Tuesday, 31 March 2015

On Bottom Up and Top Down Thinking - Parts 4/5

4. Freethinking and orthodoxy

The bottom up thinker is well aware that other people think differently from him. He may disagree with them. He may find their views disquieting. But, as long as they respect his right to have his own opinions, he will respect their right to the same. As long as they don’t try to dictate to him, he has no desire to dictate how they think, whether in religion or in any other sphere.

On the other hand, the top down thinker often sees faith, or tradition, or orthodoxy as the only correct way to think about an issue. Thus he wants to force his own dogmas on to others. This applies not only in religion, but in politics too. So, many top down thinkers seek to impose their own political beliefs on others’ thinking.

5. Freedom of speech and political correctness

The bottom up thinker wants everyone to have freedom of speech. Even if he disagrees with or even abhors what individuals say, he will usually allow them the benefit of the doubt. He will only object if the speech is maliciously hurtful, or untruthful, or if it descends into actual libel.

In contrast, the top down thinker wants to impose political correctness on others’ speech as well as on their thinking. Cleverly, this enables him to frame any debates so the other side find it hard to put their position. Furthermore, he likes to bombard others with politically correct sound bites, that help his side of any debate. This, I think, is why we hear so much rubbish about things like “democracy day” or “international womens’ day.”

But the bottom up thinker, in time, comes to see through this. He sees political correctness for what it is; an assault on freedom of speech. And he rejects all the politically correct sound bites as the propaganda they are.

Monday, 30 March 2015

“I’m a Libertarian”

Yesterday evening, in my local Wetherspoon, I heard the words: “I’m a libertarian.”

I had never heard these three words, together and in this order, in any sentence uttered before inside the UK but outside the National Liberal Club.

The stranger who uttered these words (loudly), perhaps half my age, was with two other people. One, clearly older, was fulminating against everything he said. He wasn’t making too much impression on the third party, either.

At the time, I was consuming a roast turkey dinner. Probably a mistake; for I have suffered the trots all day today since about 4am. But as soon as the gentleman went outside for a smoke break, I engaged him in conversation and told him who (well, what) I was. I asked a background question, and got an answer which included the words “Hayek” and “Rothbard.” He was genuine!

His name is Jake, and he’s a partner – it would appear from their website, the juniormost – in an “advisory stockbroker,” whose offices are in the very same High Street as the Wetherspoon. He also, some time ago, studied philosophy at King’s College London. He was enjoying (?) an early evening out with his father and sister. We didn’t talk in any detail, but we exchanged business cards.

Now, who’ll say again that we libertarians haven’t had any effect?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

What is a statist?

By the Darn-Poor Rhymer

(After the model of “What is a communist?” by Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-Law Rhymer)

What is a statist? It’s one that has yearnings
For pogroms, and witch-hunts, and wars, and book-burnings;
While all the time spouting forth lies fear-instilling,
And trashing rights, stealing our earnings, and killing.

On Bottom Up and Top Down Thinking - Part 3

3. The common good and the Cause

The bottom up thinker recognizes that there exists a common or public good (or goods). That is, that certain institutions or actions can bring a nett benefit to everyone. And he agrees with John Locke’s description of the public good of a group of people: “the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for.”

The bottom up thinker’s Politics is also bottom up. It begins with the individual. It progresses upwards and outwards, via partnerships and families, by way of the marketplace and voluntary societies, to human civilization. And it must always be for the good of each and every individual – real criminals, of course, excepted.

But for the top down thinker, politics is quite the opposite. Far from emanating from the individual, politics flows downwards from some sovereign, “community” or state. So, the top down thinker favours top down politics. And he thinks of the common good – if he recognizes such a thing – as the good of the community as a whole, not of each individual in it.

When a politician talks of what is “best for Britain,” for example, does he mean what is best for each and every individual in the islands called Britain? Or does he mean what is best for the British political state, and for the ruling class to which he belongs?

Furthermore, many top down thinkers see the primary purpose of politics as being to promote a Cause or Causes. What specific policies the top down thinker favours may vary from time to time. But to him, the Cause for the time being is the common good. Even if some, or even many, individuals are unjustly harmed by actions taken to further the Cause.

I’ll list some examples of such Causes, without the scare quotes I would normally place around many of them. Communism, fascism, socialism, nazism, apartheid. Nationalism, national security, empire building, Europe. Patriotism, the Volk, the Fatherland. Authority, British values, Gahd bless America. Democracy, compulsory voting.

There are lots more: The environment, sustainability, respecting nature. Stopping climate change, cutting pollution, bio-diversity, re-cycling. Feminism, localism. Safety, security, health, protecting children. Saving lives on the roads, slowing down traffic, forcing people out of their cars. Stopping Aids, SARS or Ebola. Overpopulation, immigration control, border control. Social justice, environmental justice. Equality of outcome or opportunity. Altruism, the welfare state, helping the poor and needy, social security. Reducing wealth or income inequality, soaking the rich, cracking down on tax evasion. Political correctness, doctrinal purity, religious observance. Fitness, losing weight, vegetarianism. Seeking to deny enjoyments like sex, or holidays by air, or driving fast, or smoking, or drinking alcohol. War on crime, war on paedophiles, war on drugs, war on litter, war in Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan.

Friday, 27 March 2015

On Bottom Up and Top Down Thinking - Part 2

2. The individual and the collective

The bottom up thinker focuses on the basic unit of all human societies; the individual. He knows that each human being is unique, and different from every other. He knows that every human being, including himself, is an individual. So he views, and seeks to deal with, others as individuals too.

Thus, he is happy to tolerate those whose characteristics – like skin colour, social class and country of origin – are different from his own, as long as they treat him similarly. He is also tolerant of those whose preferences – like religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle – are not the same as his, as long as they will do the same for him.

Furthermore, he looks to judge people by, and only by, their actions. He tries to avoid pre-judging people on the basis of things outside their control, like race, gender, social class or what religion they were brought up in.

His view of human society sees individuals freely interacting with and associating with others for mutual benefit. And he sees that any viable society must be, over the long term, a benefit to every individual in it.

In contrast, the top down thinker looks as if through the wrong end of a telescope. To him, the human individual appears small and unimportant. And he sees human beings as little more than herd animals. Society, the collective or the group is everything; the individual is nothing.

And the top down thinker often prefers to judge people by characteristics rather than by their actions. Many top down thinkers harbour unjustified resentment, or even hatred, against people of particular races, or skin colours, or social classes, or religions. Or against immigrants. Or against men because they are men, or women because they are women. Or against people who are individualistic. Or against people who are naturally talented at something, or are in some other way different from the norm.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

L’viv Liberty English Camp – An Englishman’s View

This is an account of the Language of Liberty English Camp held in L’viv, Ukraine, from 15th to 20th March 2015. Told by Neil Lock, the only born and bred Englishman in the camp.

This was my fourth Liberty Camp. Normally, I’m the spare member of staff. I turn up for a few days, give a lecture, drink a lot of beer and wine with the students, and go home. (I also used to ring the bell to get people in to the sessions; but that tradition was discontinued in 2009).

This time, it was different. Visa problems meant that the teaching staff were a bit stretched. I had already planned to stay the whole week; but beyond that, I had to take the role of No. 2 teacher behind Glenn.

I had to do three lectures, as well as compére a debate and coach a presentation team. And as I do the liberty philosophy stuff rather than the entrepreneurship stuff, this meant some danger that this particular course might be a little unbalanced. But I needn’t have worried.

Now, this wasn’t exactly a camp. In fact, it took place in one of the better hotels in L’viv. Affordable, because of the war and the consequent collapse of the Ukrainian hryvnia. And within easy walking distance of the centre of a beautiful city.

Arriving on Saturday afternoon, my stay began with a trip to the opera. Because Glenn is an opera buff, Vlad, our excellent local representative, had booked tickets for “La Traviata” for four of us who would be there that evening. And we had a box! The two top singers, who played Violetta and Alfredo, were superb. But (being, among much else, a tuba player) I spent as much time watching the orchestra as listening. I particularly enjoyed seeing the percussionist singing heartily along with the male chorus...

On Sunday and for the next four days, we got into the work (and the fun). Most of the students were from the Ukraine or Poland, but we had a few from further afield. And, once we had caught and defused a little bit of nationalist animosity, they were a good bunch. They seemed to enjoy my presentation on John Locke – and the more extrovert among them also enjoyed declaiming, loudly, examples of his best sayings.

And then, we discovered the truth. Well actually, we discovered Pravda. It calls itself a “beer theatre.” And with standard beer in L’viv about 10 per cent of UK prices, and craft beer of 8.5% alcohol at 60p or $1.00 a measure (four of which are enough for an evening), we enjoyed ourselves. There were those who went on to strip clubs, but I wasn’t among them.

I was astonished by how much progress some of the students made in so few days. Not just in their ability to speak English, but in their confidence to express themselves. I found that very satisfying. And those, who were already confident, had a ball.

One young lady said, to Glenn in my presence, something along the lines of, “But you don’t behave like professors! You treat us as your equals!” Yes, I thought, that’s because we aren’t professors. We don’t have doctorates from politically funded institutions; but all Liberty Camp teachers have top level qualifications from the University of Life and Business.

I’ve enjoyed all four of the Liberty Camps I’ve been to, but this was without doubt the best. Huge thanks are due to Vlad our local organizer; to Jim Turney, who came all the way from Cyprus to help out with the teaching; and to Jacek Spendel and Kamil Cebulski, who gave very interesting presentations. But ultimately, Liberty English Camps are Glenn’s show. And he’s some showman.

So let’s raise our glasses to the Language of Liberty. За здоровя. Cheers!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

More Limericks by the Darn-Poor Rhymer

There once was a metaphysician

There once was a metaphysician,
Who asked, in time-honoured tradition,
“Is the Universe real?
Or just something I feel?”
He couldn’t prove either position.

In Memory of Nelson Mandela

I remember old Nelson Mandela,
I thought him a rather strange fella.
But the reason, one fears,
Was the twenty-seven years
That he spent locked away in a cellar.

The Poet who could Only Defame

There was once a young man I won’t name;
His verses were totally tame.
He said, “As a poet,
I’m poor – and I know it!
For all I can do is defame.”

Descartes and Ayn Rand

Descartes said, “I think, so I am.”
Ayn Rand said, “Descartes, you’re a sham.
It’s ‘I am, so I’ll think.’”
Such talk drives me to drink;
So, who’s going to buy my next dram?

Monday, 23 March 2015

On Bottom Up and Top Down Thinking - Part 1

1. Understanding and superstition

The bottom up thinker builds, using his senses and his mind, a picture of the reality around him, of which he is a part. And in building this picture, he is concerned above all with truth. He seeks the truth, the whole truth as near as he can get to it, and nothing but the truth.

He examines, critically, the evidence of his senses. He assembles this evidence into facts or percepts; then he generalizes and integrates them into concepts. He uses logic and reason to seek understanding. He often stops to ask, “Why?”

He finds apparent contradictions puzzling, and wants to resolve them. He seeks to build a store of knowledge which he, and others, can rely on. He uses, when he can, techniques like the scientific method to help him work out what is true and what is not. And when communicating with others, he always strives to be honest. He seeks to persuade by facts and logic, not by sophistries. He is always open to persuasion by facts and logic, too.

The top down thinker, on the other hand, has far less concern for truth and rationality. He tends only to accept new ideas if they fit his pre-existing beliefs. Where new facts are incompatible with his world view, therefore, he must ignore them, twist them or deny them. Evidence that there has been no significant global warming over the last 18 years, for example, won’t disturb his belief that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing catastrophic global warming. Nor will it quiet his oft-repeated chants that those who point out such evidence are kooks or “deniers,” nor is it likely to prevent him abusing the scientific method in his efforts to deny reality. Psychologists call this effect “confirmation bias.”

So, like the look-say practitioner, the top down thinker finds it hard to go beyond the limitations of what he has been taught. He prefers to stick to his pre-existing superstitions. (The word “superstition” means “over-standing,” and so is directly opposed to “understanding.” I am indebted to Jason Alexander for this insight.) And when a top down thinker communicates with others, he often uses lies, deceptions, fabrications, obfuscations and psychological tricks like ad hominems as key weapons in of his armoury.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

On Bottom Up and Top Down Thinking - Introduction

Neil's Note, October 2017: I've re-worked, shortened and updated this essay. It's still almost 5,000 words, but it's much better now. Please see http://www.honestcommonsense.co.uk/2017/10/bottom-up-versus-top-down.html.

(Neil's Note: This is the first part of an absolute monster of an essay - more than 8,000 words long. As explained below, I've decided to publish it in the form of 15-20 short sections, one every couple of days or so. Enjoy.)

Frequently, there are two opposite approaches to a task. One can be thought of as a bottom up method, the other as top down. And the bottom up approach usually works better – often far better – than the top down.

For example, there are two ways of teaching children to read: phonics and look-say. Phonics is a bottom up method. It builds up words and their sounds from individual letters and phonemes. Look-say, in contrast, is a top down method; each word is learned as a unit.

Now, look-say may enable a child to learn his first few words a little quicker than phonics. But those taught by phonics will eventually work out short cut methods, more like look-say, to quickly read words they have already learned. They still have the phonic method available to read words they haven’t seen before. However, the child taught by look-say has difficulty reading words he does not already know. So I think it no surprise that phonics produces, in the long term, vastly superior results compared with look-say, both in reading ability and in vocabulary.

Another activity which works better bottom up is engineering. Imagine, for example, a bridge builder who builds a beautiful arching span, leaving the foundations to be put in place later. Or, as computer scientist Arthur Norman has put it: “Building skyscrapers top down is kind of a delicate matter.”

These examples are by way of preliminary to my main theme: bottom up thinking versus top down thinking. I’m going to make a case that bottom up thinking produces better results than top down.

Further, I’m going to claim that the troubles of our current age are due, at their root, to a battle between two opposing mental forces. These forces are: enlightenment, which is associated with bottom up thinking, and endarkenment, which is the cause of top down thinking. I’m going to compare endarkenment to cancer. And I’m going to liken the promoters of top down thinking, that carry the disease, to cancer cells.

Moreover, I’m going to suggest that the cure for endarkenment is not merely enlightenment, but also Enlightenment. That is, that we must re-visit, dust off and re-polish the values of the 17th- and 18th-century Enlightenment, and carry them forward into the future.

These are large claims. This is also a large essay – more than 8,000 words. So, I have broken it into 20 or so small sections, each of which addresses a different aspect of bottom up versus top down thinking. My plan is, in the first instance, to publish each individual section, or group of a few sections, as if it was a separate essay.

I think of these individual sections as like bricks, which I have endeavoured to assemble – in a bottom up manner, forsooth! – into a wall. How well I have succeeded will be for you, the reader, to judge.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Why Democracy Failed - Part 3

Part 3

So, where do we go from here? How do we clean up the mess that modern democracy has become? For it's plain that, without radical change, the only foreseeable future is one of ever increasing persecution, ever increasing disaffection and ever increasing repression.

Some may say, what we need is a benevolent dictatorship. What we need is for a great man (or woman) to come along, seize power, rule over us and get us back on track. I, however, find that idea laughable. For, as Lord Acton identified, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Benevolent dictatorship is an oxymoron.

Others will say, what we need to do is to form a new political party, dedicated to freedom, justice and good government. I think this is a dead end. It hasn't worked for the Libertarians in the USA, and it won't work anywhere else. For the most likely supporters of such a party – those disaffected with the system, the silent majority – aren't a homogeneous political community. We include all kinds of views, from the loony left to the rabid right, from the anarchist to the authoritarian, from the revolutionary to the traditionalist. All that binds us together is a common knowledge that the present system doesn't work for us. If we as a group ever gained political power, we'd never be able to agree on anything.

Indeed, I think it would be, to say the least, capricious for those of us who hate politics to take an active part in it. We can only reasonably ask people to vote for us, if the option we offer is explicitly not political.

Others will say, we can make things better by tinkering with the system. We might try, for example, proportional representation. But that still fails to address the problems of democracy – the unjust persecutions, the lies and spin, the rule of the worst, the divisions and nastiness. And however fine-tuned our tinkering, and however many safeguards we put in, the criminal-politicals will still learn to operate the controls eventually.

If you really think tinkering with the system is worth while, let me offer a suggestion for a tinker, which just might shore up the system for a little while longer. What if, instead of one man one vote, we moved to the most modern of the four ways of running a society – the shareholding model? What if your voting power was in proportion to your contribution to society? That is to say, to the excess of the taxes you have paid over the value of what you have received in return? That would have some interesting effects. It would disenfranchise, and justly so, all those that are a long-term economic drain on others – including the political classes. And it would take welfare right out of the political arena.

But I don't hold out much hope for the shareholding model either. No, I think that the failure of democracy is a signal of something bigger on the way.

I sense today, both in myself and in many of those around me, a change in attitude and way of thinking. I sense that people may be starting to break down the collectivist mentality that supports the political state, and to see themselves for what they are – individual human beings. Once they see themselves as individuals, they will see others as individuals too. And they will come to judge others as individuals – by their actions and their motives.

In particular, people will judge the political classes by their actions and motives. And that judgement will not be kind. For the three main characteristics of the political classes – bullying, theft and fraudulent lies – are widely disliked. People, in general, don't like bullies. They don't approve of liars or fraudsters. They only tolerate thieves when they themselves aren't the victims. And, when people understand what the motive of the political classes has been – a selfish desire for control – their judgement will become even less kind.

In the old fable, Hercules didn't clean out the Augean stables with a poop scoop. He thought outside the box. He used a force of nature – a river. And I think there is a lesson to be learned from that story. That is, that no-one can clean up the system of government by working inside it. To do that, it will take a force of nature – of human nature.

And there's one right there. Recall the left's hatred of the rich? For decades and even centuries, economically productive and successful people have been hated for being "rich.” Good people have been persecuted for virtuously earning an honest living. Meanwhile, those that really deserve hatred – the political classes – have fooled many people into revering instead of reviling them

But what if people came to recognize this as the perversion it is? What if their hatred was focused back on to the target it should have had in the first place? What if good people turned their emotions against the three deadly sins – bullying, theft and fraudulent lies – and their perpetrators? What if good people focused their natural contempt for the "rich" on those that deserve it – the politically rich? Imagine if the political rogues were brought to justice, and made to compensate the victims of their crimes?

Well, the economy would be a lot better, for a start. And there'd be a lot less persecution.

But the negative force of hatred of the bad, on its own, can't bring about a better world. To do that, we need positives as well. Prominent among those positives, I think, must be the ideal of good government.

Imagine governments that do only what governments are supposed to – provide law, honest police and military defence – and nothing else. Imagine non-political governments, dedicated to the good of every individual among their subscribers. Imagine good people abandoning the persecuting political states, and subscribing to real governments, which instead defend them against their persecutors. Imagine those good governments competing peacefully with each other to spread world-wide. At which point, one of the three functions of government, military defence, would become no longer necessary. At least, until the Martians arrive.

That, of course, is all in the future. And it may be a tough journey to get there. For those of us, who want change for the better, face much entrenched hostility. We face the hostility not only of the bullies, thieves and fraudsters that make up the political classes, but also of the gullible, the lazy and the dishonest that they have suckered into riding on their coat-tails. But the journey must be made. And the prize is great. The prize, for good people, is nothing less than true freedom – freedom from politics.

Even the greatest journey begins with a few small steps. The first step towards eliminating rogue governments is for people to understand that those governments are rogue, and why. And the second? Well, that's for people to understand who the rogues are.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Why Democracy Failed - Part 2

Part 2

So, how did this mess come about? Let us look, very briefly, at a little history.

Before modern democracy, there were state and church. The state – institutional violence and theft – ruled over us physically. And the church – institutional mental manipulation and mumbo-jumbo – ruled over us mentally. Both were run mainly for the benefit of the political ruling class, the rich who owned the land. But at the Enlightenment, thinking people started to realize that this wasn't such a good thing. Hence the 18th- and 19th-century revolutions in Europe, and the movement towards democracy.

In Britain in the 19th century, the ruling classes were on the back foot. People wanted more of a say in how the society they lived in was run. For their own survival, the politicals had to make reforms, among them – slowly, oh so slowly – allowing people the Vote. But they differed among themselves on how fast these reforms should be. Some, conservatives, wanted to move as slowly as possible. Others, liberals, didn't mind if the reforms went a bit faster – as long, of course, as they themselves remained at the top of the heap.

This difference of opinion led to a more visible division. The rulers formed themselves more and more into distinct political parties. (The word "party" comes from the Latin for "to divide"). And, once the Vote was established as the way of selecting the next oligarchy, it seemed obvious that these factions would seek to secure their power bases. They began to try to attract supporters. They began to target their policies, not to the public good and the benefit of everyone, but to the desires of particular segments of society. In particular, the Labour party, formed around the turn of the century, was explicitly dedicated to the interests of organized labour. Where necessary, at the expense of everyone else's.

Through much of the 20th century, there was an uneasy balance between factions of left and right. The left, Labour, claimed to represent the interests of a particular stereotype – mediocre, collectivist, not very dynamic. The right, the Tories, favoured another stereotype: moderately competent, moderately well off, old-fashioned in outlook and habits. But many people didn't fit either mould. These people tended to float between the two. Or perhaps they voted for the third lot, that had tried to resurrect the old Liberals. Some – only a few at first, but steadily increasing – came to understand that none of the political factions represented them. And so, they chose not to vote at all.

When Henry Adams described politics as the systematic organization of hatreds, he was referring to an earlier era. But the same might as well be said about modern democracy. For the political classes enjoy hating and persecuting innocent people. It seems to be in their nature. And both right and left have their own favourite targets for persecution.

Traditionally, the right and their followers have hated people who are different from others. They have based their harassments on grounds like race, religion and sexual orientation. In recent times, many people have come to see such harassments as unjustified. So, today, persecutors of the right prefer mainly to bully those whose lifestyles they don't like; for example, drug users, smokers or car drivers. But they still, deep down, hate anyone who is different or individual.

The left and their comrades, however, have their agenda too. They direct their strongest hatreds at those they think of as rich. Fuelled by a class-war mentality, they target in particular those who fairly earn their wealth through their own skills and efforts. And persecutors of the left love to bully anyone who is, or strives to be, excellent.

What has happened in the last decade or so, though, is a convergence between left and right. Now, each faction has taken up the traditional persecutions of the other, as well as its own. Indeed, today's political classes – politicians, bureaucrats, corrupt police, statist intellectuals, enviros, mass media, pressure groups, lobbyists, vested interests – seem eager to use every possible excuse to get bad, persecuting laws made and strictly enforced.

Today, no-one is safe, whatever faction is in power. We are all victims of persecution. And those of us who dislike persecutions – even those of which we are not personally victims – have no-one to represent us.

Why are the political classes doing these things to us? It's time to stop looking at the dots, and to start seeing the picture. New Labour are turning Britain into a police state. That's clear. And the Tories aren't opposing it. Why? Well, the reason is actually very simple. It's what they both want. A police state is part of both their agendas.

New Labour are also making our economic lives more and more miserable. So much so, that the prospect of a comfortable retirement for anyone under 55 today, even for high earners, has all but disappeared. Yet the Tories don't oppose this either. There's a simple reason, too. It's another part of both their agendas.

There are three principal ways to control people. One, physical control – as in a police state. Two, economic control – forcing people down into dependence. Three, mental control – making people believe what you want them to believe. The three ways to control people are bullying, theft and propaganda. Today, the political classes are using all three of these at once. And that, I think, gives us a clue to what their agenda really is. It's control.

What kind of society do Blair and co want? I think we can make a good guess. Themselves and their cronies at the top, controlling everyone and everything. Their henchman or enforcer class in the middle, getting their kicks by persecuting people. And us human beings poor, oppressed and exploited at the bottom.

What kind of society do the Tories and the third lot want? You've guessed it. And what kind of society do the bureaucrats, corrupt police, statist intellectuals, enviros, mass media, pressure groups, lobbyists and vested interests want? I think you may have guessed that, too. And the British political classes aren't alone in this desire. For if you read the proposed European Constitution, and ask yourself what kind of Europe its drafters want, you will come up with exactly the same answer.

No, today's political classes don't want good government. Instead, they want to force us back before the Industrial Revolution, before the Enlightenment. They want to take us back to the bad old days of oligarchy and its enforcers.

When you make these connections, you start to understand what's going on today. You begin to see through the politicals' rationalizations – and not only the obvious ones. You come to treat just about everything they say as a lie. You understand that they have no intention at all of representing anyone, bar themselves and their cronies. You see that the political classes have lost contact with morality, with humanity and with reality.

You see something else, too. You see the political Big Lie crumbling at the edges. You come to appreciate, for example, the irony of New Labour, supposedly the party of the workers, re-distributing wealth from workers to non-workers. Or the double standards of those that show a maudlin concern for safety, for saving lives at any price, then turn round and applaud Bush and Blair's war in Iraq. Or, perhaps, you start to ask yourself questions like, why should anyone be expected to have any concern, or to give any kind of help in need, to those that promote or support political policies designed to harm them?

So, what went wrong? Why did democracy fail to deliver good government? Why has it produced government that is as bad as – and, in some ways, worse than – a bad king? I can see four main reasons.

One, democracy has undermined morality. For it encourages the wrong-headed idea that, if something is popular, that makes it right. That they are "the will of the people" gives a false legitimacy to policies that, objectively, are immoral. For example, forced re-distribution of wealth. So democracy not only allows, but actively encourages, unjust persecutions.

Two, democracy has polluted the environment with dishonesty. Democratic politicians seem to feel the need, again and again, to try to justify their policies using fraudulent lies and rationalizations.

Three, democracy has offered the power-hungry a way to realize their dreams of power. In a monarchy, a hereditary one at least, you might get a good king, or you might get a bad one. With democracy, however, power always goes to those that actively want it, those that have an agenda. And, more often than not, their agenda is to hurt good people.

Four, democracy has broken apart the very consensus and sense of community that gave it legitimacy in the first place. When politicians buy Paul's vote by robbing and persecuting Peter, it's only a matter of time before Peter comes to hate the politicians, and – at the very least – lose all fellow-feeling with Paul as well. So a democratic society will, inevitably, over time become more and more divided, and nastier and nastier in its tone. Which is bad enough in itself; but it also encourages government to become more and more repressive.

To its credit, democracy may, for a few decades, have placed some small restraint on how badly the political classes could treat good people. The fear of being voted out of power may have kept some of them more honest than they would otherwise have been. But that no longer applies. For today's political classes have learned how to operate the controls of the system. They have learned how to use democracy as a front. They have learned how to take for themselves almost absolute power to bully us, rob us and enslave us. And they're turning up the heat.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Selected Limericks by the Darn-Poor Rhymer

There was once a computer at Hadley

There was once a computer at Hadley,
Which forecast the weather so badly,
That they gave it more pop.
But with each teraflop,
It became still less accurate, sadly.

King Canute

There was once a young king called Canute,
Who said to his witangemoot,
“See? I sit in this chair,
And the sea won’t come here.
If it does, you can give me the boot”.

On Temperature Trends

Now let’s see if I’ve comprehended
How temperature data gets “mended.”
They make the past cooler,
Then they take a ruler,
Et voilȁ! The warming’s not ended.

In Memory of Chris Huhne

There was once a politico, Huhne,
That fiddled an anti-car tune.
Yet it drove, in its car,
Far too fast – and too far!
But from justice, it wasn’t immune.

Why Democracy Failed - Part 1

(From the archives - October 24th, 2004. More than ten years on now, if I was writing this again, the result wouldn't be much different, except that a few of the characters might have changed. And this is a great big long one, almost 5,000 words. So I've divided it into three parts. Enjoy.)

Part 1

Western politicians love to extol the virtues of democracy. It's the best system of government there could be, they claim. "Demahcracy" – as Americans like to pronounce it – delivers the freedom, justice and good government, which all human beings need. And those who enjoy its blessings have an obligation to export it to the rest of the world.

But the voters seem not to agree. At the recent European elections, well less than half of those eligible to vote did so. Even at the last British general election in June 2001, only 60 per cent of eligible voters turned out.

What I'm going to tell you today is that low election turn-outs aren't just a blip. They're a sign of failure of the system. For democracy has failed. I'm going to tell you why. And I'm going to speculate on what might come next.

I'll begin by looking at human societies in the round. By society, I here mean both the voluntary and the political. I identify four approaches, which we human beings have so far tried in structuring societies: autocracy, oligarchy, equal suffrage, shareholding.

Autocracy is the original of the state. The chieftain rules, the rest are ruled over. Now, autocracy is a fine way to run a society, if you happen to be the autocrat, or if you get on well with him. But, unless the autocrat is a great man, with an impartial sense of justice and a strong will to keep to it, it doesn't do much for anyone else.

Oligarchy is an evolution of autocracy, in which the chieftain is replaced by a committee. It leads towards the traditional three-class structure of political society: rulers, enforcers and urks. Oligarchy, like autocracy, doesn't do much for the urks, unless the rulers are enlightened. Which is rare.

The Athenians tried, back in the late 6th century BC, a new system, which came to be called democracy. The ideal underpinning this new system was equal suffrage – one man, one vote. That didn't include the women or the slaves, though.

The fourth model, shareholding, is much newer. So much so, that only voluntary societies have yet tried it, never political ones. Shareholding is like equal suffrage, in that people vote. But individuals' votes in the shareholding model are not equal. Under shareholding, your say is in proportion to your contribution.

Next I ask, what is government for? Before about 400 years ago – excepting ancient Athens – the answer would have been, government is for the benefit of the rulers. Government, back then, existed to enable the political class to rule effectively over the urks.

Out of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, though, there grew a different view. In this view, government is for the public good. That is, as John Locke identified, the good of every individual (criminals excepted), as far as it can be achieved by common rules of law. Government – good government – is for the benefit of the governed, not of the rulers.

As long as criminals exist, good people will always be at a disadvantage against them. Those who abstain from violence, theft and fraud are always liable to become victims of the rogues that use them. So there is benefit for good people in co-operating to defend themselves against rogues. There is also benefit for good people in having a basic code of simple rules to avoid inconveniencing others, and a just mechanism for resolving disputes. Hence the positive value of government – so long as it is on good people's side.

What, then, should a good government – a real government – do? One, it should provide a means of resolving disputes fairly, and of bringing about compensation for actual harms. That is to say, civil law. Two, it should provide defence and sanctions against rogues. In other words, police and criminal law. Three, as long as external aggressors exist, it should defend against their aggressions. That is to say, military defence. These three, and only these three, are the valid functions of government.

A real government will be uncompromisingly on the side of good people. It will be a government of good people, by good people, for good people. A good government will serve and defend its subscribers; it will never rule over them to their harm. So, a good government deserves respect and obedience.

On the other hand, a government that directs itself to the harm of good people is not a good government. It's a rogue government. A rogue government is a criminal gang masquerading as a government.

Next, what actually is democracy? And why should enlightened people have thought that democracy could deliver good government?

The word democracy comes from the ancient Greek. It means power (kratos) to the municipality (demos). A common interpretation of this is "power to the people.” But it doesn't mean power to individuals, to people in the plural, but to "the people" in the singular. Built into the very word democracy is an assumption that one size fits all. That people in a democratic society all form a single community. That they are sufficiently alike, and have sufficiently common aims and aspirations, that they can be treated as a unit.

As to its mechanics, modern democracy is a mixture of oligarchy and suffrage. An oligarchy, the parliament, rules day to day. Those in the parliament decide to what policies the state will apply its powers of violence, theft and propaganda. But, every few years, the voters can, in theory at least, call the rulers to account in an election. Modern democracy, in essence, uses equal suffrage to decide who will be the next oligarchy.

At first sight, there is much to recommend this mixture of oligarchy and suffrage. For it reflects a tested way to run a voluntary society. An oligarchy, the committee, runs the society day to day. But the members, at the annual general meeting, can call them to account through suffrage. This system works well, as long as the members of the society have, to a reasonable degree, a common purpose. Which, in a voluntary society, usually remains true. The dis-satisfied simply leave.

But there is at least one big difference between political societies, even democracies, and voluntary ones. For you can't leave a political society without physically uprooting yourself. And, as there is no liveable place on our planet unclaimed by one nation-state or another, you have to find another political society to live in. So, while you can live free from (say) flower-arranging or football, you can't today live free from politics.

Here's the ideal of modern democracy. If you can't be free from politics, at least you can have a say in it. In a democratic state, if you don't like what the government is doing, just hang on till the next election. Then vote for a different lot. The will of the people will triumph! The new lot will represent your views better. They will surely be better than the old! So any government that becomes rogue will be voted out of power, leading to good government for all.

But what kind of government has democracy actually brought about today in Britain? How good is the government of the New Labour faction that are currently in power?

Consider just a few of the things that New Labour and their cohorts have done, are doing, or are trying to do to us. In alphabetical order: Abolishing the presumption of innocence. Banning foxhunting. Banning smoking in public. Censoring broadcasts. Censoring the Internet. Compulsory ID cards. Creating almost 100 new "crimes" each year. Crusades against sugar and salt, and against under-age drinking. Curfews on under-16s. Ever increasing bureaucracy. Ever increasing taxes. More and more police. Randomly stopping foreigners on the London Underground. Re-distribution and wasting of our earned wealth. Signing up to treaties designed to damage the economy. Spying on us. Stealth taxes. Suppressing our pension prospects. Tapping our e-mails. Victimizing one-man companies. War in Iraq. Witch-hunting car drivers with creeping speed limits, speed cameras and congestion charges.

Consider also some of the good-sounding rationalizations they, and their apologists, offer for their acts. Again, in alphabetical order: Cracking down on illegal immigration. Fighting crime. Fighting money laundering. Fighting terrorism. Global warming. Health. Helping the needy. Law and order. Protecting children. Quality of the environment. Quality of life. Reducing inequality. Safety. Saving lives. Social justice. Sustainability. Weapons of mass destruction.

If there were only one or two such examples, we might perhaps give Blair and its minions the benefit of the doubt. But they are doing so many bad things to us, and covering their tracks with so much spin, that we must look beyond their rhetoric to their real intentions. Furthermore, many people are coming to understand that at least two of their rationalizations – global warming and Saddam's weapons of mass destruction – are complete frauds. And it is only a short step of the mind to thinking that the rest of their rationalizations may well be fraudulent too.

It is becoming plainer and plainer that Blair and New Labour are not on our side – that they don't care a damn about the good of good people. In Britain today, the government, the very organization which is supposed to defend good people against rogues, has been taken over by the rogues. New Labour are trampling all over our freedoms, our prosperity and our happiness. And they are doing it with total disregard for truth and honesty.

How did Blair and New Labour get their political power? In 2001, they won an election – a democratic election. And yet only 24 per cent of eligible voters voted for New Labour. 17 per cent voted for the Tories, 19 per cent for other parties, and the biggest group of all – 40 per cent, the silent majority – for Nobody. More than three-quarters of us did not want New Labour, or at least were not willing to give our assent to them. Yet New Labour have all but absolute power. And that's called the will of the people? That's democracy? That's the best governmental system on earth?

So, how do we get rid of New Labour, and vote in somebody better? Here, we find a major problem. The obvious semi-credible political alternative is the Tories. But for a decade and more, the Tories have signed up to almost the same agenda as New Labour; for example, heavy re-distribution of wealth, anti-car policies, more police, and fighting non-existent global warming and an all too existent war in Iraq. As to the third lot, they are greener-than-thou, and keener on re-distribution of wealth even than New Labour.

So those of us, who don't want these bad things, have nowhere to turn to. No wonder so many people have deserted the ballot box.

I cannot see any possibility of democracy bringing good government in Britain in the near future. And the pundits are starting to agree with me. For they think that Blair is almost certain, before the end of next year, to have been re-elected for a third term. Although many of us, probably even an absolute majority among us, hate Blair's guts.

These problems are not confined to Britain. In each democratic state, things are happening differently. But the overall result is much the same. In the USA, for example, Bush is a bullying warmonger, but Kerry would likely be even worse. No moral, thinking American can vote for either Bush or Kerry – only against the one they dislike more.

I have a confession to make. Three times in my life, I was foolish enough to vote; all three times, for the Tories. The first time, two days after my 18th birthday, I was too young and innocent to know what I was doing. The other times, in 1983 and 1987, I knew how evil Labour were. So I voted Tory, believing I was doing it in self-defence.

I know better now, of course. I know the Tories are evil too. I have become completely alienated from politics and from political society. I have lost all sense of fellowship with those that take part in mainstream politics. I feel no community at all with those that vote for political parties whose policies harm me.

And I have acquired contempt and loathing for all politicians. I have not voted since 1987, nor will I vote for any politician ever again.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Nation, State and Culture - An Individual View

(Neil's Note: There's a lot in this one. And it gets, more than a bit, up front and personal. Enjoy.)

There’s been much discussion recently around Englishness, Britishness and the future (or lack of it) of the English. This is my contribution to that discussion.

Because of my own character and experiences, my perspective is a little different from most people’s. So I’ll, necessarily, begin with some brief personal history.

A potted autobiography

I am English born and bred; though, from a genetic point of view, I’m only five-eighths English, the remaining three-eighths being Scottish. I had an unusual education, which sent me on a state funded scholarship to private boarding schools. (The state, in the aftermath of Sputnik, wanted to create as many boffins as it could; and I happened to show the right kind of promise at the right time.) I eventually studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, where I just about managed to scrape a First.

Deciding that academic boffinhood wasn’t for me, I looked for a job in the (at that time, young and vibrant) software industry. My first professional job – for Ferranti, programming on-board systems for the Navy – was interesting, but the pay was rubbish, and some of the people weren’t very nice. Old Labour were in power at the time, too. So, in 1977 I moved to Holland to work for a software house there.

I spent three years in Holland, and they changed me. For a start, I had money in my pocket for the first time. And I enjoyed sampling the different cultures of Holland and Belgium, and a bit of France and Germany. By the end of three years, I had come to think of myself as no longer English or British, but European. (That was not, then, the heinous crime it might be seen as now; for “Europe” at that time was the EEC, which was a Good Thing. The evil EU was still only a glint in the eye of Brussels bureaucrats).

I moved back to the UK in 1980, and my work began to take me further afield. To Indonesia, Italy, the US and Australia, to name but four of my assignments. During that time, I came to see myself no longer as a European, but as a citizen of the world. If I had known of it back then, I would have echoed Tom Paine’s dictum: “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

In 1990 I went to work in the US, with the intention of staying there. But it took me less than a year to see that the US was already going to the dogs as a place to live. So I returned; and have suffered the predations of Messrs Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron and their hangers-on ever since.

These days, most of what I do is testing and QA, so I don’t need to travel much on business. But I’m still accustomed to working in a highly international industry. Furthermore, the main company with which I do a lot of my work, though small, has clients all over the world. And its staff are as international as the clients, and they aren’t just confined to Europeans. It’s a bit of a United Nations in there.

My odyssey of the 1980s also introduced me to various liberty organizations in both the US and UK. Thus, I had plenty of opportunity to learn the ideas and theories of liberty. But I’m not, by nature, a particularly avid reader of other people’s prose. I prefer, following Richard Feynman (one of my heroes), to learn just enough about a problem to understand it, and then to try to solve it in my own way.

As a result, I developed my own particular slant on the ideas of liberty. This is not just a political philosophy, but sets out its stall to be a complete system of thought, from the ground up. I eventually managed – with a lot of hard work – to get the basics of it written down in a book called Honest Common Sense, which I published last year.

Nation, state and culture

So, what do I think these days about England, Britishness and all the rest?

I find it important to separate out three concepts: nation, state and culture. And, within culture, to separate values and conduct from customs and institutions.

The state

I’ll take the state first. The way I look at it, the concept of state arises from the concept of sovereignty. Sovereignty is, per Webster’s dictionary, “supreme power, especially over a body politic.” The idea goes all the way back to Jean Bodin in the 16th century.

In this view, the sovereign – i.e. the ruling élite – is fundamentally different from, and superior to, the rest of the population in its territory, the subjects. In particular, the sovereign has rights to do certain things, which others do not. Among these are: to make laws to bind the subjects; to make wars; to levy taxes; and to issue a currency. Furthermore, the sovereign isn’t bound by the laws it makes, and isn’t responsible for the consequences of what it does (also known as “the king can do no wrong.”)

So, what is the state? The state is the implementer of sovereignty in a particular territory. Or, as I have recently come to put it: “the apparatus which enforces the hegemony of a ruling élite.”

In a British context, pundits would tell you that the sovereign is an old woman called Lizzie, who lives in a castle at Windsor. But this is ridiculous. In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d bet that Lizzie is in reality all but a prisoner in her own castle. Even Cameron has more power than Lizzie does. And a cabal of bureaucrats, whose names we do not know, and whose faces we have never seen, has far, far more power than Cameron.

The biggest single philosophical gripe I have with the state, though, is that its existence is incompatible with moral equality, and so with the rule of law. For a vital facet of the rule of law is that what is legal, and what is not, must be exactly the same for everyone. Yet the state routinely allows itself moral privileges. If you or I extorted money from people like the taxation system does, for example, wouldn’t it be seen as theft or worse? Or if you or I premeditatedly killed an innocent person like Jean Charles de Menezes, wouldn’t it be seen as murder?

And consider, if you will, the huge progress which we humans have made over the 400+ years since Bodin died. We have made great strides in science, in medicine, in technology and communications, in our understanding of human rights, in finance, in the economy, in the ability to blow each other up, and in much else. We’ve even been through the Enlightenment, for goodness’ sake! So why haven’t our political institutions made similar progress in all these centuries? Why are we still suffering a system that allows a ruling élite to do to us exactly what it wants, with no come-back? And as for the charade called democracy, that’s the last straw, giving as it does a veneer of apparent legitimacy to the whole shebang.

So, what do I think of the British state? I reject it. It’s a hangover from a way of thinking that pre-dates John Locke by 100+ years. In the wise words of Gregory Sams: “The state is out of date.”

The nation

So much for the state. Pcha! But what of the nation?

I do identify myself as English; but that’s mainly for convenience. For reasons above, I’m not prepared to tar myself with the label “British.” So, as there’s no English state, I find “English” an acceptable substitute; and one that most people understand.

That said, though, I don’t feel part of any English nation or people. One reason is that I’m an individualist, meaning that my focus is on the individual rather than the collective. Because of this, I have never liked the idea of “a people” in the singular. For me, the word “people” is always plural, and means the same as “persons.”

Furthermore, it’s only through happenstance that I came to be born in England. I could just as easily have been born in Australia, or Holland, or Indonesia, or Italy, or the US – all places I’ve lived in for months or more.

Another problem is that “nation” today has come to mean both a geographical community in a state, and a racial or tribal community. I find these two to be incompatible; and this is the root of the British versus English dichotomy, which I’ve long felt keenly. Furthermore, the EU makes things even more confusing.

Indeed, I find the idea of geographical community, in an age of mass migration and of the Internet, to be no longer helpful. It may have been workable in the days of walled city states, when the safety of one really was the safety of all. But today, does it really make sense to judge individuals as friend or foe simply by where they live? I think not.

And I’ve never approved of tribalism. In a cynical mood, I like to say that lovers of tribalism ought to go to Africa and start playing Tutsi v. Hutu. So, I don’t find judging friend or foe by bloodlines terribly appealing either.

In any case, we are all mongrels now. And that would still be so, even if not one single immigrant had passed the borders of England in the last 50 years.

Thus, I have come to see nationalism – all nationalism – as rather silly. And, historically, very destructive.

Institutions and customs

On to culture. And here, the outlook is a little more positive. As to English customs, I eat an English breakfast each morning; though I wash it down in the Dutch style with black tea. I used to play cricket for 30+ years. I still do play in a brass band. And I take pride in my command of the English language, though I’m prone to using it in a somewhat mid-Atlantic way.

As to English institutions, I am a lover of the English pub, having walked to no less than 400 from my home over the course of little more than a decade. (Though my taste in beer is European rather than English).

And I have respect for the English common law. At least, as it was before it got corrupted. Blair’s abolition of the double jeopardy rule, and Cameron’s secret courts, are egregious recent examples of these corruptions. But I think these issues go back to the 19th century, at least as early as the introduction of strict liability in criminal law.

Nevertheless I know that, in honest hands, the common law can still work well. I once watched, from a privileged position in the jury box, a judge go about his business of making absolutely sure that justice was done in his courtroom. Without going so far as to use the nuclear option of instructing us to acquit, he made it quite plain what he thought of the case. And it was a fine performance. (Though ultimately unnecessary, with me on the jury. But the judge didn’t know that).

I can’t, however, feel any respect at all for those institutions which have become politicized. The kicking out of hereditary peers from the House of Lords, for example, has removed yet another small plank of defence against the state’s destruction of our rights and freedom. For, whatever you may think of how they got there, it is undeniable that many hereditary peers both took their jobs seriously, and didn’t have any party political axe to grind. But the Lords now? Political operatives, almost all of them.

As to the Commons, I suppose there may be a few half decent individuals on the Tory back benches. Perhaps one or two among the Lib Dems too, and maybe a few UKIPpers in the future. But my feeling for MPs in general is one of contempt. They are supposed to represent us, the good people of England; and they don’t even damn well try.

And as to the BBC and other mainstream media, I don’t believe anything any of them says any more. Unless I can verify it for myself.

My values

So, I feel no sense of “we” with either the British state or the English nation. But being an individualist doesn’t at all mean that I wish to be a hermit, to shut myself away from others. Where, then, shall I seek community?

My answer is: The people I’ll accept as my fellows are those who share my essential values. What are these values? I see two strands. In one strand, my “conservative” side if you will, I look to the past for my inspiration; and, specifically, to the values of the 17th- and 18th-century Enlightenment. In the other, my “progressive” side, I look to the future. It was in order to develop this strand of my thinking that I set out to write my book of philosophy.

As to Enlightenment values, I will give a brief list of some which are important to me. Reason and the pursuit of science. Toleration, particularly in religion. The idea that society exists for the individual, not the individual for society. The idea that human beings are naturally good. Freedom of thought and action. Natural rights and human dignity. Government for the benefit of the governed. Formal equality and the rule of law. A desire for progress, and a rational optimism for the future.

As to the progressive strand of my thinking, I could just say “read my book.” But to make life easy for my readers, I’ll here give a very brief summary of the philosophy I call Honest Common Sense.

I begin with individuality and with tolerance of difference. My motto here is: Be yourself, and let others be themselves. Next, I say: Seek the truth. I try to focus on the facts. I aim to use my mind, and its capacity for reason, to find out as much of the truth as I can. And to go wherever the truth leads. Furthermore, I strive always to tell the truth as best I know it.

As to Politics – with a capital P, meaning the science of social organization and government, as opposed to the small-p politics we suffer today – I set out four principles. These four principles, I affirm, ought to be followed by any society worthy of the name civilization.

First, justice; objective, individual justice. That is: Each individual, over the long term and in the round, should be treated as he or she treats others. Second, moral equality: What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa. I see this as the foundation of the rule of law, as opposed to rule by an élite. Third, I put rights. That is: Provided you behave as a civil human being, you have the right to be treated as a civil human being. And fourth and last is Freedom: Except where countermanded by justice, the rule of law or respect for rights, every individual is free to choose and act as he or she wishes.

In economics, I follow Franz Oppenheimer’s distinction between the economic means, “the equivalent exchange of one’s own labour for the labour of others,” and the political means, “the unrequited appropriation of the labour of others.” I distinguish Makers – that is, productive people who earn an honest living – from tax funded Takers that do nothing (or worse) for those who pay their wages, and from those such as crony capitalists, whom I dub Rakers.

I strongly support property rights, the free market and true capitalism – that is, the condition in which no-one is prevented from justly acquiring or justly using wealth. And I am uncompromisingly against re-distributory taxation, which I find to be a taking – indeed, a premeditated taking – of that part of the taxpayer’s life, which he or she used to earn the money taken. Taxation is far worse than mere theft!

Finally, the centrepiece of my philosophy is Honesty. That is, being true to your nature as a civil human being. And the law of honesty is: Practise what you preach. Those that fail to live up to that law – hypocrites, users of double standards, call them what you will – are enemies of civilization.

My friends and my enemies

So, who exactly will I admit into my community? The answer should be obvious. My brothers (and sisters) are those who, broadly, share my values. That is, those who conduct their lives according to ideals similar to mine, and who behave in a civil manner towards me and others. My fellow human beings are the civil or civilized people.

And I look to judge individuals by their conduct, and only by their conduct. Not by the colour of their skins, or by their birthplace, or by their social class, or by their sexual orientation, or by what religion they were brought up in.

Here’s the description of my sense of “we” from the book:

We are the economically productive people, the Makers. We are the promoters and supporters of objective justice, moral equality, individual rights and freedom. We are the honest, gentle, peaceful people, who deserve to inherit the Earth.

Besides, on the personal level, I care about those who care about me. Those who treat me as the individual human being I am; those who treat me with politeness and kindness. And those who make the effort to understand and allow for my particular foibles and idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, I make every effort to do the same for them.

But brotherhood is a two way process. I don’t feel any fellowship with, or caring for, those that treat me badly. Here’s my description, also from the book, of my enemies the uncivil:

They are the users of the political means; they are the Takers and their cronies, the Rakers. They are the dishonest, the unnatural, the inhuman. And they are the statists – promoters and supporters of the out of date political state and its violent, dishonest, collectivist politics.

And this applies on the personal level as well. So, I count as enemies those that promote or support political policies that damage me, inconvenience me or restrict my freedom in any way, or are intended to do any of these things. Those that vote for politicians and parties, that make such policies. Those that take my earnings away from me, yet give me nothing that I value in return. Those that commit or support any violation of my human rights. Those that behave as if they were a superior species to me, and want to control me. Those that demand that I make sacrifices for good sounding causes like “helping the needy” or “the environment,” yet make no such sacrifices themselves. Those that want to impose on me any kind of political correctness. Those that lie to me, or try to deceive, bullshit or browbeat me, or to manipulate my emotions against my will. Those that try to cover up the truth, or to offer lame excuses or rationalizations.

These are my enemies, not my friends or my brothers or sisters. They owe me compensation for what they have done to me; I don’t owe them anything. And by their conduct, they have forfeited all right to my concern, my compassion or my charity. I feel no more fellowship for them than a Jew would feel for nazis.

In conclusion

Lastly, I’ll give you my personalized, updated version of Tom Paine’s famous quote. It is, if you will, the “elevator speech” version of my entire philosophy. Here it is:

“The world is my country. All civil human beings are my fellows. And honest common sense is my religion.”

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Why I Will Vote NO! to the European Constitution

(From the archives: May 31st, 2004. 10 years on, this one does seem a little dated. But it's amusing in many places, and it also keeps us reminded of yet another (yet another!) promise cynically broken by the political class.)

A few weeks ago, those that like to think of themselves as my political masters announced that, in their infinite wisdom and compassion, they were after all willing to allow people in Britain a chance to vote on the proposed European constitution. This surprised many. For, so the media tell us, 75 per cent of people in Britain today are opposed to the constitution. I wonder what fraudulent game Blair is playing this time. Still, it's good to have a voice – for a change.

Whether the European ideal, up to the present, has been a good or a bad thing, is debatable. On the up side, it improved the economy in Europe, particularly during the 1950s. It has allowed people to move around Europe. I myself lived and worked in Holland for three years in the late 1970s, which would have been much harder without the EEC. And it may have helped to stop the Germans and the French from fighting each other. On the down side, however, are the vast sums ploughed into subsidies, the growth of bureaucracy, and all the bad laws and directives that emanate from Brussels.

Up to about 1991, I was something of a Europhile. But, as I have become more and more alienated from politics in general, I have become more and more disillusioned with Europe too. When some of my freedom-loving friends told me that there were bad things – and lots of them – in the "Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe,” I felt I had to find out for myself. I had to read the constitution. So, I got it from the European Convention's web site – all 263 pages of it, dated 18th July 2003.

What does the document contain? After Preface and Preamble, it has four Parts. Part I (42 pages) says what the objectives of the European Union are supposed to be, and briefly describes some of its institutions. Part II (14 pages) is a "Charter of Fundamental Rights,” an attempt to write down a statement of human rights to be respected by the EU. Part III (160 pages) is a more detailed statement of how the EU and its institutions are supposed to work (or not). And Part IV (5 pages) contains a hodge-podge of things, like a European anthem and procedures for changing the constitution. At the end are several short Protocols, a contents list and a list of those involved in the deliberations which led to the document.

I make no pretence at being objective about this document. Even before I had read beyond the title page, I had made my own nick-name for it. I called it the Daft Treaty establishing Constipation in Europe. Or the Daft Treaty, or Daft Constipation, for short.

Reading the Daft Constipation is hard work. To be fair, the prose is not quite as turgid as I had feared. But, after only about 25 pages, my mind had started to boggle. After my first, three and a half hour session, I had only reached page 70, and both eyes and mind were ready to switch off. But I did – over several weeks – get through it all.

I had, at first, a sense that the document had been written by the proverbial thousand monkeys with typewriters. But no, that was not a good analogy. It took me quite some time to find the right one.

Imagine rather, if you will, a thousand monkeys with but one single typewriter between them. What would they spend their time doing? Sitting on committees – which vote on which monkeys will be on the committee, which gets to decide which monkey will decide which monkey will have control of the typewriter for the next five minutes. This, I think, is how the Daft Treaty establishing Constipation in Europe must have been written.

I will make first some general comments on the Daft Treaty. It is a deeply conservative document. It is also deeply, and horribly, politically correct. It repeats the same things over and over again. And it is very hard for the layman, or the casual reader, to pick up its nuances.

Just occasionally, though, I found a sentence I could almost approve of. I will begin, therefore, with some of the rare highlights.

"Respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights" . "A society of pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination" . Oh, how noble sounding! Unfortunately, many of these words and phrases mean different things to different people. From the rest of the document, it seems that "liberty,” for example, means to its authors something quite different – and much less – than what it means to me.

"Free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, and freedom of establishment and residence" . That's fair enough – but it doesn't need a constitution to bring it about.

Encouraging research and technological development . That's OK up to a point, but why does it need the EU to do it?

A Europe-wide space program . That, I think, is a positive, because space opens the way to one of the long-term, large-scale energy sources – solar power collected beyond the atmosphere. But again, why does it need the EU?

An environment favourable to initiative and innovation . Progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade . All good-sounding stuff.

But that's about it for the positives. I did, it is true, enjoy a couple of humorous asides. I enjoyed the waggish way in which one monkey managed to insert the phrase "good global governance" . For I, also, am amiable to alliterations. And I enjoyed, too, the phrase "horizontal Union programmes" , which presumably was written pleasurably in bed.

Next, some things I was doubtful about. "An area of freedom, security and justice" . That sounds good, but I started asking myself the questions. Whose freedom? Whose security? And justice – of what kind, and for whom? And the answers I started coming to, while reading the rest of the document, were not good ones for the human individual.

I also worried about the lack of flexibility in the Constipation. It is theoretically possible for the inhabitants of an area of Europe to withdraw from the EU . But it wouldn't be easy. Similarly, it is possible to change what is in the Constipation . But the procedure is very cumbersome. And the EU and its Constipation are supposed to last for ever . For ever! Not even the Roman Empire could manage that.

As I read, I became aware of the sheer number of the organizations that make up the EU. Not just the obvious ones like the European Parliament, European Council, Council of Ministers, European Commission and Court of Justice. But also, (to name only some), the European External Action Service, European Armaments Research and Military Capabilities Agency, Committee of the Regions, Economic and Social Committee, European Central Bank and European Investment Bank. And the chillingly named Eurojust and Europol, reminding me of George Orwell's Minitrue and Miniluv.

I found, too, some coy phrases whose meanings were hard to work out. "Services of general economic interest,” I eventually twigged, actually means "services inefficiently provided by government monopolies.” With "social partners,” on the other hand, I drew a complete blank. They're obviously important to someone, but what they are I have no idea.

Now, to the brickbats. The very first sentence of Part I begins, "Reflecting the will of the citizens and states of Europe to build a common future" . Is this not pre-judging the question? We have not been asked.

Soon, though, comes Article 3. This one defines the EU's objectives. And it is full of the politically-correct Big Lies of our age. "Balanced economic growth.” "Social justice.” "A high level of protection.” "Improvement of the quality of the environment.” "Sustainable development of the Earth.”

Later, in Part III, more flesh is put on some of these. The makers of the Daft Constipation want to use the precautionary principle in environmental matters . What this means to you and me is that any cost to be imposed on us is "justified,” no matter how small the benefit or how unlikely (or untrue) the risk it is supposed to allay. They want, too, "a high degree of protection in health, safety and consumer protection" . Big Brother is also desirous of "obviating sources of danger to physical and mental health,” and "reducing drug-related health damage" . But at what cost in freedom?

Meanwhile, if perchance you thought the EU would be on the side of right on the subjects of world peace and disarmament, think again. "Member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities" .

If you worry about innocent people being victimized by police, look at Europol's remit . And the idea, that Europol delegates coercive measures to local enforcers , brings to mind a European organization of many centuries ago. That organization conducted investigations, convicted innocent people and then passed them over to the local magnate for capital punishment. It was called the Inquisition.

Who will be expected to pay for all this? That's easy to guess, although the monkeys with the typewriter are very coy about it. EU expenditure is supposed to "develop in an orderly manner" in a "multi-annual framework programme" . It's obvious what that means; more taxes, higher taxes, ever increasing taxes, and taxes that go on for a long, long time.

Combine this with "Sustained convergences of the economic performances of the member states" . Combine it with "Reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions" . Now, isn't that strange – I thought that diversity was something the EU was meant to foster? Combine it with their desire to waste as much of our money as possible on foreign aid programmes . Then, their stated desire to eradicate poverty takes on a whole new meaning. It's very easy to eradicate relative poverty. All you have to do is force everyone, rich, poor or middling, down into destitution all together.

Are these all the low-lights? Hell, no. Centralized, EU-wide authorization, co-ordination and supervision arrangements for intellectual property rights . Take-over of employment agencies . Fines for disobedience by member states – and guess who will be expected to pay them? Various statements which seem to give the EU the right to do just about anything . Perhaps, even, to extinguish the English common law .

Then there is the empty motto, "United in diversity.” Setting Beethoven's Ode to Joy up on a pedestal as European anthem. And declaring my birthday to be "Europe Day" . It's my birthday, for goodness' sake!

Then there is the euro. The primary stated objective of the euro is to maintain price stability . But it does not appear, even in just the short time it has existed, to have been very successful in this aim. When the Dutch adopted the euro, for instance, it was close to 2 guilders to 1 euro. Now, so my friends tell me (and a recent visit to Holland bears this out) prices are much the same in euros as they were in guilders three years ago.

So, to the human rights bit, Part II. I am not going to review this in detail, because I already did that for the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Part II of the Daft Treaty suffers from many of the same problems as the UN declaration. But there is worse yet. The clause that is supposed to protect our privacy has been completely emasculated. "Respect for our private lives" is no defence at all for the privacy of our phone calls or our e-mails. Now, what was all that about "a high level of protection,” eh?

There is a rather nonsensical right to compulsory education . There are unworkable non-discrimination "rights" . There are even provisions for "specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex" .

But the worst of all is tucked away in the detail, Article II-52, paragraph 1. This is a long sentence, hard to read and hard to understand. But what I think it means is that, if those in power want to, they can make out that the objectives of the EU override all human rights.

There was, indeed, a dissenting view on the Daft Treaty. Eight brave men – three Danes, one Czech, one Finn, one French, one Irish, and a Tory called David Heathcoat-Amory – produced an alternative report. Their four pages entitled "The Europe of Democracies" were published as an annex to a later document. When I searched for a single sentence to describe the Daft Constipation as a whole, I found that Mr Heathcoat-Amory and his friends had already written a good candidate. Here it is: "The Draft Constitution creates a new and centralized European state, more powerful, more remote, with more politicians, more bureaucracy, and a wider gap between the rulers and the ruled.”

But I will offer my own one-sentence summary too. For me, the Daft Constipation creates a stagnant, suffocating super-state, a leviathan that if unchecked will fetter the human spirit, destroy the dynamism and individuality natural to human beings, and inexorably squeeze out of all Europeans our earned prosperity and our chances of happiness.

The vision of those at the helm of the EU seems to be a three-tier Europe. On the top tier, a few thousand politicians, swanning round Europe on expense accounts, congratulating themselves on what a good job they are doing. On the middle tier, tens of millions of bureaucrats, meddling in people's lives and implementing bad policies designed to harm us. On the lowest tier, the victims of the system; us human beings.

There used to be, until quite recently, a society that had exactly this three-tier structure; politicians, ruling party members and slaves. It extended, indeed, over a large area of a continent, and included many different ethnic groups. That society was called the Soviet Union. And it collapsed in 1991.

No, I do not want the kind of Europe that suits the authors of the Daft Treaty. And, much as I applaud the stand taken by Mr Heathcoat-Amory and his friends against change in the wrong direction, I cannot agree either with their vision of a Europe of democracies. I do not have the blind faith in democracy that they seem to have; but that is a story for another day.

I do not vote in elections. But I will vote in the referendum on the European constitution – assuming I get the chance. I will vote NO! to the Daft Constipation. I will vote NO! to the politicians and bureaucrats that want to rule over me. I will vote NO! to their attempts to re-create the Soviet Union in my back yard. And I will do what I can to help others understand how important it is for them to vote NO! too.

Of course, we can expect the politicians to do their best to cloud the issue. We can expect them to come up with some cosmetic changes to the Daft Constipation, making it seem less bad, but without changing its essentials. We can expect them to moan about how much Britain will lose if it is denied access to European markets. But we shouldn't waste time or energy answering them, except with one word: NO!

Lest I be accused of negativity, I will give you my personal vision for Europe. The Europe I yearn for is a Europe of individuals, living in peace and harmony, and prospering through honest business and trade. A Europe of common-sense justice, where people are treated, in the round, as they treat others. A Europe where governments are minimal and law is honest. A Europe free from destructive politics and bureaucracy. A Europe with an environment of individual freedom and human progress. And Europeans whose motto is not "United in diversity,” but something more like "Each of us is an individual, but we have common sense too.”

And here's my list of three simple steps towards a Europe worth living in. One, open all the borders. Two, sack all the bureaucrats. Three, pillory all the politicians.

Well, what are we all waiting for?

Political Hymns

(Neil’s Note: Here are three of the Darn-Poor Rhymer’s more recent offerings. Each is to be sung to a well-known hymn tune.)

England and Britain

(To be sung to the tune “Bemerton (Caswall)”)

England is a nation,
Britain is a state.
England’s past redemption,
Britain’s out of date.

On “My” Member of Parliament

(To be sung to the tune “Franconia”/“Blest are the pure in heart”.)

My MP’s name is Hunt,
I think that he’s a prat.
A better word would rhyme with “punt,”
But no, I can’t say that!

England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales

(To be sung to the tune “Innocents”/“Conquering kings their titles take”)

England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales,
When the state that rules them fails,
They won’t sink into the sea!
They’ll be ours, and we’ll be free.