Saturday, 31 January 2015

Why There Is a Witch-Hunt Against Our Cars

(From the archives: April 20th, 2004)

Anyone who owns one knows that the car, overall, is a blessing to humanity. Many people would not be able to travel easily between home and work without cars. Parts of ordinary life like shopping would be far more difficult and time-consuming. Many social and recreational trips would not be worth doing without the car.

Yet, the politically hip like to demonize our cars – and us who drive them. Cars, they say, cause serious and perhaps even catastrophic harm to the environment. They rant about lives lost through accidents. They yell at us to SLOW DOWN! and to use less fuel. They tell us that we are causing congestion, which will lead to gridlock before long.

And the car-haters are aggressively rampant today. In Britain, they have made many roads narrower and less straight than they used to be. They put speed-bumps, chicanes and bigger obstacles in our way. They festoon roads with signs reminding us of speed limits, and they place cameras to catch us out and punish us if we go too fast. Even though many of those limits were not there ten or even five years ago.

They paint large areas of road with "no-go" lines. They re-design junctions to reduce traffic flow. They close strategically important roads for road works for weeks on end. They inexorably raise fuel taxes, already the highest in Europe. They sharply increase fines for motoring offences. They charge people large amounts of money to drive into central London. And they want to extend these "successful" charges to other places.

This is not just a British problem. In Holland, for example, speed-bumps and chicanes are in evidence as well. In Belgium too, traffic snakes along roads that used to be wide and straight. In Canada a few years ago, speed cameras became such a hot issue that a provincial election was won on a pledge to remove them.

As far back as the 1970s, there were anti-car voices to be heard among the political class. They had their successes, too – drink-driving laws being perhaps the most obvious. But it was about 1993 that the anti-car propaganda machine really got going. Our TV screens showed (staged) pictures of rural roads chock-a-block with cars. Of traffic jams in foggy weather, complete with smoking exhaust-pipes. Of the aftermaths of accidents. It was hard, even then, to avoid thinking that we drivers were being set up.

Organizations that should have defended us, like the Automobile Association, abdicated their responsibility. Worse, they even took part in the witch-hunt, blaming us for destroying the environment by driving our "gas guzzlers.” No-one was on our side. No-one seemed to want to ask the important questions, like: Whose environment is it anyway?

In what was then a moderately open society, the car-haters could not get away with simply declaring our cars to be illegal. So they had to promote alternatives. They extolled the virtues of public transport and of the bicycle. They spent lots of money (our money) on trams, buses and new and improved bicycle paths. Meanwhile, they did anything they thought they could get away with to make life difficult for us car drivers. With the effects so painfully apparent today.

As an environment for the human beings who use them, though, cars are vastly superior to public transport. Consider: Your car takes you directly from the start of your journey to its end. Public transport usually doesn't; that walk to the train (and at the other end) can make a huge difference to your total journey time. Your car goes when you are ready to go; you don't have to wait for it. Public transport goes (when it goes) according to a schedule set by someone else, which probably doesn't suit you. And you have to hang around waiting for it, often worrying that it will be late, or won't arrive at all.

Your car keeps you dry and warm; bus stops and station platforms don't. In your car, you have space and privacy. You can be alone if you want, or you can be with those you want to be with. In public transport, you are forced into a crowd of random people, most of whom you don't know from Adam.

The seats in most cars are far more comfortable than the seats in buses. The seats in the best cars are luxurious, easily nicer than first class on the train. A well-maintained car travels quickly, smoothly, quietly. In contrast, trains rattle and sway, and buses grind along slowly and noisily.

To drive a fast car, or to relax and ride in a comfortable car well driven, are positive pleasures. Short of taking off in an aeroplane, there are no such pleasures to be found in public transport.

There is more. The car can carry loads quite easily; on public transport, it is difficult to take anything you cannot easily carry on your own. Most parents find it much easier to take their children wherever they need to go by car, rather than by public transport. Public transport is vulnerable to strikes. People get mugged on public transport.

It is true that for certain journeys – such as into and around the centres of big cities – public transport is often faster than the car. This extra speed may, depending on the journey, outweigh the privacy, comfort and convenience advantages of the car. Limited parking at the destination may also make the car less attractive. There seems to be a certain population density, beyond which cars cease to work well.

In places where the road infrastructure is outdated or neglected, the car is at an additional disadvantage. London, for example, suffers particular traffic problems because of its history as a series of villages, which gradually linked up. This means that most of the main roads go through the congested old village centres.

The urbanites that want to force us to use public transport, however, may be missing an important point. If cars and big cities don't mix well, consider the possibility that it is the city, not the car, which is reaching the end of its useful life-span. Consider the possibility that the future of human societies lies in sensible-sized communities surrounded by space, rather than in cramming large crowds of people into small areas. In such societies, it is private transport, not public, which best meets people's requirements. And the best form of private transport we have developed so far is the car.

Some admit the shortcomings of public transport, and promote the bicycle instead. Now the bicycle, in its place, is a fine means of transport. It has some of the same convenience advantages as the car. It is healthy. It is quick over short distances. It is an excellent means of recreational travel, going fast enough to get from place to place, yet slowly enough to let you enjoy what lies between. I know all this, because I once went coast-to-coast across North America by bicycle.

But the bicycle has its problems too. Cycling is unpleasant in the wet. It does not work well in snow or ice. It does not work well when you are injured, or when you are feeling below your best. Longer journeys can simply take too long. Regular journeys can be a boring grind. And, as people get older and their bodies stiffer, bicycling becomes less and less attractive. The bicycle can never be a substitute for the car.

If anyone is to accept any sacrifices in speed, comfort, privacy or convenience in the way they lead their lives, there must be good, objective, easily understandable reasons. It must be clear that the benefits outweigh the sacrifices. So let's look at some of the arguments used to promote today's anti-car policies.

First, pollution and the environment. Fifteen or so years ago, most cars ran on petrol containing lead. Some of that lead found its way into the atmosphere. Today, lead-free petrol and catalytic converters have reduced pollution from cars by an order of magnitude in comparison to then.

You might have thought, then, that car makers and car drivers deserved congratulations for this achievement. But no. Cue the demon, carbon dioxide. I'm not going to repeat the arguments here, but the scares about runaway global warming caused by car-emitted carbon dioxide are just that – scares. There is no substance to them. They are hot air.

Second, accidents and speed limits. In the very week in which I wrote this, there was yet another propaganda campaign, softening us up for yet more reductions in speed limits. The media yelled things like: "A million people killed on the roads every year.” "Road accidents will be the third biggest cause of preventable deaths by 2020.” "You are much less likely to kill someone at 20mph than at 30.” Anyone like to guess what the punch line is going to be?

Now, accidents are regrettable. I am not against programs to make roads genuinely safer, for example by better segregation of traffic travelling in opposite directions. But we have to keep perspective. All kinds of transport have inherent risks. There were transport accidents long before there were cars. Today's cars, mile for mile, are far safer than earlier forms of transport.

And recent evidence shows that all the speed limits and obstacles to make us drive slower have not reduced British accident rates. Indeed, the amount of absolute-idiot driving, the kind that causes fatal accidents – like overtaking on blind bends – has increased in the last few years. I think I understand why this may be. For the obstacles and speed limits designed to slow us down, so-called "traffic calming,” actually have psychologically the opposite effect. When I come to an obstacle in the road, or see a speed limit sign that wasn't there before, I don't feel calmed. Instead, I want to wring the necks of those responsible. I suspect I am by no means alone in this reaction. And it seems obvious that an angry driver will be less predictable, and so less safe, than a relaxed and happy one.

It seems to me that the costs of more and more draconian limits and regulations far outweigh the dubious benefits. I myself have driven for more than thirty years, with only one accident going forwards – and that didn't injure anyone. I drive at sensible speeds; why should I go any slower than I did thirty years ago?

Third, fuel. That the oil is running out is simply false. That a lot of the cheapest oil is in politically troublesome parts of the world is, unfortunately, true. So, research into and development of new fuels for private transport is a valuable activity, one to which I think all drivers should be happy to contribute – instead of paying petrol taxes. In 20 years' time perhaps, our cars might run on fuels that can be produced using electrical energy, which in turn can be produced from nuclear or large-scale solar power. We could thumb our noses at the doomsayers then!

I also find the oft-intoned mantra, that we should slow down to save fuel, strange. As anyone with a trip computer in their car knows, the journeys, which use the least fuel per mile, are those with the highest average speeds. At an average speed of 60mph, my car does 50 percent more miles per gallon than at an average of 30. If saving fuel really was the priority, road-builders would be seeking to increase speeds, not to decrease them. There would be a safety benefit too; for the fastest roads are also the safest ones.

Fourth, congestion. Yes, congestion is a problem in big cities; all the more reason to live outside the city. In the suburban area in which I live, there is some congestion. But it stems from three main sources. One, fixed obstacles like railway level crossings. Two, inconsiderate parking, which makes what should be a two-way flow of traffic into an alternating one-way flow. Three, the school run. It is fairly easy, by choosing your route carefully and displacing your working day a little, to avoid two of these three sources of congestion.

Ah, say the car-haters, suburban – and main road – congestion may not be so bad today, but it's getting worse, isn't it? And, for once, they are right. It is getting worse in south-east England, because the government is cynically trying to cram more and more people into a tiny corner of the country. While failing to upgrade the road system to match. Congestion is also getting worse because of the hindrances to our progress, which they are placing on the roads. There is one underlying reason for the worsening road congestion; bad politics.

So, what is really going on? What lies at the root of all this anti-car propaganda and all these bad policies? I have a suggestion to make. Could it be, perhaps, that the witch-hunt against our cars – and against us – is just what it appears, a witch-hunt? Could it be, in essence, religious persecution?

Our cars are not just fast, comfortable, convenient and private. They are also an expression of our individuality and independence. But many among the political class hate those of us, who value our individuality and independence. For what they want is to control people. They hate economic success, and those who earn it. Like the mediaeval church, they hate human progress. They hate pleasures. And they persecute.

This idea, that what we car drivers are suffering is persecution, can explain a lot. It explains why the car-haters do not care that their arguments involve lies (like, saying that driving slower uses less fuel). It explains why it cuts no ice to tell our persecutors that cars don't cause global warming. For they aren't interested at all in scientific reality. For them, the environment is just a convenient rationalization to hang their persecution on. We might as well have tried to tell their forebears that it's chemically impossible for communion wine to become Jesus' blood.

It explains why they are so insistent on slowing us down. They hate human progress in general; but that extends to our physical progress too. It explains why they put up so many speed limit signs and cameras; it's psychological warfare, forever reminding us that they're out to get us if we step out of line. It explains, too, why they assault us in so many different ways, all at once. Their agenda is to make our driving lives as unpleasant as they can. They are out to punish us for being individual and independent in our choice of transport.

The first step towards ending any persecution is to recognize it for what it is. As the persecution gets worse, that recognition, I think, is becoming increasingly easy. And car owners and drivers are, in population terms, a very significant constituency indeed. Let enough of them understand what is being done to them, let enough of them get angry enough about it, and we may even have the makings of a revolution.

Let's drive on towards the Revolution!

Friday, 23 January 2015

My disquiet at obligation to others without liberty

(Neil's Note: Hot off the press, this one.)

This essay is a response to D.J. (David) Webb’s “My disquiet at liberty without obligation to others.” That piece can be found at http://www.honestcommonsense.co.uk/2015/01/ten-ethical-laws.html>http://thelibertarianalliance.com/2015/01/19/my-disquiet-at-liberty-without-obligation-to-others/.

Obligation and liberty

David is bothered by a view of liberty that some profess, which he describes as “tossing aside all obligations to one another.” I share his disquiet. And so, I suspect, would almost anyone who identifies as liberal or libertarian. Indeed, it is amply clear to me that every human being has certain obligations or duties to others. And that to meet those is the sine qua non of civilized behaviour.

What I don’t find so easy, however, is to grasp what David thinks those specific obligations should be. He seems to suggest that they include subscribing to the Christian religion; and, even, to the Anglican church. Furthermore, he promotes a traditionalist – some might say blimpish – view on its moral teachings. I certainly can’t agree with his positions here.

Indeed, at another level I find David’s view rather disturbing. If a society or culture doesn’t offer the freedom to reject Christianity in general or the Anglican church in particular, there can be no religious freedom there. So, how liberal is it likely to be in other areas? Not very, I think.

What David seems to be prescribing for us, as his antidote to liberty without obligation to others, is obligation to others without liberty. And that is something I cannot accept. Indeed, I regard “obligation to others without liberty” as a decent definition of the word “slavery.”

Civil society and culture

David’s essay is about the conditions for a civil society. That is, for a society whose purpose is to enable people to live together in tranquillity and justice, while maximizing freedom and prosperity.

He says, at the very start, that he views “a common culture as vital to any sort of functioning society.” I can agree with this, almost – but not quite. For me, what is vital to a functional civilization is a common cultural core, or set of ethical obligations which apply to all. But I take the view that this common core must be the minimum needed to achieve the purpose of civil society. That is what makes me identify myself as a minarchist.

Furthermore, I see the great majority of these core obligations as being negative ones. That is, they impose a duty to refrain from certain conduct. Only a very few of them can impose any positive mandate for action.

If England were a civil society – it isn’t, but if it were – then I’d see no reason at all for something as restrictive as Anglicanism to be part of its core ethic. No more reason, indeed, than for it to be impossible for anyone to be English who doesn’t drink warm beer! In contrast, a good candidate to be part of the core morality is the libertarian non-aggression obligation. I’ll paraphrase this, as it often seems to be put forward, as: “Thou shalt not commit physical aggressions against others.”

Personally, I don’t think the non-aggression obligation (or principle) cuts enough ice to make a viable core morality. And particularly not on its own, as our “thin” libertarian friends seem to think it can. For what it’s worth, I’ve made my own stab at constructing such a core. I’ve put it on line at http://www.honestcommonsense.co.uk/2015/01/ten-ethical-laws.html. (It’s about 2,800 words.)

My vision of civil society

My vision for a civil society is of a common moral core, surrounded by different sets of customs for different groups. Those who want to follow a particular religion, for example, may worship in whatever way they wish, as long as they don’t violate the core morality. But they don’t have any right to force their religion on others. I call this Neil’s First Precept of Religion: “If you let me have my religion (or lack of it), I’ll let you have yours.”

A similar principle will apply in other aspects of life, too. For example, socialists have a right to live in socialist communes if they wish. Free marketeers have a right to live in free market ones. Libertarians have a right to live in libertarian communes, and libertines in libertine ones. But no-one has the right to impose their particular tastes on others. In this way each and every one of us, through meeting our core obligations to others, acquires the freedom and right to live in all other respects in our own way.

The state

I do, however, have another fundamental difficulty with David’s essay. He seems to think of a state as a natural and necessary part of any civil society. He only questions how far the state needs to intervene. I disagree. I regard the political state – which I’m, tentatively, moving towards defining as “the apparatus which enforces the hegemony of a ruling √©lite” – as an unmitigable evil, totally incompatible with civil society.

Let’s not forget that the Westphalian nation state is a hold-over from pre-Enlightenment times. Back then, the divine right of kings to rule over others was considered the norm, and John Locke was yet a boy. But now, think of the progress which we humans have made over these 350+ years in science, technology, the world economy and much else. That our political institutions have failed to move forward in sync with our general progress is, I think, a major cause of what ails humanity today. The state is way past its last use by date; and we’re all suffering the smell.

Individualism and collectivism

But there is more yet for me to disagree with in David’s essay. He makes some very negative comments about individualism. As an individualist myself – and I think of myself as more an individualist than a libertarian! – I do feel I must respond to these.

First, David seems not to understand what individualism is. The best definition of the word I can find comes from Webster’s: “(2) the conception that all values, rights, and duties originate in individuals.” Individualism is not, as David suggests, a particular moral code. That’s a very loose use of the word. And even if it were so construed, such a code would be further from “every man for himself” – which, I think, is likely the moral view David is actually criticizing – than is chalk from milk.

The essence of individualism is a focus on the individual. It is a way of thinking, which puts the human individual at centre stage. It views ethical codes and political structures in terms of how they affect each individual, and of how they benefit and what they cost each individual. It views freedom and obligation to others, not as antagonistic, but as two sides of the same coin. Thus, individualism and (minarchist) libertarianism are entirely compatible.

And when David says that individualism is “only relevant to a hermit,” I think he’s again wrong. The individualist does, very much, recognize that people can gain mutual benefit by associating with each other. Individualism even allows for an ideal of the public good in a society. As John Locke expressed it so well: “the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for.”

Individualism, indeed, is the arch enemy of collectivism. It opposes the evil way of thinking that sees society, the group or the state as everything, and the individual as nothing. Because of this, it is easy to see why leftists and other statists like to (deliberately) misconstrue what individualism is. Indeed, they often describe it in much the same terms that David has used here. I’m well inured to leftists spouting such rhetoric; it’s part of what they do. But a conservative, I think, really should know better.

The individual and the family

In my view, David makes another error when he says: “The unit of society is therefore, not individuals, but families.” This ignores the fact that families consist of individuals. And that in the wider world, for example in the economy, in most cases it is individuals (and societies such as companies) who interact with each other, rather than families.

Furthermore, when I list social units in order of increasing size, I find that the individual and the family are not even next to each other. There is a level in between the individual and the family; the partnership. Partnerships may be, but are not necessarily, created to found or to bring up a family, or both. A good modern example of a non-family partnership is so called gay marriage.

In conclusion

Though I’ve found a lot to disagree with in David’s essay, I do recognize that libertarians and conservatives, radicals and traditionalists, are ultimately all in the same boat. Along, if I’m not hugely mistaken, with all other well meaning, honest and naturally productive people.

We all suffer the predations of a common enemy; the violent, dishonest, immoral, lying, thieving, meddling, out of date political state. And I think that to find and to know the areas in which we can agree, and to illuminate and make clear the areas where we disagree and the reasons why, are good things to be doing in the current phase of the struggle for human liberty.

I will close with a quote, put into the mouth of Gandalf by J.R.R.Tolkien: “We are all friends here. Or should be; for the laughter of Mordor will be our only reward, if we quarrel.”

Ten Ethical Laws

(Neil's Note: This is a substantial excerpt from the Ethics part of Honest Common Sense. I am publishing it here in order to provide a freely available reference point for my current best thinking in this area.)

When I look at the ways in which civil human beings ought to behave in a society, I identify what I call Ethical Laws.

I see ten interlocking Laws, which underpin each individual’s responsibilities towards others. I’ll name them:

  1. Law of No Harm.
  2. Law of Restitution.
  3. Law of No Criminal Intent.
  4. Law of Civilization.
  5. Law of Reciprocity.
  6. Law of Truthfulness.
  7. Law of Independence.
  8. Law of Contract.
  9. Law of Parenthood.
  10. Law of No Aiding or Abetting.
Some may disagree with my formulation. That’s fine; there are many ways to skin this particular cat. So, if you think you can write a better set of Laws, please do. For competition is one of the prime movers of progress.

So, here are the Laws I put forward as a candidate basis for the law. That is, for the code of conduct natural to civil human beings, observance of which divides the civil from the uncivil.

Law of No Harm

Do not do or threaten violence or intentional harm to others, or violate others’ rights or freedom, except as may be justified in the following circumstances:

  1. In self-defence,
  2. In defence of another, or
  3. In the execution of common sense justice.
My first Law is the Law of No Harm. It is much broader than the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP) promoted by many of my liberty friends. It also allows for the implementation of a justice system, so solving what I see as one of the ZAP’s major problems.

It starts from the basic premise: “First, do no harm.” So in the first instance, you should never intentionally harm others. Not physically, or financially, or psychologically, or in the reputation, or in any other way. Nor should you do violence to others; nor should you stalk or harass them; nor should you even threaten violence or harm. You shouldn’t violate others’ rights or freedom in any way, either.

But I then allow for three specific circumstances in which it can be justified to do or threaten harm, even intentional or at need violent harm. Each exception arises from a different necessity. The first, self-defence against aggression, is necessary for survival. The second, defence of another against aggression, allows civil human beings to defend each other against the uncivil. And the third makes it possible to implement systems of objective, common sense justice and law; what I’ll call the rule of law and justice.

The justice these institutions deliver must, however, be objective; a false claim to be acting in the interest of justice is a very serious fraud.

Law of Restitution

If your conduct unjustifiably causes harm to others that was reasonably foreseeable, you must compensate them if they require it.

My second law is the Law of Restitution. This covers the situation where your action – or, in rare cases, inaction – has caused actual harm to someone. In most cases, this means that you have a responsibility to provide restitution.

I’ll note four things about my formulation of this Law. First, it’s about consequences. It applies whether or not the harm was intentional. Even obeying the law isn’t always sufficient to avoid responsibility for restitution if you damage someone unjustly – though it often does help.

Second, it doesn’t apply to damage done in justified acts of self-defence, defence of others, or the execution of justice.

Third, it only applies where the damage was reasonably foreseeable. Or, otherwise put: harm, of the kind which resulted from the action or inaction, could reasonably have been expected to happen. This proviso is necessary to minimize the danger from false accusations of harm. To use a metaphor, a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil should not be held responsible for a famine in China.

And fourth, a consequence of this Law is that if you do something which poses a risk to others, you must make sure that you’re able to compensate them if things go wrong. For example, if you want to drive a car and so pose a degree of risk to other road users, you must have insurance, or some other arrangement, whereby you can meet your responsibilities in case of an accident.

The flip side of restitution is that – subject to common sense justice – you’re entitled to compensation for any objective harm which is done to you. In practice, though, many of us will often choose not to pursue this compensation. That may, perhaps, be because it’s too small to be worth the effort. Or it may be in a spirit of civilized tolerance – accepting others’ small faults, in expectation of being able to offset that acceptance, if you need to, against any small harms you may cause others. For everyone makes mistakes, and we all sometimes have bad moments. Only if the harm we suffer is significant, or persistent, or apparently intentional, will most of us pursue compensation.

Law of No Criminal Intent

On crime and punishment, I take quite a conventional view. I don’t support the idea touted by some of my liberty friends, that there can be no crime without a victim. Instead, I separate bad acts into two parts. The first is the civil law part, the consequences of the act to a victim or victims. This part is covered by the Law of Restitution. The second is the criminal law part; the intent, the so-called mens rea or guilty mind.

I find it quite possible that a bad act with no, or small, civil law consequences can be a crime, even a serious crime. The planting, by an incompetent terrorist, of a bomb that fails to go off is an example. The actual damage caused is low; but the damage intended was very high.

So, I agree with standard jurisprudence that a crime is created by the combination of act and mens rea. And that it’s justified to punish the perpetrator, above and beyond restitution to the victims if there are any. Provided that the punishment fits the crime, both in kind and severity.

I do, however, add two riders. One, prison should never be used as punishment for an individual who isn’t a real danger to others. And two, the death penalty shouldn’t be used if there is any possibility at all that the individual might have been wrongly convicted.

I list six types of mens rea in my Law of No Criminal Intent:

Do not act towards others with any of the following:

  1. Greed (trying to take more from others than you are justly entitled to),
  2. Malice or intolerance,
  3. Irresponsibility beyond the bounds of reason,
  4. A desire to create or aggravate injustice,
  5. An unjust desire to violate rights or freedom, restrict choices or obstruct free trade,
  6. A claim that you have moral rights that others do not.
I’ll add three notes. First, the implementation of a justice system may require some violation of rights or freedom, or restriction of choice or free trade, against those that have caused or intended harm. That is why the word “unjust” appears in the Law.

Second, intent to disobey legislation made by politicians isn’t necessarily criminal intent. Indeed, such disobedience is often noble; a fine example is given by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

And third, many actions of politicians, government officials and their cronies today are real crimes. In particular, lobbying for bad legislation is a crime. Making bad legislation is a crime. Enforcing bad legislation is a crime. Violating rights to try to police bad legislation is a crime. And, per the last type of mens rea above, any claim of sovereign immunity or state irresponsibility is a crime.

Law of Civilization

Uphold the principles of common sense justice, human rights and freedom.

The Law of Civilization is the one which feeds back from Ethics into Politics. It lays on each of us, as part of the law, an obligation to uphold three Principles underlying all Civilization. That is, Common Sense Justice, Common Sense Rights and Common Sense Freedom.

This Law is one of the very few parts of the law which can impose mandates. For example, in a system of justice which uses trial by jury, it imposes an obligation to do jury service when reasonably asked. And to do it properly, with full attention to Justice with a capital J.

It’s important to note that the obligations this Law imposes are to the Principles themselves, not to any particular government or system which tries to implement them. You must uphold Justice in the round, not necessarily any one provider of it. And you must uphold human rights and freedom as principles, not necessarily some particular organization which aims or claims to protect them.

It’s also important to note that most acts of politicians today, and of many other state functionaries, violate this Law.

Law of Reciprocity

Treat others at least as well as they treat you.

My fifth law I call Reciprocity, or (acknowledging my debt to Confucius) Neil’s Golden Rule. It reflects that, not only must we uphold justice as a general principle, but we must also uphold it as individuals. For example, we must be polite to those who are polite to us. We should be friendly to those who are friendly towards us. And we must treat peacefully those who treat us peacefully.

What of those, that treat us badly? Each of us has the right to defend ourselves against them, with or without the help of others. We can shun or ostracize them, if we wish. And, at need, we have the right to bring them to justice, to claim restitution from them and, if appropriate, to get them punished for their crimes.

Furthermore, when individuals that have treated us badly also failed to show consideration for us, we are not obliged to show any more consideration to them in return.

But we always have the option to behave better towards them than they have done towards us. As with the Law of Restitution, we can choose to be tolerant, and waive some of our rights under the Law of Reciprocity if we so wish.

Law of Truthfulness

Never knowingly lie, deceive, mislead or bullshit, unless strictly necessary to defend yourself or another.

My sixth Law is Truthfulness. It requires civil human beings to be always truthful and straightforward, except in two circumstances, both of which run parallel to the exceptions to the Law of No Harm.

There are, indeed, circumstances where it’s OK to lie in self-defence. These can happen particularly when dealing with bureaucracy. As an example, back in 1983 my work took me to Indonesia, and I had to apply for a residence permit. One of the questions on the form was, “What is your religion?” At the time, I was in my hard atheist phase. But I was advised that to write “Atheist” in that box would probably get me refused a permit. This was because atheism at that time was in many Indonesian people’s minds equated to communism, which was greatly hated because of the attempted communist coup there in 1965. So I wrote “Anglican” in that box. After all, I had been a full member of the Anglican church for about 18 months during my teenage years. So it was a true answer; just fifteen or so years late.

Similarly, it can be OK to lie to those you think have no good intentions. If thugs come round asking for the person next door, it may not be a good idea to tell them where he’s gone for the week-end.

But, unlike the Law of No Harm, it is not OK to lie or deceive for common sense justice. For, if justice is not truthful, it is nothing. Disraeli was no fool! Thus the sting operations often used by police – for example, sending into a shop someone who is “legally” too young to buy cigarettes or alcohol – are violations of the law.

And violations of truthfulness can also bring into play the Law of Restitution. If you knowingly lie to someone, giving them reason to believe that what you told them was true, and as a result they suffer unjust harm, then you owe them compensation. Deliberate untruthfulness can even, if bad enough, violate the Law of No Criminal Intent.

Law of Independence

Strive to be independent in thought and actions, to avoid becoming a drain on others, and to take full responsibility for your own life.

My seventh law, Independence, reflects that each human being is an individual, not a herd animal. And that we must be ourselves, always aiming to live in our own individual way.

Each of us must cut our own path through life, economically and in all other ways. And we must also be independent in another sense; we must not voluntarily let ourselves become a drain on others. But the “strive to...” wording allows for a waiver if circumstances outside the individual’s control get in the way.

Law of Contract

Always strive to do what you have freely and knowingly agreed to do.

My eighth Law, Contract, is the basis of trade between human beings. If you make an agreement to do something, voluntarily and in full knowledge of what you have taken on, then you must always try to fulfil your side of the agreement. If the task becomes impossible, or not worth doing, for reasons outside your control, there may be scope for re-negotiation. But the basic rule is; don’t break your contracts.

Law of Parenthood

If you have children, bring them up and educate them to be civil human beings.

My ninth Law, Parenthood, applies only to those who have children. It is, I believe, accepted as conventional wisdom.

I’ll make several further points. First, having children isn’t just a responsibility, but a huge privilege too. For to be able to transmit your own qualities and characteristics to the future is an opportunity which only honest, civil individuals deserve.

It goes further. If evolution is, as we are told, Darwinian – survival of the fittest, and all that – then, by having children, you are claiming that you’re fitter to continue the race than those of us who have never had an opportunity to have children. Have you thought how insulting it is to people without children, first to claim that you’re a better person than they are, then to turn round and make major demands on them, like economic support?

Second, parents are responsible, until the children are adult, for the consequences of their children’s actions. This is because children are not yet fully moral agents. So, parents do have a right to control their children. But they should only do this in ways that are compatible with common sense justice, and without using force except in extreme need.

Third, parents have the responsibility to bring up and educate their children to become civil human beings; to obey the law. In the words of a professional philosopher friend, they must seek to make “a human environment of individuals who will be an asset rather than a liability to you, me and themselves.”

Fourth, they must do it without draining those around them financially, emotionally or in any other way. And fifth, those who can’t, or don’t want to, take on the responsibility of bringing up children, should avoid having children.

Having said all that, I feel a need to wade into the abortion debate. The crux of the matter is, at what point does an individual acquire the rights of a human being? At conception, at birth, or at some other time? For example, when a fetus becomes able to survive outside the womb, per Roe v. Wade? Or even when an infant becomes self-aware? This debate is so ferocious because, as in metaphysical debates, it’s impossible to prove that one or another assumption is correct.

I take what seems to me the common sense view, that an individual acquires these rights at birth. And that therefore, while abortion is not to be encouraged, it must be available as a last-chance option to avoid a greater tragedy. And only the parents – and most of all, the mother – can make that decision.

Law of No Aiding or Abetting

To the last of my Laws. Aiding or abetting crime is seen, in the conventional view, as itself a crime. And rightly so. Hence my Law of No Aiding or Abetting:

Do not knowingly aid, encourage or condone any violation of the law.

Otherwise put: don’t help others to break the law, or egg them on to do so. And don’t regard violations of the law as acceptable.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Book review: Neil Lock’s “Honest Common Sense” - By Mustela nivalis

Neil Lock has a background in mathematics and software development. It is therefore no surprise that Neil is an early adopter of the current wave of libertarianism. The philosophy of freedom is a logical system that does not tolerate contradictions. True to form, Neil’s book “Honest Common Sense” contains a rigorously methodical and systematic exposition of this philosophy. Lock has built his book on the four humanities metaphysics, epistemology, politics/ethics and economics. As he has aimed his book at “non-academic people” he is not above simplifying these concepts into “be”, “think”, “relate” and “do” and to explain each category in everyday terms. “Honesty” is the centrepiece of his work, holding these four concepts together.

In his explanation of these concepts, Lock divides each of them into easily digestible subsections. For example in “relate” he sets out four political principles, which he says are the fundamental rules by which a society ought to be organised: justice, equality, rights and freedom. Interestingly, he ranks them in that order in a hierarchy, one building on the other. He thereby avoids problems that would result from treating each principle equally. Indeed, how would a justice system work if A had the right to judge B only if B has an equal right to judge A? The solution: “justice trumps equality”. How human beings ought to behave within this framework of the four guiding political principles is then set out in Lock’s ten ethical laws. Within the law of truthfulness, for example, Lock discusses the circumstances “where it’s OK to lie in self defence”, and where not, saying: “if justice is not truthful, it is nothing”.

The author often bases his ideas on the works of pre-eminent thinkers such as John Locke and Franz Oppenheimer. Commendably however, Lock has the confidence to formulate his own original thoughts and insights. For example, according to Lock, “government” and “political state” are not the same thing, they are in fact “all but opposites”. Neil, who likes to play with words, compares a government with an “umpire” and the state with a “vampire”. Another original thought is when he describes the free market with his “Free Marxet [!] Precept”: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his deserts [instead of needs, as Marx had said]. In another chapter, he goes beyond saying “taxation is theft”. For him, “taxation kills”, because taking property means “taking life”, as “property is life” – it is one’s life’s energy solidified into valuables. His simplifying, but not simplistic, style and catchy phrases make his message very memorable.

Lock does not shy away from more practical questions where it matters. He discusses for example whether or not and under which circumstances it is OK to take state money. Basically it is, says Lock, if it is to “take back your own”. You may also accept help if you couldn’t survive without it – but should try to find out who actually paid for the benefits and thank them. State paid jobs are also OK, as long as they would exist in the private sector if the state wasn’t in the way. This is solid advice, especially so as it leaves room for the individual to make up his own mind on each specific matter concerning him.

Although Lock seems to have avoided the word libertarian (with or without the ism), his book is a very accessible, easily readable primer for the philosophy and practice of freedom. Being a book about honesty, it is in part quite challenging as well. But in a good way. Lock is no puritan fundamentalist. He is aware that honesty is a difficult path to follow – which is why he talks about paths (corresponding to the five divisions of his philosophy) “which you must do your best to keep to, rather than Laws which you must always keep to.”

Up to this point there are only couple of minor quibbles I have. One is that Lock sees the immigration debate as an attempt by the state to “shore up their false ‘community’ by concentrating on its walls.” He certainly has a point here. However, this view is one-sided. The other side is the (seemingly contrary) attempt by the state’s ruling class to balkanise its subjects to make it difficult, if not impossible for them to bunch up against the establishment. The other quibble is where he writes that whenever we run out of natural resources, “that’s the time to develop better alternatives”. Here it would have been good to explain that in a free market the price mechanism would drive this development.

The book ends with a few chapters more or less devoted to a vision of a free society and the question of “how do we get from here [being the political state] to there [the ‘Age of the Individual and of Civilization’]?” Lock correctly identifies the nature of the current struggle towards this civilization as a “paradigm war”. There are some aspects here however where I depart from Lock more fundamentally. He acknowledges setbacks in our societal evolution towards freedom, but sees us now in a phase comparable to “contractions which precede the birth of a baby”. This may or may not be so – the evidence provided is scant. The bigger problem however is the air of inevitability which accompanies this statement of faith. If something considered as “good” is assumed to be inevitable there will always be some who will want to hasten things along, irrespective of the consequences in the detail: After all, heaven on earth is just around the corner. Omelettes and eggs.

To his credit Lock explicitly warns against revolutions “because our enemies are better than we are at violence”. However, on the other hand he hopes that “it shouldn’t be too hard to raise a tidal wave of anger, contempt and hatred, directed at the state, its politics, and the proprietors and beneficiaries of the state. A tidal wave is exactly what we need … it will happen quickly. How long did it take to pull down the Berlin Wall.” Apart from being contradictory, the author is too optimistic here, even if the “tidal wave” he envisages remained peaceful. It is not without reason that German libertarians today talk of their country as being “GDR light” or “GDR 2.0”. Also, the phrase EUSSR is not without foundation.

Lock counters by pointing to England’s Glorious Revolution: his almost-namesake and paragon John Locke who in 1683 had to flee from England became in 1689 Commissioner of Excise Appeals. “Paradigm wars do things like that.” Indeed. However, that particular shift was preceded by 150 years or so of Reformation, which planted into people’s minds ideas of individuality and its relationship with the divine. Not to forget the civil war. Paradigm shifts happen, and happen fast, but, like earthquakes, take a long time to build up and a lot of energy and drive to actually happen. This reviewer believes that a societal shift towards libertarianism will need to be preceded by something that changes hearts and minds as much and as deeply as the Reformation did.

However, these last few chapters (comprising about 40 of 150 pages) do not lessen the merits of the bulk of Lock’s book. Indeed, “Honest Common Sense” has the potential to be part of the “build up” to the paradigm shift he hopes for. From his book any reader, the seasoned libertarian as well as the novice, can glean many original insights as well as a coherent exposition and overview of the philosophy of freedom. Apart from the above caveats, the reviewer recommends it wholeheartedly.


Originally published at http://thelibertarianalliance.com/2015/01/05/book-review-neil-locks-honest-common-sense/

Thursday, 1 January 2015

How to Measure Civilization Quotient

(From the archives: February 15th, 2004)

There are two ways to judge an individual's value to humanity. There is an accurate, painstaking way. And there is a less accurate, but quick and cheap, way.

The accurate, painstaking way is hard to do. But it is quite easy to state. Simply add up, on the one hand, all the wealth the individual has created. Include, not just economic wealth created through honest business and work, but other forms of wealth too. Include their contributions to human knowledge, to technological progress, to innovation. Include their efforts to improve themselves and others. Include the love and support they have given to other wealth-creating people. Include their efforts to help make people happy. Include their contributions to making life for civilized human beings better and more enjoyable.

Then add up, on the other hand, all the damage they have caused to others through uncivilized acts. Include the damage they caused through violence or theft. Include the damage they caused by lazily sponging on people. Include the damage they caused by violating fundamental human rights and freedoms. Include the damage they caused through taking part in religious, racist or any other kind of persecution. Include the damage they caused through lies, spin or fraud. Include the damage they caused by denying people their pleasures. Include the damage they caused by promoting or supporting political policies to harm or inconvenience civilized human beings. Make special, extra allowance for any damage they did, which was motivated by malice against good people.

Having done these two sums, now divide the good by the bad. Divide the wealth they have created by the damage they have caused, to give their Humanity Ratio (HR).

For an average civilized human being, the Humanity Ratio should, I reckon, be somewhere between 50 and 500. That is, between 50 and 500 times as much wealth created as damage caused. The best people, of course, will have much higher Humanity Ratios. They will score in the thousands, or perhaps even the millions.

But there are those, that do more bad than good. They have Humanity Ratios less than 1. They are worse than merely uncivilized; their value to humanity is less than nothing. They deserve, at the very best, just one chance, one opportunity to compensate those they harmed. In full, with 100 per cent damages on top for any acts that were malicious.

Actually doing these sums, however, is not easy. It needs much information, time and effort. I can only foresee this measurement being put into practice as part of a large-scale scheme of common-sense justice, financed by a percentage of the restitution. And that is not going to happen while the world remains ruled by politicians. So, today, I will concentrate on the quick and cheap way. I will introduce you to Civilization Quotient (CQ).

To measure Civilization Quotient, you need three things. First, you need a moral code, a touchstone of civilized behaviour. Second, you need a way to judge the reasons why individuals, on the occasions when they fail to measure up to the moral code, fall short. I call this the Motive Factor. And third, you need a scoring system.

Now, it just so happens that I have a moral code handy. I call it my twelve commandments. But I stress that my own code is not the only one you could use to measure CQ. You could use, for example, the last six of the biblical Ten Commandments if you really wanted to. (Though you would have to adjust the scoring system). Or you could write your own. However, I'll use what I have available. So here are my twelve laws:

  1. Be your own proud, independent self.
  2. Don't use, call for or condone violence or threat of violence against any civilized human being.
  3. Create wealth through energetic co-operation and honest competition.
  4. Treat others at least as well as they treat you.
  5. Keep your freely made promises and agreements.
  6. Don't obstruct any civilized human being's progress, opportunity, wealth creation, trade or pursuit of happiness.
  7. 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.
  8. Don't use or sanction lies, deception, fraud, dishonest rationalizations or mental manipulation against any civilized human being.
  9. Take responsibility for your actions; compensate anyone you may harm through malicious, irresponsible or negligent acts.
  10. If you have children, protect, sustain and educate them until they have become civilized human beings.
  11. Desire individual, common-sense justice for everyone. That is, the condition in which each individual, over the long term, is treated as he or she treats others.
  12. Practise what you preach.
That's part one. Now for the Motive Factor. Some people – a very few – may be able to live up to civilized standards all the time, without any blemish. But most of us are not perfect.

There are certain standards, however, which each of us considers important. We always try hard to keep to these particular standards – for example, not lying, or being non-violent. If on occasions we fall short, it is not for want of trying.

Most of us, though, suffer occasional more serious lapses. We may be irresponsible, for example by exaggerating a story for effect. Or we may be negligent, or lazy, or forgetful, or not entirely honest. Sometimes, individuals may behave in a way that is not merely irresponsible, but persistently so. Perhaps, for example, they do uncivilized things again and again, because they do not understand that what they are doing is wrong.

But some are worse still. They fail to live up to civilized standards, and they do it maliciously. Religious persecution and promotion of bad political policies designed to harm people, for example, are uncivilized acts fuelled by malice. And there are those, that are not only malicious, but persistently so. For them, malice is a way of life.

That's the Motive Factor. Now for the scoring system. You write the twelve commandments down the left-hand side of a page. Against each, you put three columns. One for the basic score, one for the Motive Factor and one for the total. You may choose also to leave space to the right of these three columns, to record any comments you have. You can make the whole thing into a spreadsheet, if you like.

For each of the laws, you judge the individual you are testing on how well they keep to it, on a scale of 1 to 10 – 10 being perfection. You put this number in the basic score column. You also judge the individual's Motive Factor on keeping to that law. In the Motive Factor column, you put 6 for perfection, 5 for always trying hard, 4 for occasional irresponsibility, 3 for persistent irresponsibility, 2 for malice, and 1 for persistent malice. Then, you multiply the 1 to 10 basic score by the 1 to 6 motive factor, and put the result in the third column. For example, if the basic score is 7 out of 10 and the Motive Factor is occasional irresponsibility (4), the number you put in the third column is 7x4 = 28.

There is one wrinkle, concerning the tenth law. This particular standard applies only to people who have children. If the individual you are testing has no children, you should award half the maximum possible 60 points. In effect, they should score 5x6 = 30.

Having done this for each of the twelve commandments, you add up all the twelve scores in the third column. You then divide this total by 3, and round to the nearest whole number. That gives the Civilization Quotient, CQ, for the individual you are testing.

What does CQ tell us? The maximum possible score is in theory 240, but in practice this is not achievable. The highest believable score is 180, for someone who scores 9x5 = 45 on each of the twelve laws. Good people will usually score in the range 120 to 140. I have not done enough examples yet to be sure, but my guess is that a score less than about 100 is uncivilized, and less than 50 is sub-human.

I have space here to give you just one worked example. It is fitting, I think, to use myself as a guinea-pig. So I will show you how I calculated my own CQ.

Number one, individuality – I'm strong on this one. I wouldn't be writing this if I wasn't! Score 9x5 = 45. Number two – I'm non-violent, but I have been known to get angry occasionally. Score 8x4 = 32. Number three, creating wealth – when going, I am very productive indeed. But I do go through, sometimes long, periods of laziness. Score 9x3 = 27. Number four – I'm generally OK on this one, but I do get it wrong occasionally. Score 7x4 = 28. Number five, keeping promises – same as number four, 7x4 = 28. Number six, non-impedance – I try very hard to keep to this one. Score 8x5 = 40.

Number seven, non-encroachment – I try hard here too. Score 8x5 = 40. Number eight, honesty – I am now and again guilty of the odd exaggeration. Score 8x4 = 32. Number nine, restitution – is like numbers four and five. Score 7x4 = 28. Number ten – I have no children, so score 5x6 = 30. Number eleven, wanting justice – this is one of my strong points. Score 9x5 = 45. And number twelve and last, practising what I preach – I think a fair score would be 7x4 = 28 again.

Adding up these twelve numbers gives 403. Dividing by 3 and rounding gives 134, which is my CQ. I'm civilized! (But by no means perfect).

Who can you use the Civilization Test on? You can use it on yourself. You can use it on people around you. You can use it on pop stars. You can use it on politicians. In fact, you can use it on any individual you like. You can also use it to make a broad judgement on groups of people, for example honest scientists, or tax bureaucrats.

And what might we use it for? First, I think it can be an educational tool. For those who are not put off by sums, it can be very instructive. And even those who dislike sums may feel better for knowing that there is an at least partly objective test, in which good people score high, and uncivilized scum score low.

Second, I think it has the potential to be honed into a psychological weapon. I wonder how our rivals, the lovers of tyranny, might feel if good people started testing them, and sending them the results? (Or publishing them on the Internet?) How would they feel when they found out what good people really think of them? How would they feel when they are shown up as uncivilized or even sub-human? Might it help to prick their bubbles of false self-esteem? Might it help to start cutting them down to size?

You, dear reader, can be the judge. Happy testing!