Thursday, 25 December 2014

How I Wrote My Own Twelve Commandments

(From the archives: February 7th, 2004. I've made quite a few changes in this area in the intervening decade!)

It is a common human trait to want to divide people into two types; us and them. Racists, for example, like to divide people into white and black (or, more accurately, pink and brown). Nationalists like to classify people as citizens or aliens. I myself, indeed, distinguish the civilized from the uncivilized.

Some of these divisions are easier to measure than others. It is easy to measure someone's nationality; you need only demand their birth certificate or naturalization papers. But it is much harder to measure race. To assign people to the pink camp or the brown can be tough, particularly when they are of mixed descent, or their skin is dark yellow.

Some divisions, too, are more reasonable than others. Race and skin colour are outside an individual's control. Forward-thinking people, therefore, are coming more and more to dismiss them as reasons to treat someone as in or out. Nationality, too, is for most people a matter of accident rather than of choice. It seems, to me at least, rather stupid to bias acceptance or rejection of individuals according to where they come from.

My own preferred distinction is between the civilized and the uncivilized. Today, I want to put some flesh on this idea. I will address, in my own way, the question, what is it to be civilized? And, to start, I will trace the evolution of my own thinking.

I began by trying a personal view; the people I like are civilized, and the rest aren't. This way of thinking has the merit of making the distinction easy to measure. But it is a subjective judgement. Other people – even those I like – will often disagree with me about who is which side of the line. And there is no basis on which to resolve such disagreements. Furthermore, people change over time. And some people come to seem more likeable the better you get to know them, while some go the other way.

I needed a more objective test. So I looked around for ideas. My second candidate was one much loved by conservatives – the concept of the law-abiding citizen. Those who obey the law of the land, wherever they happen to be, are civilized; those that don't, are uncivilized.

If all laws, and all those who made them, were honest and fair, this test would be a good one. But laws today are not like that. We suffer legal penalties for many innocent acts or omissions, for no better reason than that some politician or pressure group decided it was a good idea. Yet those same politicians and their cronies do blatantly uncivilized things like lying, thieving and violating our privacy. And they go unpunished for them.

My third candidate came from the liberal corner – respect for human rights. Those who respect others' rights according to, for example, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, are civilized; those that violate others' rights, aren't.

Respect for fundamental human rights, like life, property and privacy, is a hallmark of good people. Good people also respect others' freedoms, like freedom of movement, opinion and communication. So, respect for these rights and freedoms can form an excellent basis for a touchstone of civilized behaviour. But today's statements of human rights, such as the UN Declaration, have also been saddled with what are really no more than aspirations, like "free" education and a guaranteed minimum standard of living. And the unscrupulous use these aspirations as excuses to violate real rights, for example by stealing and re-distributing fairly earned wealth.

On to the fourth candidate, the idea that the civilized create wealth, and the uncivilized do the opposite. In this way of thinking, you measure individuals by working out how much wealth or well-being they create, and then subtracting the damage they cause.

This approach is commendable. But it has some practical problems. One, its supporters tend to concentrate on economic wealth, ignoring other forms of wealth like scientific knowledge and generally making the world jollier to live in. Two, to measure accurately wealth created and damage caused is a complicated and painstaking, and therefore costly, process. Three, the method is not entirely fair to those whose opportunities to create wealth are limited through no fault of their own.

By now, I was getting desperate, so I turned to the religious corner. I had noticed that people were saying things like, "If everyone obeyed the Ten Commandments, the world would be a much better place.” So my fifth candidate came from way back, more than three thousand years ago.

For its time, Moses' achievement was magnificent. To write down, so clearly and succinctly, a set of rules which many people still choose to follow to this day, was an amazing feat. However, as a yardstick of civilized behaviour for the 21st century, the Ten Commandments has problems too. For the first four commandments are religious in nature. They are irrelevant to those who do not subscribe to the religion. And the remaining six, while still valid as ever, don't cover enough of the spectrum of human behaviour. They are simply not broad enough to use as a test of civilized behaviour today.

If I can't find someone to do the job for me, I thought, I'm going to have to do it myself. So why don't I try to combine the best of all these ideas? I'll make a list of human duties, like the Ten Commandments. I'll make a list of rules of civilized behaviour, of obligations for civilized human beings. I'll include, in my list, respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms. I'll include creating wealth as a virtue. I'll include basics of law and justice. I'll try to bring my list up to date, by putting in the individuality, honesty and desire for peace, which are characteristic of the new outlook today among forward-thinking people. I'll add a seasoning of personal views, and a dollop of good old-fashioned common sense.

Oh yes, I thought, and two more things. One, I'll deliberately aim high. No-one will be able honestly to say that they keep, perfectly and at all times, to my standards. And two, in accord with my policy of going the extra mile, I'll offer twenty percent extra. Twelve commandments for the price of ten!

I started in the deep end, with individuality. My first law was: "Be your own proud, independent self.” For I wanted to bring out the importance of being an individual, not a herd animal just following leaders. I wanted to make plain that it is good to strive to be proud – that is to say, to be outstanding. And that it is good to take pride in your achievements where justified. I wanted, too, to stress the need for civilized human beings to be independent. To think for themselves, to take responsibility for their own lives, and to avoid willingly becoming a drain on others.

My second law was a law of peace. "Don't use, call for or condone violence or threat of violence against any civilized human being.”

Here, I wanted to reflect that civilized human beings are naturally non-violent. But I didn't want to fall into the pacifist trap of outlawing violence completely. For me, it's OK to use violence in defence of self or others against violent attack. It is also OK for a police officer, or anyone else, to use reasonable force to arrest a real criminal. For a crime is, in essence, a malicious and uncivilized act. To the extent that they commit real crimes, then, criminals are uncivilized, and therefore not protected by any prohibition against violence. However, to call for or even to lend support to violence or threat of violence against civilized human beings is an uncivilized act. No matter what the excuses given for it.

My third law was about being productive. "Create wealth through energetic co-operation and honest competition.”

I had come to understand, some time ago, that the creation of wealth or well-being, of products or services or an ambience for which others are voluntarily willing to pay in return, is the noblest of all human activities. I wanted to get over that most people become far more effective at creating wealth when they co-operate with others in a team. And that, in order to unleash your wealth-creating potential, you have to put in energy – lots of it.

I wanted to point out, too, an important factor in wealth creation – competition. By this, I do not mean nasty or dishonest beating off of rivals. Rather, I mean honest competition; striving to make yourself better at what you do, to make yourself competent.

My fourth law was about fairness. I found this perhaps the hardest of all to formulate. I wanted to encapsulate the spirit of Confucius' Golden Rule; don't do to others what you don't want done to yourself. I wanted to put it in a positive way, not a negative. But I didn't want to go as far as Jesus' version; always do to people what you would want them to do to you. For that would imply that we are obliged to treat others well, even when they treat us badly. And that, I think, is plain wrong. So the words I settled on were, "Treat others at least as well as they treat you.”

That, I think, gives a similar effect to Jesus' version of the Golden Rule, when we are dealing with civilized people. But it leaves us free to treat those, that behave towards us in an uncivilized manner. as the situation demands.

My fifth was, "Keep your freely made promises and agreements.” By this I mean, that when you make a promise or an agreement, you as a civilized human being must do all you have promised to do. (Or, refrain from doing what you have promised not to do). Provided, of course, that the other parties to the agreement keep their side of the bargain as well. And that you made the promise voluntarily and in full knowledge of what you were taking on. Promises extorted by violence, threats or dishonesty are not binding on anyone.

My sixth I titled the law of non-impedance. "Don't obstruct any civilized human being's progress, opportunity, wealth creation, trade or pursuit of happiness.” By this, I mean that we civilized people must not unnecessarily slow down our fellows' physical progress, personal growth, or making or taking of opportunities for themselves. We must not disrupt their lives. We must never on purpose hinder their economic activities. And we must not put obstacles in the way of good people achieving the happiness they deserve.

My seventh I called the law of non-encroachment. "Don't bully or persecute civilized human beings, or invade their lives; always respect their persons, property and privacy, and their fundamental human rights and freedoms.”

This is the flip side of the law of individuality. It comes from the recognition that other civilized people are individuals too. We must respect them as individuals. We must not encroach on them physically, or steal from them or damage their property, or steal into their lives. We must not take part in uncivilized schemes designed to harm them. And, provided of course their behaviour remains civilized, we must never violate their fundamental rights or freedoms. These include not only the rights and freedoms listed in conventions such as the UN declaration, but also the most fundamental freedom of all – the freedom to make, and to act on, individual judgements.

My eighth was about honesty. "Don't use or sanction lies, deception, fraud, dishonest rationalizations or mental manipulation against any civilized human being.” That, I think, just about explains itself.

My ninth was about restitution. "Take responsibility for your actions; compensate anyone you may harm through malicious, irresponsible or negligent acts.” Civilized people, of course, are rarely malicious towards their fellows; but all of us are sometimes irresponsible or negligent. And, occasionally, we get it wrong in a way that damages someone. This ideal of restitution, then, is civilized human beings' way of setting the record straight.

My tenth applies only to people who have children. "If you have children, protect, sustain and educate them until they have become civilized human beings.” Much of this is conventional wisdom. The idea that parents must take full responsibility for educating and bringing up their children to adulthood was argued forcefully by, among others, John Locke. But parents must also bring up their children to behave in a civilized manner. Put bluntly, it is uncivilized to beget uncivilized.

My eleventh is about wanting justice. "Desire individual, common-sense justice for everyone.” As I have observed before, common-sense justice is that condition where each individual, over the long run, is treated as he or she treats others. All civilized human beings should yearn for common-sense justice. For, under common-sense justice, peaceful people enjoy peace. Productive people enjoy prosperity. People who help to make others happy enjoy happiness. With individual justice, everyone has an incentive to behave well towards others. And the uncivilized get treated as they deserve, too.

My twelfth and last is the shortest of all. "Practise what you preach.” This is the one which binds all the others together. It links what an individual thinks and says, to what that individual does.

So, there you have my twelve commandments, my rules of civilized behaviour. I do not claim that my list is perfect. Many may want to re-word it, add to it or subtract from it. And some may want to burn it. But to those who would, to use John Locke's words, cavil or rail at my discourse, my answer is: If you don't like my ideas, roll your own.

Lastly, why have I done all this? You will be glad to know that I do not want to set up a government to enforce these laws strictly. I do not, for example, intend to station police to jump out behind people and shout "Sheep!" whenever they fail to think for themselves. Nor do I propose to position Lie Marshals with guns on every street corner, ready to shoot at the slightest sign of possible falsehood.

No, my purpose is subtler. But that is for another day.

Chapter 52. A Better World

It was thirty years later, that Lily and I took one of the extended furloughs which are normal in the Galaxy. And we went back to Earth. Without the ’mobile; for I had persuaded Lily to take a holiday from piloting. We did the grand tour of Earth, staying in the best hotels, and using the most comfortable transport available.

The world had changed drastically since the day Michael had picked me up on that heath. For a start, the name of the planet had changed! Well, not exactly. The word “Earth” was still very much in circulation. But the name of our sun, as far as Galactics were concerned, had changed. It is traditional in the Galaxy to name stars after the Galactic species who inhabit their systems. So, Sol became “Hooman.” And Earth became Hooman-3, and Venus Hooman-2.

Some may wonder why our sun was not called “Human,” with a y-sound after the “h.” I can tell you. There were several members of lizard species on the Board of the Galactic Association.

* * *

Long-distance travel on Earth had changed a lot in thirty years. There were still planes, it was true. And supersonic planes were back. But it was clear that planes had a limited future. For they now had strong competition from Seraphimobiles.

The ’mobile had already revolutionized group and charter travel, for using vertical take-off and landing it could offer door-to-door service. To begin with, though, progress had been limited by the small number of ’mobiles there were on Earth. That was, until some savvy Indians had started building ’mobiles under licence. Others got in on the act, and now there was also a cheaper, cut-down version, able to do everything a standard civilian ’mobile could do except go off-planet. Meanwhile, the market in training people to pilot ’mobiles was booming.

To compete with scheduled airlines, many ’mobile operators offered what was, in effect, a shared limo service. It could take a while to get from A to B, because of the many stops to pick up or drop off passengers. For that reason, the bigger the ’mobile, the cheaper the ticket. But, over intercontinental distances, even 64-seat ’mobiles were faster door-to-door than subsonic plane journeys. And far more convenient, not to mention a lot more fun.

The high cost of building them meant that ’mobiles had not yet begun to compete with cars. But that particular battle was looming. Already, there were many ’mobile taxis, which would take you in the air if you were willing to pay the premium.

* * *

I say again, the world had changed drastically, and for the better, with our Awakening and the consequent extinction of the politicals. Wars, dishonest politics, borders and controls, the EU and the UN, propaganda, media bias, redistribution or confiscation of fairly earned wealth, perversion of law, bureaucratic meddling, governments spying on people, treating good human beings as less than human, were all now things of the past. Socialism, fascism, communism, nazism, conservatism, religious fundamentalism, marxism, authoritarianism, racism, environmentalism, terrorism, statism; all those evil –isms were no longer. Only historians used such words any more.

The human population on Earth had all but stabilized, at around eight and a half billion. That didn’t count the half billion who had emigrated into the Galaxy. Immigration from the Galaxy to Earth was smaller, only about three hundred million. But they made a huge difference; they made Earth cosmopolitan.

The age of big, political government was over. There were still governments, indeed. But what they did was confined to the one and only proper purpose of government – implementing justice. And the justice they all strove to deliver was objective, individual, common-sense justice.

Indeed, you would hardly know that governments were there, except in three situations. The first was if someone harmed you, beyond the limits of civilized, mutual tolerance. Then, you could go to a court, and claim compensation from those that had harmed you.

The second was if you were asked to do jury service. Or, perhaps, a spell as a magistrate.

And the third was if you yourself maliciously used aggressive violence, theft or other sub-human behaviours like fraud. Then, you were caught, brought to justice, and punished as you deserved. As well, of course, as being made to compensate your victims.

Better yet. We humans had already, just thirty years after our Awakening, entered the Galactic rich-list top 500, in 498th place. And we were already fourteenth among Junior species. We had done that in little more than a generation! Faster than the Avor’I had managed anything like it, indeed.

The solar power project had helped a lot, too. For we now had, for the foreseeable future, enough energy to power our civilization, at a cost we could afford. And we understood the technology well enough that we could replicate it if and when we needed to.

Yes, we humans had Awakened. The Personal Transition had elevated the individual above the herd. The Social Transition had brought peace and objective, common-sense justice. The Economic Transition had brought prosperity for all those who deserved it. The human race, at last, had left stagnation behind, and was going forwards and upwards.

* * *

We visited John and Galina near Bordeaux. They had had some difficulties initially, because the locals were very conservative. They did not like growers of “foreign” grapes invading their territory. But a single glass of wine, from Seraph grapes grown in the M├ędoc, could change the perceptions of the drinker. Few refused a second glass. And – in time – their hybrid grapes had become even more successful.

John was over 100 years old now. But he didn’t look old at all. The Galant’I treatment had not only rejuvenated us at the time, but had all but stopped the aging process. Lily and I had benefited from that, too. As had all the rest of the Team, the first and second wave trainees, and Cristina and Helen as well.

We visited Ben and Sabrina in Cape Town. They had a very successful business, training people in how to use portals and retals. They were busy and happy.

We visited Shami and Dede in Delhi. They had returned to Earth after two years studying Tuglay methods of education, and eight years learning by practising the trade in backwaters of the Galaxy. They now ran the biggest adult education company on Earth. And they had spin-offs on other planets too. They were happy – and very, very busy.

We visited the Galactic Embassy in Virginia. Cristina and Helen were still there, as hostesses for newly arriving Galactics. They were happy, too.

Hoong and Elise also lived in Virginia, near the Embassy. The solar power project had been completed in about ten years, but there was still much maintenance work to do. After the bulk of the Piantur team left, Hoong had been made director of the project. He and Elise were happy.

Harv’I was still in his house in the Embassy, and he told us about his meeting with the pope. No, he hadn’t gone to Rome to visit the pope. Rather, the pope – a new, young pope – had come to Virginia to meet Harv’I, son of Jahw’I. And had been both amazed and delighted.

Harv’I also thought he might have found out why the Elo’I colony on Venus had failed. It looked like a combination of two factors. First, an enfeebling disease, which caused them to become complacent and unwary. And second, by amazingly bad luck, an asteroid hit directly on the colony. If he was right, then the colony could be re-established. And Elo’I and humans could be planetary neighbours, and watch out for each other.

* * *

Benno Adam’s book, An Awakening, had been a best-seller. It had sold far beyond the market of history buffs it had been aimed at. It had become a book of the people. It had been translated into more than a thousand Galactic languages, including, of course, English. It was still in print on Earth, too. Lily and I picked up a copy for each of us, and a third to preserve.

Benno was a good writer. He had researched his subject thoroughly, and he had added much detail from eye-witness accounts. He described particularly well the feelings good people had in the run-up to the Awakening. First disquiet, then incomprehension, then fury at what the politicals were doing to them. Then – a feeling of separation. And a desire to be rid of their enemies, that had fooled them and fouled them for so long.

But Benno had gone further, and had traced human history back far enough that his readers could see the big picture. Looked at that way, the Awakening had been coming for many centuries. Like the contractions which precede the birth of a baby, there had been motions, often alternating, of forward and backward, of progress and regress.

The Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the computer and communications revolution; those had been forward motions. Nationalism, socialism and communism, sham “democracy,” welfare states, the green agenda, the surveillance and database state; those had been backward motions. But, in the end, the good had triumphed. We humans had Awakened.

* * *

I lay in a hotel bed in the Scottish Highlands, enjoying Lily’s Special. Tonight, it was particularly slow and comfortable. As my mind wandered, I contemplated what Benno Adam had told us. And, at last, I found the right word to describe the jobs Lily and I had taken on.

We were midwives – Galactic midwives.

“Here’s to the midwives!” cried Lily, speeding up her motion, and taking me up a long crescendo of pleasure to an overwhelming climax.

* * *

Next day, our taxi driver took us up to a well-known beauty spot. We left him at the pass for a three-hour, paid lunch break. He was a student; he could use those hours to read his books.

We climbed the hill, up a slaty track. It was a small hill, compared with its neighbours. I had been there in (if I remembered right) 1985. That day, the weather had been at its best; as it was today. It was a very warm, dreamy afternoon, without a cloud in the sky and with visibility as good as it gets.

To the west, we had the island of Skye spread out below us. To the north, a great green mountain. To the east, we could see through a small gap in the hills to blue water.

Lily and I picnicked. The food was from Fortnum and Mason, of course – but the one in Piccadilly, this time. With it, we shared a bottle of John and Galina’s best.

There was no-one else around. So, we enjoyed Lily’s Special. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the previous night in the hotel. But it was more romantic.

This is a better world now, I thought. A peaceful world. A prosperous world. A just world. A Galactic world. A human world.

* * *

Almost four hours later, our taxi driver, whose name was Steven, came to wake us up. And led us down the hill, back to his car and Galactic civilization.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Why Church and State are Out of Date

(Neil's Note: The date on this one is January 18th, 2004. It was my first essay on such a large subject, and I still think of it as one of my best. Enjoy!)

Today, I want to take a step back from the everyday, to look at the big picture. The Western world seems to be going to the dogs. Hardly a day passes without more bad news for good people. I want to try to understand, why are these things happening to us? Why now? And are we justified in being optimistic for a future of peace, freedom and prosperity?

The place to look for pointers to the present, I think, is in the past; so it is with history that I am concerned today. But it is not a subject I have found easy to study. The problem with history is, there's too much bloody detail. So I am going to concentrate, not on detail, but on trends, on flows and ebbs, on flux and crux.

Looking at history in the large, I found that human institutions seem to take on a life of their own. When an institution meets the demands of its place and time, it prospers. Often, though, it will falter after a while. Sometimes, it may rescue itself by mutating into a new form, and may even prosper anew for a time. Eventually, though, such institutions overstay their welcome. They decay and die. If you want examples, look at the ancient city-state, the western Roman empire, or the feudal system.

A second lesson I learned was that there are times when something more fundamental happens than just the rise and fall of institutions. What happens is that the way in which people think changes. An example was the Renaissance. There was a renewed interest in classical learning, a new sense of human dignity and individuality, a striving for discovery and innovation.

The Renaissance was not the only example of a sea-change in human thought. There was one in Old Testament times – you can see this by comparing the style of Genesis and Exodus with the later books. There was the mathematical and scientific revolution of the 17th century. There was the Enlightenment of the 18th. There was the entrepreneurial spirit, which sprang up, particularly in America, in the mid to late 19th century. And… watch this space.

A third lesson I learned was that, with these sea-changes, two opposites often happen together. There is a time of intolerance and repression, or of chaos and war, or both. And the pace of human progress quickens, sometimes leading towards a relative golden age.

I saw, for example, that in pre-classical Greece advances like Solon's code of laws and the use of coined money took place at much the same time as the rule of the tyrants. That the development of the movable-type printing press, and the spread of Humanist thought, happened around the same time as the Borgia pope and the founding of the Spanish Inquisition. That the great scientific discoveries of the 17th century were made in a time of religious war and political ferment. I find it suggestive that the communications revolution and the Internet are today starting to come to fruition in a world suffocated by bad politics, wars and terrorism.

Today, I want to address the place in the world of two ancient institutions, church and state. It is my view that these two institutions have passed their natural lifespans. And that dismantling them is essential to achieving peace and prosperity on planet Earth. Furthermore, the process, which will achieve this dismantling, has already begun.

Where did the state come from? Long ago, human societies were sedentary, and mostly peaceful. Then, perhaps five or six thousand years ago, something changed. Violent gangs began to maraud across Europe. The people in the peaceful societies had to organize to defend themselves. This meant, picking chieftains, and learning violence.

Those early tribal chieftains, I think, would have shared the feeling expressed by the author of Genesis. They would have felt a sense of dominion or mastery over their surroundings. Most of them would have been stronger and cleverer than those around them. So they would have come to feel themselves masters of those they ruled. They would have had no scruples about controlling people by violence when they thought it necessary. Nor would they have had qualms about making wars on other tribes, to enlarge their spheres of mastery. Thus was born the state – institutionalized violence and aggression.

Others, meanwhile, were learning to control people more subtly. They knew that people sensed, through their minds, a great power at the edge of experience. Indeed, in former times many people had let themselves be controlled by hallucinations, which they thought came from this power. The power went by many names – the gods, God, the "logos,” the Muses – and people were accustomed to perform rituals in its honour. So, the unscrupulous began to control people by setting themselves up as representatives of this power. They claimed moral authority by placing themselves between people and their God. Thus was born the church – institutionalized mental control and mumbo-jumbo.

All those years ago, both state and church were in keeping with their times. For the chieftain and his warriors could enforce peace within the tribe. And their skill in violence could make the difference between well-being and death or slavery for the whole tribe. The church's function of moral education, on the other hand, could help to make life better for everyone. So, for a while, they prospered, state and church both.

Time passed. Kings, princes and lesser nobles carved out for themselves territorial states or statelets. While their rule was founded on violence, they didn't mind deviousness when they benefited from it. Meanwhile, the Christian church wielded its weapons of mental control; original sin, the idea that we are naturally bad, fear of the wrath of God, hatred of pleasures, promotion of poverty as a virtue, belittling of human potential. Though church leaders were not averse to violence and torture when they suited them, as in the Inquisitions. (Nor did they mind a bit of forgery on the side).

On the state's behalf, it may be said that there were a few good rulers. Some kings and nobles used their power to dispense justice as fairly as they could. Some provided havens for forward-thinking people in a hostile world. They patronized, at various times, scholars, poets, musicians and even mathematicians.

On the church's behalf, it may be said that it helped to preserve learning through the Dark Ages in Europe. That it provided, at times and in places, a sense of community, and opportunities for people to exercise their creativity. Look, for example, at the stonework or stained glass in any great church or cathedral. Or leaf through the hymn book, pausing to admire the stirring verses and noble melodies.

Nevertheless, state and church remained, in essence, what they had originally been – instruments of control. The state to imprison people's bodies, and the church to imprison people's minds. And both were intolerant of those who resisted control. Kings were not kind to those who disobeyed them. Religious persecutions ran wild, often on the most abstruse grounds. Furthermore, states and church vied to increase their powers. And so, they repeatedly damaged and wasted human lives in that activity which is, and has been for thousands of years, the life-blood of the controlling establishment – war.

States had to finance their wars. So they added, to their violence and aggression, institutionalized theft – otherwise called taxation. However disguised, the tax collector's message has always been the same; Pay up, or the weapons you paid for last year will be used on you this year.

The church, with its obligatory tithes, was guilty of theft too. But it had also an extreme conservatism, which could easily become a hatred of human progress. Look, for example, at how the Catholic church harassed the great Galileo. They forced him to deny the scientific truths he had spent his life finding, and they put him under house arrest. Or see how the church banned all the works of the Enlightenment moral philosopher, David Hume.

I read about the Enlightenment, and I found it, like the Renaissance, to be a sea-change in human thought. The new thinkers celebrated human reason. They challenged the church view of human beings as naturally bad and of limited potential. They challenged the state by promoting the idea of natural law, taking its authority from nature, not from rules imposed by rulers.

Revolutionary ideas led to revolutionary emotions, which led in turn to revolutions. Many of these revolutions were unsuccessful. But, in Western Europe at least, the power of the old controlling establishment, church and state, was seriously weakened. And in America, there was formed a new and better kind of government. The idea that government exists for the benefit of the governed, not of the rulers, had started to take practical form.

At around the same time, the Industrial Revolution was starting to get moving. Before the Industrial Revolution, few people were able to produce much more than they needed to support themselves. What the Industrial Revolution did was give people a chance to play their part in doing more for others. It enabled us more and more to put into practice our natural human mastery of our surroundings. And, for the advanced, it brought a chance to unleash creativity. People could build large enterprises, without needing to use the techniques of state or church – violent aggression or mental manipulation. In industrial society, it was now possible to do great things, while remaining peaceful and honest.

By the 20th century, we should have been in good shape. We should have been racing forward into a happy future. We could have built civilized societies all over the world, based on individual freedom, the rule of law and common-sense justice – that is, the idea that individuals deserve to be treated as they treat others. We could have unblocked the world economy, so that everyone willing to put in enough effort could prosper. State and church, with their violence, wars, thefts, mental manipulation, persecutions and hatred of progress, would have died out. What a great world that would have been.

But that isn't what happened, is it? For the lovers of tyranny, the warped minds that want to rule over us and control us against our wills, launched a counter-revolution. They re-built their power base. But they had to do it slowly and stealthily at first. They had to lull our suspicions. So, in the 19th century, they made some positive reforms. And they granted us, slowly and grudgingly, an illusion called democracy. Just think, we can cast our vote for whichever of them we think might treat us less badly than the others!

But inexorably, they increased their control. They used every excuse they could find – wars, financial tribulations, moral panics. They took over police, education, unemployment insurance. They took over whole industries, and ran them badly. And they interfered more and more in our lives. They made vices into crimes, and pleasures into vices. They made bad laws and built bureaucracies to bully us and to keep us in line. All this, of course, financed by what they stole from us. The more we honestly earned, the more they stole. And they kept trying to make out that they were doing these things to us for our own good!

In the 1980s, we in the West had a short period of what seemed like relative sanity. But it didn't last. Since the fall of Soviet communism, tyranny in Western Europe and America has increased exponentially. Those in power have come up with ever more excuses to steal from us or to impose stringent controls on us – like the environment, porn, war on terrorism. They spy on us. And the way they treat us has become ever more arrogant and bullying.

The establishment they have built to control us has subsumed the state, but it has taken on many characteristics of the church as well. Disinformation and mental control are now practised, not by frocked priests, but by an all-pervasive mass media backed up by an establishment-funded liberal-arts intelligentsia. Assorted pressure groups, like enviros and anti-smoking campaigners, bay for more and yet more controls over us. Meanwhile, the function of religious persecution has passed to police, soldiers, tax bureaucrats and other officials that enforce bad laws. We face today an unholy amalgam of church and state, which combines the conservatism and desire to persecute, characteristic of the church, with the aggression and thieving of the state.

Those in power like to present the establishment as nanny state rather than bully state, welfare state rather than warfare state. They try to keep the purpose of the modern church/state establishment, to control us and to rule over us against our wills, under wraps. But that's still what it is. And, increasingly, people aren't fooled any more.

For there is happening, right now, another of the periodic sea-changes in human thinking. I know this, because I have been through it further than most, and I see plenty of evidence that people around me are starting to experience it too.

There is much in common between the new way of thinking and the Renaissance. Respect for human dignity and individuality, love of discovery and human progress, are all part of the new way. Like the Renaissance, too, it has an element of re-discovery. This time round, though, I do not think our scholarly friends need look as far back as classical Greece. I think they probably only need look back to the values of the late-17th and 18th-century Enlightenment.

I will try to put into words how I, personally, experience the new way of thinking. While not at all un-social, I have come to think of myself as an individual first, and as a member of society (or societies) second. I respect and uphold individual rights. I judge myself as an individual; I blame myself when I deserve blame, but I am not suckered by false guilt into under-rating myself. And I judge others as individuals. That means that I judge them by their actions. Whoever they are. I have also come to reject aggression and violence against civilized human beings, and to condemn those that do these things. And I strive to be honest too, and to reject lies, spin and rationalizations.

Do you feel any of the following: A loss of community with political society? Anger at being taxed out of existence, while getting nothing worthwhile in return? Growing hatred and contempt for politicians and their bullying hangers-on? Irritation at all the pap and spin you get from the media? A desire for world peace? A feeling that there ought to be more to life than this? If so, congratulations; you have started the sea-change. You are moving towards the new way of thinking.

Here, I think, is why the world is such a mess today. We are living through, not just any old crisis in history, but the mother and father of them all. Living today is like experiencing the Renaissance, the chaotic 17th century and the fall of the Roman empire, all at once. Not only is the way we think changing. But also, the church/state establishment has passed its last-use-by date. And we are all suffering the smell.

Right now, in early 2004, we are approaching the crux point. For the establishment's control over our minds is slipping. They know this, and that, I think, is why they are stepping up their efforts to control us physically. I think that is why, disregarding human rights and the rule of law, politicians and their cohorts are now making a grab for draconian "emergency" powers to do anything they want to us.

The Renaissance took time to happen; but, in the end, it succeeded. And I am confident that today's sea-change will succeed too. I believe that, sometime soon, we human beings will be rushing forward into a future of peace, freedom, and prosperity.

Staying alive and solvent until the worm turns, I grant you, may not be easy. So each of us must do what we can to help the sea-change. We must help build a mental tidal wave, to wash away the violent aggressions, thefts and mental manipulations of the church/state establishment. We must help people to understand that the root of all evil is not, as St. Paul would have had it, the love of money, but the love of power – power to control people against their wills.

When the time comes, how will we dismantle the state? That, I think, is easy. We will treat the, morally and financially, bankrupt state like any other bankrupt organization. We will wind it up, and distribute its assets among its creditors. As to the church, I think it likely that the Christian churches, at any rate, will simply fade away, as they become more and more irrelevant to everyone.

What will replace the state? I think there will be a network of voluntary societies, which together will perform all the valid functions today usurped by the state/church establishment. There will be defence societies, to defend us against the uncivilized. Justice societies, to resolve disputes fairly and to assure fair compensation for harms. Mutual aid societies, to protect from the effects of injury, illness or disability. Philanthropic societies, to help those who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own. And privately provided services – lots and lots of them – funded by, who else? Those who enjoy them.

And what will replace the church? My atheist friends will say, it will disappear, and good riddance. But my take is rather different. I think back to a time many thousands of years ago, when our ancestors worshipped Mother Earth. That seems primitive now. For, over time, we got to know the Earth; we got to explore it, and to use it. Eventually, through science, we began to understand it. Why, I ask, should the story not be the same with our mental powers? Could it be that, instead of kow-towing to the source of our creativity, our job is to explore it, and to get using it? And maybe, eventually, to understand it?

If I am right, I think the results may be electric.

Friday, 12 December 2014

On Partnership, Family and Marriage

(Neil’s Note: I wrote this recently as a comment on a post by D.J.Webb. That essay, and the original comment, can be found at http://thelibertarianalliance.com/2014/12/07/the-importance-of-marriage-in-a-free-society/#comment-40443.)

I apologize for my late contribution to the discussion. But I do hope it will be better late than never. I apologize that It turned into a bit of a diatribe in the writing, too!

From the first three-quarters of this essay, I got three take-home points.

(1) Relations between the sexes in Western societies today aren’t as they should be.
(2) Feminists bear a considerable share of the responsibility for this situation.
(3) State meddling is responsible for the rest of the problem.

I can agree with all three, and very strongly with (2). Though I’d add: (4) The institution of traditional marriage doesn’t meet people’s needs any more. (If, indeed, it ever did). I find myself, however, disagreeing with many of the ideas put forward in the last quarter of the essay.

In a minarchist libertarian society (which, for the purpose of this discussion, is one which includes a system of contract law, but not an active, rapacious, meddling political state) I’d expect at least three different types of personal relationship contracts to evolve.

First are what I call partnership contracts (we might call them PCs, forsooth!) The main purposes of such contracts are companionship, comfort when you’re down, and sexual pleasure; or some combination of the three. There would be no requirement for there to be exactly two parties to the contract, nor any requirement for parties to be of opposite gender. Like all sane contracts, these would include force majeure clauses. They would also include procedures for termination by mutual agreement, or in the event of default by one party. Termination arrangements, such as ownership of co-habited property, would also be included in the contract if relevant.

I envisage there would be a huge variety of such contracts. They might be for a fixed term, either long or short, or on a rolling period basis. The relationships they cover might be continuous, regular, intermittent or one-off. They might include co-habitation, or the provision by one party of accommodation for the other(s); or neither. They might include arrangements such as sex-for-money, or sex-for-travel, or sex with a particular kink. Some might allow the parties to have other relationships concurrently; others might not. I expect there would also frequently be clauses covering, for example, the use (or not) of condoms, and situations such as unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Whatever the parties to the contract want, and mutually agree on.

At the second level is what I call a family contract (FC). This is a PC with additional purposes: the founding of a family, or the maintenance of a family, or both. Here, the conditions would be stricter. The vast majority of FCs would be between two individuals of opposite genders. Co-habitation would almost always be included, and property arrangements on termination would be very important. I envisage that an FC would normally last until the youngest child reaches a particular age, with an option at this point to extend (or convert to a PC) by mutual agreement.

Third is the traditional marriage contract (TMC); an FC with a strong religious flavour and extremely strict conditions, including “till death us do part” and (as the author says) a “gold-diggers’ charter” that enables the female party, with the support of the state, to ruin the life of the male party.

To force anyone who wants a relationship into a TMC – which is what the author seems to be suggesting by what he says about common law spouses – is, if I may use a phrase, an “un-libertarian activity.” This standpoint shows the same lack of concern for the individual as do those that want to make prostitution, or other relationships that ought to be covered by a partnership contract, unobtainable.

On the gay angle of all this, I’m sure most here will agree that gay people have historically been treated very badly by the state; Alan Turing, for example. That gay people are now able to enjoy the benefits of a kind of partnership contract (even if it is inaccurately dubbed “gay marriage”) is, I think, a good thing. It is high time that the rest of us should enjoy a similar right to have partnership contracts tailored to our own circumstances.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Book Review of Honest Common Sense - By Paul Verhaegh

(Neil's Note: The original of this review, in Dutch, can be found at http://www.vrijspreker.nl/wp/2014/12/honest-common-sense-boekbespreking/. I have taken the liberty of making this, somewhat idiomatic, translation into English.)

In September, I received Neil Lock’s new book Honest Common Sense. Neil Lock is an English libertarian, whom I have known since my first: Libertarian conference in Leiden in 2004. In the summer of that same year, Neil Lock and I both attended the ISIL conference in New Zealand. After the conference, the two of us spent a few days touring the North Island of New Zealand. In the following years, we have met at almost every libertarian conference: in Gummersbach, Prague, Berlin and other places.

Neil Lock told me some while ago that he was busy writing a book; and this year his book has been published.

The book begins with an introduction to the philosophy; its main goal is to set out the author’s starting points fully and clearly.

The core of the book consists of four anchor points: Think (epistemology), Be (metaphysics), Relate (politics and ethics) and Do (economics). At the heart of his thesis is the idea of Honesty, which he defines as “being true to your nature.” In Holland we would say, Wees wat je bent (be what you are). He brings out the concept of Honesty for each of the four anchor points.

Above all, it is the clarity of the author’s style which is refreshing. Neil Lock has the unmistakable advantage of being a native English speaker. The English prose is simple and precise, and always stays close to reality. Wide ranging reflections on “the essence of things,” for which German philosophy is well known, are not part of the English language tradition to which Neil Lock belongs. Perhaps this may be because the English philosophical tradition has always had more in common with Aristotle than with Plato, whose allegory of “the Cave” tends to lead towards speculations not grounded in the real world. The fact that Neil Lock is trained in the exact sciences may also, naturally, play a role.

The problem that Neil Lock raises is that nation states, as we know them today, fail to serve either human community or Civilization. The nation state, as it has evolved since Napoleonic times, is a step back towards tribalism.

The regression that Neil Lock identifies shows itself in four ways. A gap between what the media tells us and our own experience. A gap between the way in which people behave towards others in daily life, and the behaviour shown in the spotlights of politics and the media. A gap between professed morality, such as the biblical Ten Commandments, and the way in which the political establishment start wars, arbitrarily raise taxes and tell lies when it suits them. And last, a gap between the lifestyles of ordinary, productive people, who look to commerce for the satisfaction of their needs, and the way the political establishment treat those same productive people like cows to be milked. This regression didn’t begin today or yesterday, but has already been happening for more than a century. Since the belief in progress got transmuted into “progressive” politics, the human spirit has been in a recession.

Neil Lock wants to revive the human spirit. The same spirit he sees embodied in the work of two people he admires: John Locke, because of his groundbreaking political work Two Treatises of Government, and Richard Feynman because of his scientific integrity.

At the end of his book Neil Lock draws, among others, the conclusion that a revolution is not desirable, because of the violence that always goes with revolutions. Nor does he see salvation in acquiring power through the ballot box. He envisages a war between Civilization and state power, and because of this he chooses education as the way towards change. The education phase he calls the “Resurgence.” It isn’t difficult to see here a parallel with the Renaissance. Just as Thomas Aquinas laid the groundwork for the Renaissance, so the groundwork for the Resurgence has already been laid by Ayn Rand with her philosophy of Objectivism and its re-valuation of the work of Aristotle.

The education is directed towards making people understand that the pursuit of development and Civilization is more important than loyalty to a political community or to the nation state. Once this is done, it will be time for social transition; the rejection of state power, and the repudiation of its functionaries. In Lock’s view we see a clear parallel with the insights of Canadian conservative writer and pundit Mark Steyn. One of Steyn’s favourite one-liners is: Culture trumps politics. In other words, once you have a grip on the culture, you get the political power for free. Many libertarians would agree with Lock and Steyn on that.

Neil Lock’s book is a welcome contribution to the debate about how, going forward, we can best build on the foundation laid down by Ayn Rand and others.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Chapter 51. Of New Horizons

Next day, Sunday, I spent six hours telling Benno Adam my story. I told him all I knew about the Awakening, and about my role in it; just as I have humbly set these matters down for you, dear reader, in this brief history. But with the more intimate and personal details omitted, of course.

Now we had another eleven ceremonies to do. That was my fault!

I didn’t march with the Band again. Though I was admitted into the “Friends of the Galactic Marching Band,” and I kept in contact with Mostro for many years. Instead, at each of the ceremonies, I shared with Elise the back seat of Mirandin’s ’mobile. Hoong piloted in the even numbered ceremonies, and Lily in the odd numbered ones. Both were excellent pilots, but Lily was better, I thought. Elise disagreed, of course.

The rest of the Team, rather than standing on a hard and, at the northern hemisphere ceremonies, cold podium, elected to watch in comfort – along with Cristina and Helen, and Olgal as well – from Ramael’s ’mobile. They enjoyed the dance at the end, too.

Rrrela had left Earth on the day after the first ceremony. So it was now Othriel who was the mouthpiece of the Galaxy. He was a much better speaker than Rrrela.

Balzo and Bart Vorsprong had to depart after only two ceremonies. Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee left after the third. They were all busy individuals, and though the Galactic way of doing things allowed them to take as much time off as they felt was necessary, they all wanted to get back to work. But, before Balzo left, Lily and I agreed with him the detailed terms for our new Avoran-based jobs. We would travel to Avoran, with Olgal, soon after the ceremonies on Earth were completed.

The last ceremony was in a freezing Beijing near the end of November. By this time, the Galactic presence on the podiums had reduced, from about six hundred in Washington to less than four hundred in Beijing. Most of those who now remained planned to stay on Earth for a while. Many were entrepreneurs, looking to be early into a new market of several billion individuals. But there were academics too, seeking new knowledge. And tourists, just enjoying being among the first on a new Galactic planet.

There was, however, a group – mainly of Piantur engineers, but also including skilled individuals from other species such as Avor’I – who planned to remain on Earth for several years at least. This was the team, who would build our solar power system. For my suggestion, of solar power to be collected in space and beamed to Earth, had indeed been agreed on as the gift the Galactics would give us to celebrate our new status.

Michael and Gabriel departed in the ’mobile, two days after the last ceremony. They were going to take a holiday, then return to Seraph to look for new work. I told them that, when the next suitable candidate species came along on Perinent, I would be urging Balzo to hire them as Helpers. They laughed. “Been there, done that,” Michael said.

Ramael and Hazael took a two year contract on Earth, as pilots for the staff of the Embassy. And, in the unlikely event it was needed, they could become again the military wing of the Galaxy on Earth.

With Cristina and Helen already working at the Embassy, and Harv’I too now comfortably housed there and taking up his father’s project, that left just the core Team, fourteen of us. Lily and I were already committed to going to Avoran. It was time to find out what each of the others planned to do next.

John and Galina teamed up with a pair of Seraphim – none other than our dark blue robed, food-producing friends, who had named themselves Fortnum and Mason. Together, they bought a vineyard and winery not far from Bordeaux. They planned not only to grow the traditional grapes, but also to experiment with grapes from Seraph, and hybrids. Galina’s expertise in plant genetics would be useful here.

Ben and Sabrina also planned to remain on Earth. Now, a few of the Galactic entrepreneurs had brought with them what they called (when translated into English) “portals.” These machines allowed commercial agreements to be recorded, and goods to be Pulled or Pushed, or physically moved in or out of the portal, accounting for them according to those agreements. And they were integrated with the Galactic banking system.

Portals solved, for example, the problems we had had with paying for that first barrel of beer Cees had Pulled. There were also “retals,” which were sales outlets – essentially, portals with a small showroom attached. Ben and Sabrina planned to gain a good understanding of portals and retals, and to get early into the Earthly market for selling them, and training people in how to use them.

Hoong and Elise also stayed on Earth, after a fashion. For they applied to the Piantur to work on their solar power project. Hoong said that he wanted to make absolutely sure that someone from Earth – that meant him – fully understood all aspects of the new technology. His background as an electrical engineer, and his ability as a Seraphimobile pilot, made him well qualified to help the project. His and Elise’s ability to Pull and Push was useful too. So, they struck a deal with the Piantur, including a ’mobile solely for their use.

Ray and Jenna planned to go with Cees and Marie (and Kenny) to Seraph, and open a restaurant there specializing in Earth food, not to mention Earth wine and beer. We had a somewhat drunken after dinner conversation about what they might call it. I suggested they might name it after me, “The Tiddly Pom.” The suggestion was not taken up.

Shami, I thought, had been the most enterprising of all. She wanted to go back to her old career of teaching, but in a Galactic way. So she had talked with Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee, and arranged to go to the Tuglay home planet to learn their techniques of education. Dede, being Dede, was happy to go along with this.

Shami’s decision was a cleverer business move than might appear. For the gravity on the Tuglay home planet is only around two-thirds that on Earth. Tuglay are not comfortable for any length of time in gravity much higher than Perinent’s. They are, therefore, unable to work at their best on planets like Avoran, or even Earth. There was a potentially huge market for education in the style of and under the brand of the Tuglay, delivered on planets with gravity equal to Earth’s or greater.

While in England for the London ceremony, I had visited my old home. For just long enough to order it refurbished and put up for sale. There had been one other thing Lily and I needed to do before we left for Avoran. Which was, get ourselves a Seraphimobile. And that proved easy. For we heard that Othriel, in his new role of ambassador, was going to need – and was about to receive – a larger ’mobile than the one he and Mirandin currently had. So, I and Lily put in an offer for their old one. Which Othriel and Mirandin accepted graciously.

Ben said to me, laughing, “You’ve bought a used car from a politician. And it’s more than a hundred years old, for goodness’ sake!” (Which was true.) “Was that really wise?”

I replied, “Othriel and Mirandin are not politicians, but Galactics. We have a Galactic contract making clear what they sold us, and there is a fresh twenty-year guarantee.”

Lily and I loved that ’mobile. She loved it for its responsiveness and manoeuvrability. I loved it for its luxurious back-seat comfort. Everyone we took for a ride in it, even Ben, agreed with both of us.

Nine days after the ceremony in Beijing, Lily became the first human to pilot a ’mobile off a planet. She took me and Olgal to the Naudar’I docking station for our journey to Avoran.

* * *

But Lily and I could not, of course, travel the Galaxy entirely independently. We could pilot ourselves to the docking station; and we could put ourselves under sleep-gas for the journey through configurational space. But, at the other end, we needed to be retrieved from the docking station, and taken to our room to sleep off the dose.

When we joined a ship, or went to a cosmopolitan planet like Avoran, it was easy. There were many eager to please Seraphim offering the services we needed. But arriving at Perinent would be another matter. In the end, Balzo had to ask Nansen Ault to negotiate an agreement with the Naudar’I. That, where it was not practicable for us to be picked up by others from a docking station, they would leave it there long enough to give us time to wake up, and to leave in our ’mobile for the planet below.

* * *

Avoran was, as I have said, a cosmopolitan planet. It was a little larger than Earth. There were about eight billion Avor’I on it, and around a billion other Galactics, of almost a thousand different species. The Seraphim population there numbered about twenty million. The human population numbered two.

The Avoran day was longer than the day on Earth or Perinent, almost twenty-nine hours. Avor’I had an eight-day week, of which they generally worked six. And an almost ten-hour standard working day. The fifteen per cent higher gravity than Earth’s, combined with the longer day, was wearing on us physically. So Lily and I needed a twelve to thirteen hours’ dose of sleep-gas each night.

Our workplace was in a large, attractive building near the original capital city of Avoran, also called Avoran, which was in the northern temperate zone. It was set in parkland, as most such buildings were. For the Avor’I no longer had cities as we would think of them. A small fraction of the land on the planet, including its most spectacular physical features, was set aside in the form of reserves. A certain percentage was farmland. Most of the rest was what some might unkindly call suburbia. Homes, shops, businesses, and recreational spaces, all mixed. And without the heavy hand of any central planner.

The Avor’I had air-cars. They operated on the same principles as Seraphimobiles, taking energy from the magnetic and other force fields when they accelerated, and returning it when they slowed. The passengers simply stood against a padded wall. That was fine for Avor’I, who stood up all the time except to sleep. But it was uncomfortable for many other species. So, Seraphimobiles, and the air vehicles of other species, were popular on Avoran.

Almost everyone on Avoran had an air-car, or equivalent. And that meant traffic congestion; which was resolved by computers. Every Avor’I air-car, every ’mobile on the planet had the necessary software. You selected your destination, and were taken to it. It was only permitted to manually pilot ’mobiles when above the usual limit of Avor’I air-cars, about ten kilometres up.

From the office I shared with Lohman and Odam, I had a view of the area where air-cars waited to take off. It was quite a sight. A dozen or more parallel lines of machines, moving slowly forward. At peak times, there could be fifty or more in each line. Then, one or several in the front rank would suddenly and silently accelerate. They left the ground after only a few seconds. Some turned left, some turned right, some went higher, some stayed lower. The computers kept them out of each other’s way.

The work we did in that office, planning and directing the Galactic nursery projects on Perinent, was most interesting and challenging. Every project was different, because every candidate species was different. As was every combination of project consultant (when there was one), Helpers and local project manager. We often found ourselves having to make up the rules as we went along.

Next door, Lily worked in the research department with Olgal and two young Avor’I, Varazh and Belxham. They dug up information about candidate species, and evaluated it. They found, and qualified, the data on which Lohman, Odam and I based our decisions.

Lily and I took an apartment about ten kilometres from the office. The building was in an area where many Seraphim lived. We had about a hundred metres to walk to an excellent Seraph restaurant, where we breakfasted every day, and dined most evenings.

Surprisingly, the Avor’I’s own food was also very good. Descended from predators, they were meat ’n’ taters people. Simple tastes, like mine. But, instead of hunting for meat, they now grew it synthetically in huge vats. Though there were, it was said, still a few reserves where the best-heeled Avor’I could go hunting.

Regrettably, Avor’I are not winemakers; we had to confine ourselves to Seraph’s best. They brewed beer, though, and it was good.

At weekends, we would often go in the ’mobile to beauty spots, of which Avoran had many. In the heavy gravity, we could not comfortably walk as far as we could have done on Earth or Perinent. But the scenery was spectacular, and the paths were mostly easy.

There were plenty of other things we could do. Many different kinds of sporting, musical or cultural entertainments were available. Or we could take the lazy option; stay in bed and enjoy a few hours, or even a whole day, under the influence of recreational drugs.

Apart from the long day and the gravity, there was one more downside to living on Avoran. Our contracts with the Company were, by Earth standards, financially far more than generous. But it was an expensive place to live. Hardly surprising, as it was the home planet of the third richest species per head in the Galaxy. “On Avoran,” went the saying, “you have to pay for everything, even the ground under your feet.”

* * *

Our work took Lily and me back to Perinent twice each Avoran year. Which was much the same length as an Earth year, although it had fewer days. Each time, we would spend eight or nine local weeks on Perinent. And, because Avoran and Perinent are close in Galactic terms, it was only about a Perinent week each way by Naudar’I first class ship.

Much had been done since we had left Camp Two. A room had been built for me and Lily at each of the six camps. At my insistence, radios, like those we had used between Camps Two and Four, had been installed at all six camps.

And an amphibian linguistic and communication expert, Xhovar of the Talaxh, had been recruited to work with the species at Camp Three. Xhovar looked like a large yellow frog, about fifty centimetres long. He could survive on land, or in fresh water, or even – at need – in salt water. His job was to unscramble for us the musings of species such as the Pelino’tqvam and the carnivorous fish they Helped, and to re-scramble our ideas for them in return.

* * *

I have space here to tell you about only one of my exploits in my new job. That was on my very first trip. It was at Camp Four, with the Feh’in. I had previously visited them, and Zherhat of the Toronur their local manager, when their project had only just begun. And everything then had looked good – on the surface.

But now Lohman was very concerned. For things were going slowly at Camp Four. Selecting and Pulling the trainees had taken many times longer than it should have. And the trainees themselves seemed lackadaisical. Although they were unfailingly courteous towards their Tuglay teachers, they were learning only slowly. Lohman sent increasingly strongly worded messages to Zherhat. What he got back was mostly excuses or evasiveness.

I expected that, when I got to Camp Four, I would find Zherhat negative. Perhaps he might even think that I had been sent there to spy on him. But instead, he treated me like a long lost friend, and opened himself to me.

“Lizards!” he said. “Lizards! I’m having enough of lizards!

“Don’t get me wrong. The Feh’in are fine people. They are so nice and kind and polite. But they won’t damn well do anything I tell them to! And our Avor’I Helpers are, again, nice people. But so inexperienced! And Lohman – another lizard! – nips at my stalk all the time. He wants progress reports, and non-progress reports, and whys, and why-nots, and ifs, and buts, and ands.”

I considered, then said in my not-really tone, “Perhaps that may be because he is a monitor lizard?” Zherhat paused for a couple of seconds, then asked his translator to translate what I had said as if it was a joke. Then he waved his leaves in Toronur laughter.

Having worked with Odam for many weeks already, I had learned quite a lot about Toronur. Their society is somewhat hierarchical. While individuals can rise or fall on merit, everyone, at any given time, knows where they stand and who they must obey. There is, therefore, in their language no room for any word like “please,” except for an extremely fawning one.

But Olgal had found out some new (to us) information about the Feh’in, just days before Lily and I left Avoran. It seemed that they had an elaborate ritual of please and thank you, which came into play whenever one wanted another to do his or her bidding.

I decided to test this. I asked the Feh’in team leader, whose name was Dulsada, if she would please come for a private talk with me. And, before she could answer, I told her that our ’mobile was very comfortable, if it pleased her to take a ride in it.

“Thank ru. Thank ru.” said Dulsada. At least, that’s what the translator said. But Dulsada had used two quite different words. Olgal was on to something, I thought.

From my conversation with Dulsada in the ’mobile, it proved to be as Olgal had said. Fail to say please – in at least one of its fourteen variants – when you ask a Feh’in to do a thing, and you will achieve little. Fail to say one of the Feh’in’s eleven different kinds of thank you after the thing was done, and you would not get much co-operation the next time. Why hadn’t we known that before the project started? I made a mental note to investigate when I got back to Avoran.

There remained the technical problem of teaching Zherhat how to say “please” and “thank you.” It wasn’t easy. In the end, we found two “click” sounds he could make, which he didn’t use in his normal language. Then we set up his two-way translator to output these as Feh’in versions of “please” and “thank you.”

From that moment, the Feh’in project went faster and more smoothly than any that had gone before. I was reminded of a phrase, which we humans often used as a happy ending for a children’s story. And I adapted it into the Galactic context, as follows:

And they all worked together successfully ever after.

Why Political Community is No Longer Community

(From the archives: October 11th, 2003. Things haven't got any better since...)

There has been radical change in the British political landscape in the last 15 years or so. Old alliances, like that between right-wing traditionalists and the economically effective, have broken up. There is substantial and growing disgust with the whole political system. More and more people are waking up to the fact that they and their views are unrepresented. The so-called body politic is disintegrating, along with the national feeling on which it depends.

I myself am on the forward wave-front of these changes. Today, I want to explain how I feel about politics, and why I feel that way. I want to explore the idea of community in general, to try to understand what is happening. And I want to air my view, that the way out of today's mess is to look wider than politics.

First, I will evince my own personal sense of community. I will not mince words. Although I was born in England, and have lived in Britain for all but about six or seven years of my life, I no longer have any sense of Britishness. I feel no community whatsoever with the blighted Britain of Blair, Brown and Blunkett.

Let me explain how this came about. In the late 1970s, tired of stagflation and Old Labour, I escaped for three years to Holland. This was a good period for me. It was good to have real money in my pocket for the first time. It was good to be away from living with my parents. It was good to sample the different cultures of Holland and Belgium, and a bit of France and Germany. I rapidly came to think of myself as a European.

In those days, I used to think of "Europe" as a good thing. I liked the idea of driving around Europe without being stopped at borders. I liked the idea of being able to live and work anywhere in Europe I chose. I did, it is true, wonder a little why those Brussels bureaucrat blocks were so ugly. But I didn't understand, at the time, the down-side of Europe – that crazy circus with its senseless subsidies and its damned directives.

During the 1980s, my work took me further afield. I spent months at a time in Indonesia, the USA, Italy and Australia. I started to think of myself as a citizen of the world. I used to compare prices in different places by putting them into the world currency – US dollars.

Then, in 1988, I discovered the ideas of individual liberty. A little blue card, pressed into my hand in downtown Atlanta one Sunday morning, set me on a new course. Within a few years, I had ceased to think of myself as a mere citizen of anything. Instead, I thought of myself as a civilized human being.

I considered settling in the USA, but found it too much of a police state for my liking. So I returned to England, where I have based myself since.

About 1994, though, things began to deteriorate. The British government became steadily more hostile towards me and good people like me. The Tories started it, and New Labour accelerated it. Ever more, crazier and stricter laws and regulations. Bullying bureaucrats and police. Destruction of privacy. Perversions of the justice system. Ever more and higher taxes and ever more re-distribution of wealth. Green policies, anti-car policies. Hatred of pleasures, like smoking and fox-hunting. Gradual suffocation of the economy. Suppression of our pension prospects. And all of this bound together by a culture of lies and spin.

Not surprisingly, my reaction has been negative. I have now lost all respect for and all confidence in the political system. I have come to feel for all mainstream politicians, regardless of party, a deep mistrust, contempt and loathing.

I have come to think of national boundaries as arbitrary lines, which serve merely to delimit the patches of different criminal gangs. I have come to think of the idea that I should feel a special affinity for someone just because they were born in the same island as I was, as ridiculous. I might as well be expected to feel a special affinity for someone just because they were born in the same week as I was. (The comparison is apt. For I was born in the same week as Tony Blair).

Please do not think that I hate the land or people of England, or all things English. I love the English countryside, and like to walk long distances through it. I love English country pubs, and make great use of them on my wanderings. I respect the English common law, where not perverted by politicians or vested interests. I love English cricket, though my bowling these days is not what it once was. I take pride in using, as well as I can, the English language, which is deservedly the nearest we have today to a world tongue.

Some might say, love it or leave it. My answer is, if there were somewhere in the world with a civilized, peaceful environment, a booming high-tech economy and no politics, I'd be there like a shot. But there isn't anywhere like that right now. It is a sad commentary on the state of the world today, that asylum-seekers are queuing up to get into Blair's Britain. That, where they come from, things are even worse.

I now want to broaden the topic, to consider community in general. First I ask, just what is community? The word, in essence, means "sharing walls.” It comes from the age of city-states, when people chose to live together inside the walls which defended them against barbarian marauders.

I identify six levels of human community, each with its own kind of walls. I will name them: Individual. Couple. Family or household. Marketplace. Society. Civilization.

The first and lowest level of community, many people would not think of as a community. But it exists. And it has walls. I call it the community-of-one. The walls of this community are formed by the personal life-space around each individual. When people respect others' individual rights and freedoms, then this community remains intact.

Second is the couple, the community-of-two. Since ancient times, custom has legitimized this community through the institution of marriage. Third comes the family or, more accurately, the household. Here, the walls are the physical walls of a home.

Fourth is the marketplace, the community of people with whom individuals interact in their daily lives. Your marketplace contains your friends, your workmates, those you serve and those who serve you. Here, the walls are more subtle; they are walls of choice. In the absence of violence and fraud, you can choose whom you will interact with. It is a beauty of the free marketplace that you can simply refuse to deal with those you don't like.

Fifth comes wide community, or society. Here, the force binding the community is shared culture. Shared desires, shared aims and objectives, and a shared sense of identity. Its walls separate members from non-members. And the widest level of community is civilization. I will come to its walls and its binding forces later.

Each level of community has its own characteristics. In some, we have to accept what is already there – within limits. In others, we have a right of free choice.

As individuals, we have to accept what we are born as. We have to make the best of our strengths and weaknesses. To couple, though, we have the right freely to choose a mate. (If, that is, we can find any suitable candidates).

We have to accept the family we are born into, at least for the first 20 or so years of our lives. And, if we decide to have children of our own, we have to take on the responsibility of supporting and educating them until they are independent. In the marketplace, on the other hand, we have free choice of whom we will deal with. But the marketplace needs a minimum framework of law – prohibitions against violence, theft and fraud, at least – in order to keep it free.

At the level of wide community, or society, we have to accept the rules of any society we choose to join, so long as they are and remain reasonable. But we always have the right to leave a society, and to join another (or many others). Or to form our own societies. And we are entitled to expect benevolence from others in the societies we belong to. For no society can survive for long without mutual benevolence among its members, or at the very least mutual tolerance.

Finally, civilization is again a level of individual choice. We choose who we will count as our fellows, by judging how far their behaviour is civilized.

Today, community is a mess at almost every level. Political governments trample on our individual rights, like property and privacy. Many marriages end in divorce. Families split up. The marketplace, the economy, is stagnant instead of vibrant. All these problems, I think, stem from the failure of community at the fifth level – the society. They stem from the failure of political organizations to deliver the kind of societies people need.

I used to wonder why it was that, in the 18th and 19th centuries, nationalism took such a hold on people. Why did the Italians, for example, show such energy in uniting their country? Then I realized, that what nationalism gave people then was a sense of identity, a sense of shared culture. It was for them a way forward to a better kind of society.

But then was then, and now is now. Today, nation-states like Britain have lost their power to unite. It is no longer possible to assume that everyone living in a particular area has common objectives and desires. Geographical closeness is no longer necessarily community.

My aims and aspirations have nothing in common with those of the likes of Blair, Brown and Blunkett. I want justice – common-sense justice, where individuals are treated as they treat others. They want claptraps like "social justice,” which are no more than rationalizations for their re-distribution of wealth. I want a forward-moving society, bright, individualistic, peaceful, prosperous, and happy. They seem to want a stagnant, dreary, collectivist society, full of wars, terrorism, violence, theft, dishonesty, hatred and fear.

Nor are the Tories, or the third lot, any friends of mine. All British mainstream politicians today promote bad policies. All of them, tacitly if not openly, favour the same collectivist, green, authoritarian agenda as New Labour. None of them will represent me, or defend me against this evil agenda. They, and other supporters of this agenda, are malevolent towards me. They are not my fellows. I can feel no sense of community or society with them.

Britain has failed me. I cannot feel part of it. So, where to?

Once national identity is lost, it cannot be re-gained. It is like the proverbial can of worms; the only way to re-can them is to use a larger can. So, the only way to community, for those of us alienated from nations and politics, is to look wider. And that means looking to the next level, civilization.

Imagine if there was a world-wide community of civilized human beings. Imagine if race, skin colour, gender, physical size, geographical location, cultural origin, even genuine disability, were no bars to entry to that community. And as to religion, the only stipulation was that you don't try to foist religion on others. Imagine if the binding forces of that community were shared willingness to behave in a civilized manner, and shared desire for the happiness of all civilized human beings.

As to what might be our rules of civilized behaviour, I have space here only to give pointers. They could include non-aggression, respect for individual rights and freedoms, and a commitment to objective justice. Willingness to let people live their own lives, in their own ways and at their own paces. Respect for traditional family values, without attempting to ram them down others' throats. In the marketplace, individual expression, an urge to create wealth, and determination to pull your weight. A desire for everyone to enjoy the pleasures they earn. A love of human achievement and human progress. And, above all, a commitment to honesty, and uncompromising rejection of lies, spin, rationalizations and double standards.

But what of the uncivilized, those that cannot or will not behave up to civilized standards? Who needs the uncivilized? Why waste resources on them? They are responsible for the great majority of all human suffering. Why waste our time, energy, or sympathy on them?

Like the city-states of old, our community would need walls. First, we would need philosophical walls. We would need clear, easy-to-use ways to distinguish the civilized from the uncivilized. Second, we would need economic walls. We would need to stop the haemorrhage, that is the theft of our wealth by the uncivilized. And we would need our own currency. We could not trust any national currency – and most certainly not the US dollar.

Third, we would need walls of physical defence. We would need a government. Not a political government, but a real government. One which performs the only legitimate purpose of government, that is, to defend civilized people, their ways of life and their possessions against the uncivilized. It would defend us, not only against common criminals, but also against religious and enviro fanatics and political-government goons.

With none of our wealth being wasted on bureaucracies, or offensive weapons, or politicians' grandiose schemes, we would prosper like never before. Just imagine what good people would think, when they saw the prosperity and happiness in our community. Particularly when we say to them, Are you civilized? Yes? Then come on in, the water's lovely. Imagine people, one by one, quietly seceding from nation-states and joining our civilization. Imagine this flow building to a torrent.

Under the umbrella of the widest level of community, civilization, we would be able to fix the problems at the next level down, society. We would form new societies, based not on geography, but on interests. Imagine the projects we could invest in and work on for mutual and human benefit. For example, getting the economy moving in the third world. Developing energy supplies for the medium and long-term future. Ensuring that law and justice can never again be corrupted.

The fate of the uncivilized, though, would be in their own hands. Each of them either can learn to behave as a civilized human being, or cannot. It is entirely their choice. But if they want to join our community, they must first compensate all those they harmed through their uncivilized acts. Every penny they stole, every minute they wasted, every iota of damage they caused to our lives, every obstacle they put in our way, they must compensate us for.

And what of those uncivilized, that cannot make the grade into civilization? There is a name for them. It is the name the ancient Greeks gave them. They are barbarians.

Bye-bye, barbarians.