG to succeed it.

Similarly, CCGs can agree to split – for example, if their population has grown sufficiently that two or more parts can be independently viable. Or they can agree to join, for example if the population has declined to the point where the CCG is no longer viable as an economic unit.

Similar things may happen at the lower level, too. Individual households can leave an NCG and join another, or choose to join together to form a new NCG. All this will result in the match between neighbourhoods, communities and geographical areas becoming less exact with time. However, it will provide a vital (and peaceful) safety valve for those who at any time are unhappy with the set-up they are currently living in.

The Society for Convivial Governance (SCG)

An SCG is a non-profit company, whose remit is to provide those functions of convivial governance which can be managed and delivered from outside any particular CCG. The SCG is the nearest equivalent in convivial governance to a government today. It is a project management and contracting organization, using externally sourced skills, such as detectives, judges and diplomats, to do the work. It will operate in a free market.

At any time, an SCG will govern one or more CCGs. A CCG will be able to switch SCGs at need, subject to reasonable notice. In the future, individual NCGs, and eventually even individual households, will be able to select which SCG they prefer. Just as people today can pick their preferred supplier for their home contents insurance.

It is important to note that SCGs do not have to be territorial. In that sense, they are like insurance companies, not like political states.

Functions and scopes

At this point, I will classify the functions of convivial governance into the two kinds or scopes I identified above: local and distributed.

Since its primary function is to defend a local area and the people in it, a Militia for Convivial Governance (MCG) will be organized at the local CCG level. Most of its members will live in the CCG. In a war or potential war situation, CCGs will ally and pool their militias as may be necessary. In a war situation, MCGs may be significantly expanded, though I would expect them to remain voluntary.

The First Responders for Convivial Governance (FRCG) – first-contact police, firemen, paramedics and the like – also must provide quick response in a local area. Thus they, too, will be organized at the CCG level.

The detective function of police, on the other hand, does not have to be performed by people from where the incident took place. I envisage that the SCG will manage this function, by contracting the services of individual detectives and teams of detectives as needed.

The justice system, too, will be primarily distributed; in the same way as, in times gone by, judges used to travel from assize to assize. I envisage that the SCG will contract individual judges or arbitrators, or teams of such individuals, as tasks suitable for them come up. However, the CCG will also be involved, providing suitable accommodation for the court, and probably local court officials such as ushers. Prisons could be managed in a similar way, using a pool of prison service providers.

I envisage that the “diplomats,” who maintain relations between an CCG and other CCGs and (for a time) legacy political states, would also be independents. They would be contracted in the same way as judges, but would be required to have their main residence in the CCG. I expect that many of these diplomats would be only part time in that role; their main business would be using their knowledge of different cultures to advise people wishing to trade with those cultures.

The co-ordination of infrastructure development is a CCG level function, to be negotiated by representatives from each of the CCGs involved. As this might involve CCGs which are governed by different SCGs, or even (for a time) representatives from legacy political states or sub-states, the diplomats would need to be included in the process.

Lastly, I envisage there would be a quality control department within the SCG. Like the corresponding function in a CCG, it would vet suppliers and audit the SCG’s performance.

Any group of people may also crowd-source an audit of their SCG, or CCG, or both. This can provide good reasons for, or against, a proposal for a change of SCG, or for friendly secession from a CCG.

The Area of Convivial Governance (ACG)

An Area of Convivial Governance (ACG) is an area in which convivial governance is in operation. It is little more than an area on the map.

In concept, the ACG as an institution consists of a number of allied CCGs. But in practice, I envisage that an ACG will not have any institutional existence at all; except, possibly, a financial function, which I’ll discuss in the last essay in this set.

I expect that, in time, many areas which are currently nation-states will become ACGs. But when areas on both sides of a former border have become ACGs, there should be little difference apart from cultural flavour and possibly some detailed justice procedures between the ACGs on the two sides. In this way, convivial governance will eventually expand world-wide.

To sum up

I have sketched in this essay an outline of how convivial governance might look in practice. I see the following main institutional components:

  1. The Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG), at the very local level, staffed by volunteers.
  2. The Community of Convivial Governance (CCG), a non-profit company at the level of the town or small city. It is at this level that services such as military defence and first responders (e.g. police) will be delivered.
  3. The Society for Convivial Governance (SCG), a non-profit company not tied to any one geographical location. It is at this level that services such as detectives and the justice system will be provided.
The portion of the world under convivial governance will form a number of Areas of Convivial Governance (ACGs). Individually, they will have little or no existence as institutions. But, in due time, they will expand the scope of convivial governance world-wide.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

On the Principles of Convivial Governance

This is the second in a set of four essays outlining my system of minimal governance, which I call convivial governance. Today, I’ll discuss the four fundamental principles, on which it is based: Equality (moral equality), Justice (common sense justice), Rights and Freedom. And I’ll introduce what I call the Convivial Code. That is, the core list of ethical principles, which constitute the rules of convivial conduct.

I’ll also describe the “agreement to vary,” which allows societies and individuals, by mutual agreement, to add to or to deviate from the Convivial Code in their dealings with each other. And I’ll ask: From where will convivial governance, and the Convivial Code which represents its ethical core, get their authority and their right to claim obedience?

Moral equality

The first of the fundamental principles of convivial governance is equality – moral equality. Every individual is morally equal. Or, as I’ve put it elsewhere: “What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa.”

The basis of my argument for moral equality is not unlike John Rawls’ “original position” thought experiment. If you were behind a veil of ignorance, not knowing into what social position you were going to be born, what kind of moral set-up would you prefer? One where everyone is morally equal, and may do the same things in the same circumstances as anyone else? Or one of moral inequality, in which a minority – of kings or princes, say – can do what they like, and ride roughshod over the wills and interests of everyone else? Few, I think, would pick the latter. For the likelihood of being born an oppressed commoner would grossly outweigh the minuscule chance of being born a prince.

And to those who still quibble over the moral equality principle, I say: Exactly who do you think is to be allowed moral privilege over others? How much? When? For what reasons? Who are you to decide? And why should you yourself not be thrown down to the very bottom of the heap?

The Convivial Code

From this principle of moral equality, it follows that there exists a moral code of what is right and wrong. And this is independent of time, place, culture or the social status of an individual.

To see this, try the following thought experiment. Take a large (large!) sheet of paper, and make two column headings: Act and Circumstance. Then write down pairs of acts and circumstances, in which the act is wrong for any human being to do under the circumstance, and should be prohibited. Any such prohibition must apply equally to all individuals. Continue until you have covered all such situations you can think of. Then take another sheet (rather smaller), and do the same for acts which are required. In other words, it’s wrong not to do the act under the circumstances. When finished, you have your moral code. The first sheet lists its prohibitions, the second its mandates.

I call this code of core ethical rules the Convivial Code. It is, in essence, the “law of the land” for convivial people; the Belgian philosopher Frank van Dun calls it the “laws of conviviality.”

The Convivial Code will also specify those conditions under which individuals may reasonably break the Code, and at what level they may do so. (For example, to use an appropriate level of physical violence in self-defence).

But… does this code actually contain anything?

Before anyone gets too excited, I’d point out that some thinkers have opined that such a code would be empty. Will Durant, for example, wrote to the effect that if you added up all the behaviours considered sacred by some culture, then subtracted all the behaviours considered taboo by some culture, you would end up with nothing.

But fortunately, we don’t need to get our core Convivial Code spot-on right. For using the idea of “agreement to vary,” societies can agree among their members, or individuals or societies can agree by mutual consent, to use additional or different rules above and beyond the core list, or to waive certain rules between themselves. So, we can simply put into our core list whatever we think is right for dealings between strangers, who might be from different cultures. We can then leave societies and individuals to agree to “do their own thing” if they feel they need to.

Constructing, agreeing and maintaining the code

The initial construction and agreement of the Convivial Code will, of course, be a mammoth undertaking. That demands a whole essay in itself. For now, all I’ll say is that we need to extract its essence from many different sources. From Confucius’ Golden Rule, for example. From the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – the only half decent thing the UN ever did. From the Judaeo-Christian Ten Commandments. From the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. And from many other sources of ethical wisdom from the sages of the ages.

Once done, there may from time to time be reasons to change the Code. I envisage this would be unusual, happening perhaps once in a generation. The procedure would need to be (deliberately) ponderous; probably requiring something on a similar scale to a Constitutional Convention. I call this, of course, a Convivial Convention. And “agreement to vary” would always allow people to keep on using an older version, if it suits them.

Thus, once the Convivial Code is in place, convivial governance will not have any need for a sitting (or even a standing!) legislature. This, I think, is a major step forward; for it gets rid of all opportunities to make screeds of bad laws, and all rationale for having political parties.

Moreover, the Convivial Code has no statute of limitations. As I said earlier, it is independent of time, place, culture or the social status of an individual. It applies to everyone, throughout their lives. And because human nature changes on a scale far slower than the length of an individual’s lifetime, it will apply also to actions in the past, before its promulgation.

Whence the Convivial Code?

Where does the Convivial Code come from? It arises out of the nature of human beings to be convivial; that is, to live together (and to live together as well as possible). Ultimately, it comes from our nature as human beings, as opposed to mere animals. I’ll repeat what I’ve said elsewhere on the subject of human nature:

“We human beings are individuals. And we have free will. But we have also an ethical dimension. We are moral agents, who strive to know right from wrong. And we are naturally good; that is, our nature leads us to seek to do what is right. Even though, obviously, some among us fail to develop that nature.

“Furthermore, it is in our nature to form societies and to build civilization. And at a higher level yet, it is in our nature to be creative. It is this creativity which elevates us above mere animals.”

Justice

The second of the fundamental principles, which underlie convivial governance, is justice. I earlier defined justice (common sense justice) as: “the condition in which each individual is treated, over the long run, in the round and as far as practicable, as he or she treats others.”

As with the principle of moral equality, I have a quasi-Rawlsian justification for this idea. Behind your veil of ignorance, what kind of justice would you pick? One where everyone is treated, as far as practicable, as they treat others? Or one where some are able to behave like assholes, and to get away with it on a regular basis? While others, who try always to behave peacefully and honestly, are exploited by the assholes, and punished for “bad” things they haven’t done? To me, it’s a no-brainer.

Moreover, a key benefit of this form of justice is that it gives an incentive to behave well towards others. If you want to be treated better by others, all you need do is find a way of treating others better, of making yourself more valuable to others. Thus, the implementation, within convivial governance, of common sense justice will lead towards order; Frank van Dun’s convivial order.

But any implementation of common sense justice must aim to be practical. The target in practice must be to minimize injustice, and to avoid gross or persistent treatment of individuals worse than they treat others. Thus, the courts, judges, arbitrators and support services, which implement justice as part of convivial governance, will not take decisions lightly. They will be required to be as objective as possible, as quantitative as possible, and as impartial and even-handed as possible. And they must be meticulous in their decisions and in their record-keeping.

I will have more to say in a later essay about the justice system within convivial governance. For now, I’ll just say that it will cover at least restitution for wrongs, compensation for unavoidable nuisance or risk, disconviviality (otherwise known as crime), resolution of disputes, and contracts. It will judge, where necessary, disputes between individuals or societies, such as claims for harm suffered. It will judge cases such as libel and divorce, as needed. And it will adjudicate disputes between societies and their members; such as where someone wants to leave a society, against the wishes of the committee or the membership. It will also route compensation payments – for example, for noise or air pollution, which cannot be cost-effectively abated – to those to whom the compensation is due.

It will include safeguards, such as “due process” in all cases, the presumption of innocence and a right to a public trial for criminal accusations. And where they are compatible with conviviality, it will continue to use the procedures of local systems of law.

Rights

One of the functions of convivial governance is to defend the rights – such as life (in the negative sense), security of person, property, privacy, and right to means of self-defence – of everyone who respects the equal rights of others. Rights are the “other side of the coin” to the prohibitions and mandates of the Convivial Code. I like to put this as follows: “Provided you behave as a convivial human being, you have the right to be treated as a convivial human being.”

One important point is that, in convivial governance, rights can sometimes be trumped by justice. For example, someone, that has behaved in a disconvivial way, can have some of their rights taken away for a time. This parallels the imprisonment of a convicted criminal under today’s systems. Or someone that has caused objective damage to others, can have some of their property taken away in order to provide compensation to the victim or victims.

But these situations apart, convivial governance must always adhere to one of the most fundamental of all ethical rules: “First, do no harm.” It must never violate anyone’s rights without a good and objective reason.

Freedom

Freedom is the fourth and last of the fundamental principles of convivial governance. Freedom of thought and action are the default for everyone at all times, unless there is good reason to the contrary under the circumstances. This includes freedom of movement, of peaceful association, of opinion, expression and communication, and of religion. I like to put this as: “Except where countermanded by the Convivial Code, by due process of justice or by the requirement to respect others’ rights, every individual is free to choose and to act as he or she wishes.”

One particularly important freedom under convivial governance is that those, who so wish, may form their own associations and communes in which to live. Thus, a group of people who share a particular lifestyle, or religious belief, or political ideology, can live together under their own set of rules, as long as they obey the Convivial Code in all their dealings with outsiders.

Agreement to vary

In convivial governance, a key idea is “agreement to vary” the provisions of the Convivial Code. Such agreements must be recorded in writing and signed by all the parties. They must, of course, be fair both to the parties and to everyone else, and they must be, in a real sense, “reasonable.”

Through such an agreement, societies can agree with their members, if they so wish, extra rules over and above the core in their dealings among themselves. An example might be a religious society, which demands that its members obey dietary restrictions, such as not eating pork or not drinking alcohol, which arise from tenets of the religion.

Another use of agreement to vary will be to waive certain provisions of the Convivial Code when needed. For example, aggressively punching people will be forbidden by the Convivial Code. But a boxing club will want to allow its members to punch each other, under certain rules, in training or in an actual fight. Indeed, it may want to contract with another boxing club to allow a specific member or members of one club to box against a specific member or members of the other.

Individuals and societies can also agree, by mutual consent, to waive certain provisions of the core rules, either for one transaction or on a more regular basis. For example, a sports club might waive the requirement to compensate for injuries caused while playing the sport, if the parties are willing to take the risk.

Whence the “authority” of convivial governance?

Lastly, the question of where the “authority” of convivial governance will come from. Why should people obey and support such governance?

Before I tackle that question, I’ll first ask, where does “authority” come from under current political systems? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get different answers. In the UK for example, it may come from the “sovereignty” of Silly Lizzie. A rich old woman, who lives in a castle, and has never done a day’s honest, productive work in her life. With a husband that wants to be re-incarnated as a pox to kill off humanity, and a son and heir that is not only a deep-green maniac, but a hypocrite too.

Or it may come from “democracy.” This is a system, under which people are allowed to vote to select from among a number of candidates, none of which are worth voting for. And the majority is supposed to get its way over the minority (or not, if the political class disagree; as over Brexit).

Or it may come from a “parliament” of psychopathic politicians, that care nothing for anyone except themselves and their followers and cronies; have no interest in anything except their damned politics and their own privileged positions in it; and couldn’t keep a promise even if they wanted to. Or it may come from a bunch of unelected, unaccountable, activist globalists and bureaucrats in places like Brussels or New York.

Given all that, maybe I don’t need to answer my original question. But I will, anyway. The authority of the Convivial Code comes from inside ourselves. It comes from human nature – from the nature of all peaceful, honest, productive human beings. And the authority of common sense justice, as implemented by convivial governance, comes from a deep sense of what is right and what is wrong, and from the objective, even-handed and meticulous nature of its processes.

To sum up

The first principle of convivial governance is moral equality; everyone is morally equal. From this flows the existence of a Convivial Code, a moral code of what is right and wrong, which is independent of time, place, culture or the social status of an individual. Moreover, individuals and societies, and societies and their members, can mutually agree to add to or to vary the conditions of the Convivial Code to fit their particular situations. And once constructed and agreed, the Code will abolish the need for any permanent legislature.

The second principle of convivial governance is justice. That is, common sense justice; the condition in which each individual is treated, over the long run, in the round and as far as practicable, as he or she treats others.

The third principle of convivial governance is defence of the rights of every individual who respects others’ equal rights. But rights can, at need, be trumped by justice; for example, to secure compensation to victims, or to forestall a repeat of a disconvivial act.

The fourth and last principle of convivial governance is maximum freedom for every individual. Except where countermanded by the Convivial Code, by due process of justice or by the requirement to respect others’ rights, every individual is free to choose and to act as he or she wishes.

Finally, the authority of the Convivial Code and of common sense justice comes from inside ourselves. It arises from our nature as human beings.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

On Convivial Governance

Over the last two years, I’ve written twenty-six essays on political and ethical philosophy, government, and the ills of the political system under which we suffer today. The first twelve covered the philosophy, with side trips into science and environmentalism. The second group of seven were mainly about economic matters; though I did also discuss property and borders. The third group of seven led towards my diagnosis of the problems we face.

I’m just about done with the diagnosis. So today, I’ll embark on my search for Cure.

This essay is the first of a set of four, in which I aim to outline a new system of minimal or, as some say, “minarchist” governance. I call this convivial governance. This system will be bottom-up and de-politicized. That is: First, it will focus on the individual, and on small communities. And second, it will not allow any political ideology or agenda to be imposed on any of the governed against their wills.

In this, the first of the set, I’ll give an overview of my system. I’ll look at its aims, its functions, and its general design. The second essay will address the ethical principles on which it will be based. These are: First, moral equality, and the Convivial Code which encapsulates it. Second, common sense justice. Third, human rights. And fourth, maximum freedom for every individual. The third essay will sketch out some of the institutions which might implement convivial governance. And the fourth will discuss the thorny matter of how it should be paid for. After that, I’ll fill in some of the remaining gaps in a number of follow-up essays.

I’m sure that many people will find my ideas crazy, unworkable or both. But in that case, it’s up to them to tell me where and why I’m wrong, and to suggest better solutions if they can.

What is convivial governance?

Convivial governance is the phrase I use for a future system of minimal governance, which will allow good people to live together in an environment of peace, justice and maximum freedom for every individual. Put succinctly, it will be governance of convivial people, by convivial people, for convivial people.

It will govern a community of individuals, in much the same way as a referee governs a football match. It will also adjudicate as needed on the relationships between those individuals, the voluntary societies to which they belong, and other individuals and societies with which they interact.

Conviviality

The word convivial, meaning living together (with a side sense of living together well), I have borrowed from the Belgian philosopher Frank van Dun. His convivial order is a framework in which: “people live together regardless of their membership, status, position, role or function in any, let alone the same, society.” And he describes it as: “an order of friendly exchange among independent persons.”

I think of convivial governance as a system of governance intended to support, and to help to maintain, a particular kind of order. That is, Frank van Dun’s convivial order. And this “order” is, indeed, ordered. Though it is not a social order; it is not order imposed from the top down. The convivial order is a bottom-up order. Convivial order is spontaneous order.

I also use the word convivial in a more general sense, of treating other people peacefully and civilly. And convivial conduct (also known as conviviality) is the behaviour habitually indulged in by those who are, generally speaking, good people to have around you. Peacefulness, truthfulness and dealing in good faith are examples of convivial conduct. And aggressions, thefts, lies, dishonesty, deceptions and bad faith are examples of unconvivial conduct.

It’s important to note that convivial conduct is not at all the same as obeying the rules or laws of any particular culture, society or government. In fact, the core rules of convivial conduct – that is, what is convivial when dealing with strangers – are independent of any culture, religious rules or government laws. I’ll say more about this (the Convivial Code) in the next essay in this set.

The aims of convivial governance

Convivial governance aims at two main things. First, to supersede, and eventually to extinguish, the top-down, failed, 16th-century system that is the “Westphalian” political state. Along with the super-states and multi-national political organizations that have flowed from it, such as the EU and the UN. And second, to form an embryo, from which can grow a future world free from war, injustice and the imposition of political ideologies or agendas.

By getting rid of the state, I expect that convivial governance will solve several of the problems we suffer today. One, it will end the imposition by political factions or pressure groups of laws that are harmful to ordinary people. Two, it will make starting a war both difficult and very, very risky. Three, it will end re-distributory, punitive and abusive taxation, by making a direct link between what individuals pay for governance and the benefit they receive from it. Four, there will be no “sovereign immunity” to allow officials or favourites to get away with what, if done by someone else, would be crimes.

The governed are a community, not a society

Convivial governance starts from a slightly different premise than the “social contract” idea, which has dominated political thought for centuries. That premise is, that the people in a particular geographical area form, not a society, but a community. Such a community is bound together, not by a “general will” to follow any one direction or political agenda, or by a contract, whether signed or not; but merely by ties of mutual convenience. It is similar, for example, to the communities of people who own homes in the same development, or flats in the same block.

Such a community may spawn societies, which act in certain respects on behalf of all those in the community. Such as a home-owners’ association, or the management company of a block of flats. Indeed, the two primary organizations for delivery of convivial governance, which I call the Community of Convivial Governance (CCG) and Society for Convivial Governance (SCG), will be societies – in essence, non-profit companies. But the community itself has no leader, no officials, no goals as a group beyond living together for mutual convenience, no political ideology, and no agenda beyond its own continuation.

A system of very limited function

The valid functions of governance in a community, as I discussed in an earlier essay, consist of three primary and three secondary functions. The primary functions are: To maintain peace, including defending the governed against attack or violent disruption. To deliver objective justice as needed, including the arbitration of disputes. And to defend the rights of every individual who respects others’ rights. Broadly, these correspond to the military, the justice system (with its back-ups, such as prisons) and the police in current systems of government.

The secondary functions: To co-ordinate, as necessary, the provision and maintenance of infrastructure, such as roads, between communities. To maintain good relations with other, friendly communities. And quality control on every aspect of the governance process.

Convivial governance will never interfere in matters like religion, health, education or welfare, that are outside its valid functions. Nor will it ever attempt to impose, or allow to be imposed, any political ideology or agenda on any of the governed against their wills.

Moreover, it will not seek to control or to meddle with the economy in any way. It will not interfere with any economic activity, unless there is rights violation, fraud or actual harm being done to someone; or intention to violate rights, to defraud or to cause harm; or recklessness beyond the bounds of reason.

A bottom-up system

Convivial governance is a “bottom-up” system. It focuses, first and foremost, on the individual. It seeks maximum freedom for every individual, consistent with living in a community of convivial people. And it expects every adult individual to take personal responsibility for the effects on others of his or her voluntary actions.

It seeks to work with the nature of peaceful, honest, productive human beings, rather than against that nature. It eschews aggressions and wars. And it avoids, as far as possible, pitting people or groups against each other. It seeks to let people “agree to disagree” wherever that is workable.

Its institutions, too, will be built from the bottom up. First, a local or neighbourhood community; then a second level of community on the scale of a town or small city. On the few occasions on which a larger scale of agreement is necessary – for example, fighting a defensive war, or agreeing on infrastructure development – this will be accomplished through alliances, with representatives of the different communities working together.

A de-centralized and networked system

Convivial governance will be, by its nature, de-centralized. The communities, into which the governed will be grouped, will be small enough to produce diverse “flavours” of community for people of different tastes. Economically, different communities will also tend to specialize in different things. For example: agriculture, retail, finance, new technology, particular industries, or providing specialist services over a wide geographical area. So, there will be much trade, both between neighbouring communities and between those further apart from each other.

Thus, convivial governance will be like a network, not a hierarchy. It will have no head, and no central point at which political power can collect. And it will have no mechanisms to allow one interest group or community forcibly to override the interests of others.

Moreover, free movement between communities will be the norm. Change of residence, while requiring the agreement of those in the receiving local community, will be easy enough that dis-satisfied convivial people can choose to move to places more congenial to them.

A reactive system, not a pro-active one

Convivial governance will be reactive rather than pro-active. It will not send out officials seeking things to meddle in. It will expect convivial individuals to be on the alert for things which are, or may well be, real wrongdoings. And it will expect them to report these as they see them.

In particular, every adult will have the right to arrest anyone they reasonably suspect of a real wrongdoing, and bring them to justice. This is like the English common law tradition of the “citizen’s arrest.” Thus, in convivial governance, everyone will be a member of the executive.

A free-market system

The two primary vehicles for delivery of convivial governance, the CCG and SCG, will be non-profit companies. The CCG will provide services which must be delivered locally, in the immediate vicinity of those who need them. On the other hand, the SCG will provide those services, which can be delivered on a wider scale than simply a single community.

I’ll give more on these two organizations in the third essay of this set. At this point, I’ll merely say that SCGs will be able to compete in a free market for the custom of the inhabitants of CCGs. It is also important to note that SCGs do not have to be territorial. In that sense, they will be like insurance companies, not like political states.

A system of accountability, impartiality and honesty

Under convivial governance, everyone will be accountable for the effects of their voluntary actions on others. And that includes those involved in the processes of governance itself. The managing director of an SCG, a top detective, even a senior judge, are all to be held accountable in the same way as anyone else.

Moreover, convivial governance will have procedures designed to ensure maximum honesty, integrity and impartiality in all its doings. It will always seek the facts and the truth in any matter. It will make its judgements as objectively as possible. It will keep meticulous records, and make them open to inspection. And it will not allow its processes to be influenced by lies, hype or political agendas of any kind.

A flexible system

I have tried to build flexibility into the system in several different ways. First, while it must work initially in a defined geographical territory, I want it to be adaptable to a future non-territorial system, in which SCGs will compete for customers in the free market, like insurance companies.

Second, I want it to work over a wide range of scales, from a few households up to communities of town or city size. That is, up to the size of community which can be economically viable or “sustainable” in a totally free market. Its de-centralization and networked nature should then enable it to be scaled up to areas inhabited by hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people. Eventually, so I foresee, it can grow to become world-wide. But this will not be a “world government,” or anything like it. Its growth will be bottom-up like the Internet, not top-down like the EU or United Nations.

Third, I want it to be able to adapt as people move in or out of communities, or as tastes change. I envisage that, at need, communities will be able to split via what I call “friendly secession.” Or, where appropriate, to join together via “friendly union.”

Fourth, I want it to work for and among many cultures. As I’ll explain in the second of these four essays, there will be a fairly small set of core ethical rules. These rules are intended to apply to interactions between parties, who have not made any prior agreement with each other, and who may be from different cultures. Since I expect such rules would need to change only once in a generation or so, this would remove any requirement for a standing legislature.

But convivial governance will also allow for what I call “agreement to vary.” Through such an agreement, societies can agree with their members, if they so wish, extra rules or different rules from the core in their dealings among themselves. Individuals and societies can also agree, by mutual consent, to waive certain provisions of the core rules, either for one transaction or on a more regular basis.

To sum up

I have given a very broad outline of my ideas on how a minimalist system of convivial governance might work. Some of the major differences between this system and current Western systems of government (as exemplified by countries like the UK and the US) are:

  1. There will be no state, and so no sovereignty. Actions such as starting wars, making bad laws and imposing abusive taxation will not be acceptable.
  2. Convivial governance sees the governed not as a society, but as a community. They have no “general will,” beyond mutual convenience and the continuation of the community.
  3. Thus, convivial governance will not impose on anyone against their wills any political ideology or agenda.
  4. The functions of governance are reduced to their core: peace, justice, defence of rights, co-ordination of infrastructure, diplomacy and quality control.
  5. The system will be bottom-up, focusing on the individual and on small communities.
  6. The system will be reactive rather than pro-active.
  7. The system will be honest and impartial, and everyone will be accountable.
  8. The system will be de-centralized and networked, to make it scalable to areas of different sizes, eventually right up to world-wide.
  9. The system is designed to be flexible enough to work among multiple cultures.
  10. The system allows individuals and societies to extend or modify the basic rules by mutual consent.
Let the feedback begin!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

The War on Cars – Video


Last month, I gave a talk to the Libertarian Alliance in London about the “war on cars” that successive UK governments have been conducting against us for decades now. The talk was very wide-ranging, covering:

1.      The green movement in general, and the involvement of the United Nations and the UK government in it.
2.      The “global warming” scare, and the (long and rather sordid) backstory to it.
3.      The “air pollution” scare that is now being used as an excuse to intensify the war on our cars, and the (just as long, and almost as sordid) backstory to it.

This is one of my very rare appearances on video (a good thing they’re rare! I hear some of you saying). The link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUpOj7KabvM.

The talk is quite long (55 minutes) and rather detailed, but I think I got over many important points, and made people chuckle a few times on the way!