Monday, 19 December 2016
Robert starts by saying, “The grip of the Western globalists is slipping.” Yes, indeed. But I’m inclined to say that the grip that is slipping is their grip on themselves. And it isn’t just globalists. Even the local mafiosi increasingly treat us human beings as lower even than farm animals. They try any excuse to steal more and more from us in taxes. They continually tighten restrictions on our lives, both personal and business – often, it seems, just for the sake of it. And they show an arrogance, and a disdain for us, that astounds.
Robert goes on to talk of censorship and suppression of dissent. Again, yes indeed. Put together surveillance laws and the recent “fake news” meme, and it becomes plain that our enemies want to make telling the truth into anathema.
As to Trump, the establishment look as if they’re seeking a bridge contract of “One No Trumps.” But though he’s a politician, I’m not certain he’s all bad. Let’s see how he gets on.
As to Brexit, the Leave vote brought together some very unlikely bedfellows. Nationalist conservatives, old style Labourites, and even radicals like me. There wasn’t – and can’t be – any “united front.” The best we freedom lovers can do is promote a broad church, in which we agree on certain fundamental principles, like “don’t get in each other’s way.” But otherwise, we just get on with our own lives.
But Robert is spot on when he discusses the likely results of that vote. To paraphrase him: There may be “Brexit,” but there will be no Brexit. Until the EU collapses, of course.
To immigration. This is an area in which I fundamentally disagree with Robert. For me, the only valid borders are the borders of rightly held property. To allow a state to have borders, therefore, is to concede that it owns everything inside those borders; including you and me. That said, the mafiosi’s encouragement of mass migration goes several bridges too far. Particularly since the main motivation seems to be to preserve their unsustainable, debilitating welfare system.
On to robots. I thank Robert for raising this issue. There are both positives and negatives from such technology. Positively, it could create a more leisured world, in which robots do routine things, and we humans are freed to be creative. Negatively, as Robert says, it could make many people redundant. As a technologist myself, I’m very much in favour of the robot idea. But its effects, positive or negative, are a matter of “politics.” Who gets the benefits? Those who developed the technology? Their managers? A political class and their cronies? “Everyone?”
I do question one thing Robert said, that “the ideology of laissez faire… is at odds with human nature.” If I can interpret his meaning, he is following his use, earlier in the essay, of “laissez faire” to mean crony capitalism. I’d call that more like laissons faire – “we, the élite, can do what we want, but you the plebs have no rights at all.” I hope Robert can clarify this point.
As to his view on Russia, I couldn’t agree more, within present-day parameters. But I look forward to a world in which we talk, not about Russia or China, but about Russian persons and people who were born in China.
For me, the state is the problem. And it’s a world wide problem. It falls to us, to people like Robert and me – in our different ways – to disinfect people’s minds from politics, and to make people understand that politicians and their hangers-on are criminals.
Sunday, 4 December 2016
The X, the Y, the U, the D,
They all flow down towards the C.
The A1 and the 7 greet,
As at a confluence they meet.
The River Eden is in 5;
There, Adam had 6 with his wife.
Old Father Thames we should not hate;
He turns a bend at Chiswick 8.
I’ve 1 more river. It’s the Ts,
And it goes nowhere near St. Bs.
Such talk is Irk-some? And 2ché?
Good 0 from the 4shore of the Wey.
Monday, 28 November 2016
Two issues ago, there was in CAM an article so egregious, that I was impelled to write an April 1st spoof of it. The original article is on page number 13 of the PDF here , and my version is here . The writer, a professor called Theresa Marteau, displays an amazing disregard for human beings and for our right to decide the course of our own lives. She seems to think she has some divine right to plan and to carry out experiments in social engineering on those around her.
Last week, the latest of these massive missives plopped through my letter box. CAM issue 79 (available on line via ) doesn’t, to be fair, include anything quite as arrant as Ms Marteau’s offering. But four of the articles in it have a whiff, at least, of a flavour that makes me want to hold my nose and shut my mouth.
I’ll begin with the package. It was big and bulky. (How strange that a university that claims as a core value “concern for sustainability and the relationship with the environment, ” sends out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of these large items of junk mail each year).
When I opened it up, a bunch of inserts fell out. At least there were only four of them this time. Two were ads for high ticket items; exclusive, expensive and exotic holidays, and private medical insurance. The other two were begging letters. One, daubed with large swathes of red, was about some clever device supposedly to help poor people in Bangladesh. The other, more soberly presented in an envelope, had something to do with Christmas. All four went straight in the bin, the last unopened.
Then to the content of the rag. The first of the four malodorous manifestos was on page 13. The article is about Brexit, by the outgoing vice chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz. It perfectly exemplifies the view of the British ruling class on the issue – that Brexit is a disaster, and that what they need and want is more and more political action. (Or even better, to stop it).
The article also makes the ridiculous statement that “our commitment to Europe... is a commitment to a shared cultural and intellectual heritage.” Eh? The commitment of Remainers is to the EU, not to Europe. (How can you commit to a continent?) But the EU has only existed since 1993. It has no cultural or intellectual heritage; it’s simply an artificial, bureaucratic political device. And the European project, leading towards ever closer political union, was mis-sold in the 1970s to the people of the UK. We were led to believe that the project was purely about free trade within the European Economic Community. That was a lie, and the politicians knew it. No wonder so many people who remember the 1970s, including me, voted Leave.
And the following is almost as ridiculous. “When the communities we serve no longer believe that we have their interests at heart, it is our responsibility to engage and communicate to them.” Paraphrased: “When people no longer listen to you, SHOUT LOUDER.” That’s an attitude typical of the ruling class, showing as it does scorn for the “little people” and what we think.
I do, however, sympathize with Sir Leszek on immigration. Schengen is one of only two good things to have come out of the European project (the other being the European Court of Human Rights). However, we have never enjoyed its benefits when travelling into or out of the UK. So he should hardly be surprised if a lot of UK residents aren’t too worried about giving it up.
On to the second article, beginning on page 14: “Welcome to the space of possible minds.” Every so often, we see an article of this kind in establishment publications. It purports to educate and illuminate us; but in fact, its subtext is to cast aspersions against human beings, and to make us feel less confident in ourselves. This article, to give the writer her due, is subtly done. It doesn’t actually say that humans are no better than chimpanzees or other animals; but there’s a constant undertone of suggestion in that direction. This, again, is an attitude common among the ruling class. It’s almost as if they think that they’re a separate, and superior, species from us.
The third article, “What a Hypocrite!” (page 26) is by Matthew Parris, political journalist, broadcaster and former Tory MP. His argument, as far as I can work it out, is that because David Hume may have suffered from mood swings, hypocrisy (that is, practising otherwise than you preach) is OK. My response is to mis-quote Bill Vaughan: To err is Humean, but to really foul things up requires politicians and political commentators.
I suppose that the kind of hypocrisy, in which individuals fail to follow through on prescriptions they make for themselves, can be seen as innocuous enough. As long as no-one else suffers harm as a result, of course. But most hypocrisy we see today is of a different, and far more dangerous, kind. Such hypocrites promote or support damaging political policies to be enforced on others, yet themselves fail to obey the very rules they want to impose.
As example, I give you those that make out that we should drive and fly less in order to cut carbon dioxide emissions and so prevent catastrophic “global warming,” yet also fly around the world to climate conferences – often at taxpayers’ expense – and are chauffeured around in limos when they get there. But their accusation that “human carbon dioxide emissions will cause catastrophe” is both unproven, and almost certainly false. And yet, they seek to suppress the voices of those who deny their cant.
My diagnosis of hypocrites of this type is two-fold. Firstly, they have absolutely no respect or concern for human beings. For them, the Great Cause du jour is what matters, be it Europe, the Environment, Society, Equality (however interpreted), Fighting ISIS, National Security, Health, Safety or whatever else. Human beings, and the human individual in particular, do not matter to them at all. What happens to us is merely collateral damage. This is particularly strong among those that subscribe to leftist or collectivist politics; but the right are hardly innocent, either.
Secondly, they seek to evade accountability for the effects on others of their actions – a trait of which the great majority of politicians in the world are guilty. But further, they don’t even see the problem. They seem to have no sense at all of personal responsibility. Hypocrites, in my view, are the lowest of the low. No human being should feel anything but loathing for them.
The fourth article, starting on page 36, is about political “summit meetings.” It seems infused with a respect, even a love, for the current world political system, which I don’t and can’t share. And it fails to ask any of the important questions. Like, why do we still suffer under states and sovereignties, that are essentially relics of the politics of 16th-century France? Why do we human beings permit mass murderers like Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot to get even anywhere near positions of power? Why does the sham called democracy – which itself is based on a flawed 18th-century notion that a population, however large and diverse, has a “general will” – not only fail to empower us individual human beings, but instead empowers a ruling class that behave towards us with hatred and contempt?
No doubt, there are good things going on at Cambridge, even today. (There certainly were during my time there.) Deep inside the biology labs, or in dark corners of the computer lab or the physics department, people are surely still doing things, which are actually or potentially of benefit to humanity. In arts subjects too, there may be good work being done; objective historical studies, for example. But the message that comes over from CAM is that the public face, at least, of the university has been taken over by acolytes of the ruling class.
And it’s actually worse than that. For consider the attitudes and characteristics of behaviour, which these articles in CAM show as typical among those that currently project the university’s image. They think that they’re superior to us human beings. Even if they don’t use deceit and dishonesty themselves, they accept them in others such as politicians. They show, like Professor Marteau, scorn for human beings rather than concern or empathy. And they see hypocrisy and evasion of responsibility as OK or even normal.
These are not the behaviours of honest human beings. They are certainly not the behaviours of those best qualified to direct the intellectual endeavours of some of the world’s finest minds. No; these are the behaviours of bootlickers of a corrupt and psychopathic ruling élite.
Friday, 25 November 2016
About ten years ago, the Belgian philosopher of law Frank van Dun published a paper entitled “Concepts of Order.” In that paper he gives, among much else, an account of what he calls the convivial order. In this order, “people live together regardless of their membership, status, position, role or function in any, let alone the same, society.” It appeared in a book “Ordered Anarchy: Jasay and His Surroundings,” published in 2007 as a tribute to Anthony de Jasay. It has been preserved on the Internet on Anthony Flood’s website here .
Around the same time, the German-American libertarian philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe published a paper, “The Idea of a Private Law Society” . That paper outlines some of the institutions, which might maintain order and justice in societies without political states.
Recently, I re-read Frank van Dun’s work in this area, and I find it seminal. I was surprised and rather disappointed to find no evidence of anyone having tried to build on his framework in the intervening decade or so. So today, I’ll try to build on the theoretical ideas of Frank van Dun and the practical suggestions of Hans-Hermann Hoppe. I’m going to sketch a picture of how people might be able to live together, and resolve their disputes, without a state or a “sovereign.”
Frank van Dun’s ideas
I’ll give, first, a brief summary of Frank van Dun’s paper and the message I took home from it.
In the first part of the paper, he considers the causes of, and potential cures for, interpersonal conflict. He identifies four strategies for minimizing such conflict. Two of these, Unity and Consensus, he labels as political strategies. The others, Abundance and Property, are economic.
There’s much that can be said about these strategies. In particular, it’s questionable which of them, or what combinations of them, can be effective in the long run. However, van Dun favours the Property approach, on the grounds that it is the least demanding. He observes that “the property-solution appears to require no more than an adequate organization of self-defence.” And he says: “In so far as people respect each other’s property, there is order and justice; in so far as they do not respect it, there is disorder and injustice. Indeed, justice is respect for the natural order, i.e. the natural law, of the human world. Thus, justice requires human persons not only to respect other human persons but also their rights to the extent that these do not upset the natural law nor result from an infringement of it.”
In the second part of the paper, he introduces the convivial order, which he equates to the classical liberal concept of natural law. Later, he relates it also to John Locke’s state of nature, which, Locke says, is “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature. ”
Frank van Dun uses the word convivial in its literal meaning from the Latin, living together (samenleving in Dutch), as opposed to forming a society (maatschappij). Happily, this word in English has also a secondary meaning, of feasting in good company. So, my take on his phrase convivial order is that it is an order, in which people live together well.
He calls dealings between people convivial if they “conform to the patterns (or laws) of friendly exchange among independent persons.” He says that the laws of conviviality “must be discovered; they need not be invented.” (I myself would go further, and say that they cannot be invented.)
He contrasts ius with lex, the justice of the convivial order with the enforcement of obedience that is characteristic of social or “legal” orders. And he says: “The ius-based order of conviviality is in its principles the same always and everywhere.” Further, he says: “The fact that some people are more prominent or influential than others does not entail any difference in their status under the laws of conviviality.” (Nor – in my view, at least – do race, gender, place of birth or residence, religion, sexual orientation and the like make any such difference. In the convivial order, people are to be judged only by what they do, not by who they are). Therefore, in the convivial order, all are morally equal. Or, as I’ve put it elsewhere: What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa.
He also says: “In a convivial order... people appear only as themselves, doing whatever they do under their own personal responsibility. There is nothing like a social responsibility in the convivial order.” I find this to be a key point. And it comes about, because the convivial order is more primitive (or primary) than social orders. Indeed, the convivial order can exist even prior to, or in the absence of, any lex-based societies.
He gives some examples of unconvivial behaviour: “physical intimidation and threats, lies and deliberately misleading utterances, and the like.” And he says: “One who engages in such things places himself outside the law... by failing to deal with another as a free and equal person.”
In the third part of the paper, he discusses the convivial order in relation to societies. At the outset, he says: “The convivial order requires no social organization.” He says: “Although societies can be formed and operated on principles that are compatible with the convivial order, social orders are not necessarily compatible with the convivial order.” And he says: “In justice, withholding the benefits of membership is the only proper way in which to enforce social rules and regulations. The ultimate sanction is expulsion...”
Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s ideas
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, too, begins with property. He gives a fairly standard libertarian defence of property. He traces the (only) just means of acquiring property, from the right to the fruits of one’s labours, through original appropriation, productivity and voluntary trade. (Though he doesn’t go as far as I do; for me, all justly acquired property represents part of someone’s life, that was used up in acquiring the property. And thus, property is life; and to take away justly earned property is to take a part of the life of the person who earned it.)
He then discusses a major error of classical liberalism, its acceptance of the necessity of a state. And he shows how the error has been compounded by the sham of “liberal” democracy.
He develops his idea of private law societies in several stages. First, a society without a political state, and in which there is only one set of laws; that is to say, private law. Second, freely financed and competing private protection agencies. Third, a society in which the state has been replaced by these private protection agencies. And fourth, a development of the third, in which in addition there are voluntary societies, each with its own code of law.
He goes on to outline some of the institutions likely to arise in private law societies. He identifies three such. One, insurance companies. Two, police and detective agencies. And three, independent, external arbitrators and arbitration agencies.
The convivial animal
From here on, the ideas in this essay, except where ascribed to either van Dun or Hoppe, are my own responsibility.
Long ago, Aristotle described Man as “a political animal.” What he meant was that humans naturally form communities at various levels, such as families, villages and cities. At the time he wrote, the most evolved type of community was the Greek city state or polis; hence the word “political.” This description has been the subject of much controversy.
Aristotle thought that the city state, perhaps because of its claims to self-sufficiency, was “prior by nature” to (or, in my wording, “more primitive than”) the households and individuals in it. I can’t agree with this. For me, the fundamental social group is the family. For the family is the smallest social unit, which can exist indefinitely. But the fundamental unit of society – that is to say, the primary and original unit, from which all societies are built – is, and can only be, the individual. I wonder why Aristotle didn’t ask himself questions like: Before the first city state, what was the unit of social organization? And: City states cannot exist without families and individuals, so how can the city state be prior by nature to the family or to the individual?
The city state in which Aristotle lived was the highest developed form of human society up to that time. But he seems to have been blinded by this into believing that the city state was the be all and end all of social organization. And so, for him, the state was more important than the household, the family or the individual. Only in a city state, he thought, could people live their lives to the full. And anyone, who was not part of a city state, was an outcast and an outlaw.
In thoughts such as these, he was probably following his teacher Plato. For Plato’s political schemes are noted for their elevation of the state above the individuals who inhabit it, and of the rulers (“guardians”) and their hangers-on (“auxiliaries”) above the rest of the people.
My take, however, is quite the opposite. In my view, Man is not a political animal, but a convivial animal. It’s in human nature to live together. Part of our nature is to build societies, indeed; but those societies are not “prior by nature” to the family or to the individual. For me, it is the convivial nature of human beings which enables us to build the societies, including families, households and (formerly) city states, which can help us live to the full. Societies are defined by the individuals who agree to form them, not individuals by the societies they live in.
And so, my aim today is to try to outline a structure of relations between people, which can enable convivial individuals to live, and to live well, in order and justice.
The laws of conviviality
Frank van Dun writes in his paper about the laws of conviviality, and gives some examples. But he doesn’t try to list them. To do so is a formidable task. But it’s a task I myself have already attempted, most fully in a paper titled “Rights and Obligations” .
My approach is as follows. For every valid or claimed “human right,” there is an ethical obligation, and vice versa. For example, a right not to have x done to you maps to the obligation, “Don’t do x.” Now take a list of generally accepted, or reasonably proposed, “human rights” and obligations. Remove the misguided “rights,” such as social security and “free” education, which can’t be implemented without violating the rights of others. Remove the putative obligations, which are no more than the customs of a particular society. Remove also those that apply only to those who have agreed to take on a particular responsibility, such as marriage. We are left with just the general rights and obligations, which are common to all human beings. Now convert those, which are expressed as rights, to the corresponding obligations. Et voilà, we have our list!
Of course, this is hard to do, and I can’t claim that my list is in any sense “right.” (It’s certainly incomplete). It might be better to convene a quorum of ten or a dozen convivial and ethically expert greybeards, and have them (us) agree on a detailed list of the laws of conviviality. But, broadly speaking, I’d expect that any such list would include elements like the following:
- To be peaceful unless attacked. Not to commit, to promote or to support aggressions, physical or otherwise, against innocent people.
- To respect others’ rights, such as life (in the sense of not being murdered), property, privacy and security of person.
- To uphold a general presumption of freedom of action, absent any valid constraining factors.
- To respect others’ freedoms, such as freedom of speech and association, freedom of movement (subject to others’ property rights, but without any “encirclement” that would prevent people from moving or from receiving visitors), freedom to marry (or not) and freedom from compulsion to belong to particular associations.
- To accept responsibility for the consequences to others of your willed or irresponsible conduct.
- To compensate those you unjustly harm.
- If you have children, to accept responsibility for bringing them up and educating them.
- To treat other convivial people in good faith, without lies, deceit, fearmongering or other dishonesty.
- To strive to be independent, and not willingly to let yourself become a drain on others.
- To strive to keep to your side of any contracts you voluntarily enter into.
A convivial act is one in accord with the laws of conviviality. A person, who does only convivial acts, is a convivial person. (Or would be, if such a perfect individual existed).
An unconvivial act is one which breaks the laws of conviviality. However, an unconvivial act doesn’t necessarily make the person who does it into an unconvivial person. Firstly, because in our daily lives, we often do things that, strictly speaking, are unconvivial in some small way. But we do them, not because we want to harm anyone, but only because the costs to us of not doing them are far greater than the costs, to those affected by them, of us doing them. If we are to be convivial, however, we must be willing to allow others similar latitude in return. An example is: “I’ll accept a reasonable amount of noise from your ghetto-blaster, if you’ll accept a reasonable amount of exhaust from my car.” I call this convivial tolerance.
Some unconvivial acts, though, do have effects on others sizable enough to merit offsetting. In such situations, and in accord with common sense, convivial people should require the perpetrator to provide restitution or compensation to the victim, usually by means of a property or financial transfer. Once this has been done, and if the act was free of mind-states such as malice or irresponsibility beyond the bounds of reason, then the perpetrator can be re-admitted to the convivial order. I’ll give the name convivials (or convivial people) to those who, by and large, obey the laws of conviviality, and do not let themselves slip out of the convivial order.
However, persistently repeated harmful acts, and acts fuelled by malice or unreasonability, are worse than merely unconvivial. The word I’ll use for these acts is disconvivial. And by extension, I call those that perform disconvivial acts disconvivials.
In particular, those that seek to harm or inconvenience other people, or to violate their rights or restrict their freedoms, are disconvivials. As are those that lie, or try to deceive or to suppress the truth, about matters affecting others. Those that seek to create or to amplify problems for others. Those that promote or support aggressive wars, re-distributory taxes or other political policies that harm innocent people. And those that try to disclaim responsibility for damage they cause, or to set themselves above the laws of the convivial order. Including, I must say, most of today’s politicians, many state functionaries, many in the media and some big company bosses.
The convivial community
Convivial people do not constitute a society. They have no president or chairman, no officials and no goals as a group. However, they do form a community – as Frank van Dun describes it, “a categorization of people with some common property or relation.” And this community is bound together, convivial to fellow convivial, by the shared property of conviviality.
Disconvivials, on the other hand, are both a drain on, and a danger to, convivial people. They fail to behave as our fellow human beings. By their conduct, they show that they are not fit to associate with convivial people. And since the convivial order is more primitive than any social order, are we convivials not justified in shunning the disconvivials, and seeking to exclude them from our societies? And are we not justified in withdrawing from, and distancing ourselves as far as we can from, those societies in which disconvivials have control or significant power? Including pressure groups, political parties and states?
The guarded convivial order
The convivial order is vulnerable, as Frank van Dun says, to aggression and coercion. It’s also vulnerable to the misleading or browbeating of people through lies, deceit or fear. So, how might we seek to secure it?
Here’s my vision of what I call the guarded convivial order. In such an order, convivial individuals each do what they see as necessary to preserve the order. In the process, they construct a form of governance; but one which has no central point at which power can collect.
Is there a need for a legislative?
I start by assuming that our quorum of greybeards has already done its work, and done it well. That is to say, we have the laws of conviviality written down, clearly, succinctly and as completely as possible. They are freely available to the general public. And many convivial people know them, understand them, and agree that they are fair and just.
I can think of only two situations, in which changes or additions to the laws of conviviality might be necessary, and our greybeards might need to reconvene. First, if new knowledge becomes available, at the philosophical level, on the right ways for convivial people to behave towards each other. That’s very rare. And second, if new, unprecedented situations arise (for example, because of new technologies) which were not considered by the original quorum. Almost as rare.
So, there’s no reason for our greybeards to revise or extend their work on a regular basis. Otherwise put, the convivial order requires no legislative. Indeed, to avoid any temptation to invent new “laws,” the convivial order must not have a sitting legislative (or even a standing one). And it should be a long and complex process, requiring the consent of those affected, to make any change to the laws of conviviality.
The guarded convivial order must provide a way for individuals to bring those, whom they suspect of significant breaches of the laws of conviviality, to justice. Thus, it does require an executive in some form. And because in the convivial order everyone is morally equal, it follows that everyone has the right to bring suspected offenders to justice. In the guarded convivial order, everyone is part of the executive. This is hardly rocket science; for the idea of the “citizen’s arrest” goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. And, as John Locke put it : “For in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do.”
Such a right requires, as is guaranteed by the laws of conviviality, that every convivial individual must have means of self defence. In fact, it requires more. Every convivial individual must have access to means to restrain any suspect or suspects of a breach of conviviality, even if physically stronger than himself, for a limited period and for the sole purpose of bringing them to justice. I won’t détour here on to the subject of guns. At the risk of sounding science-fictional, I’m thinking more along the lines of robots with the ability to physically restrain people without causing them any actual damage. And they might become even more effective if combined with a future system of personal transport.
Absent such fantasticalities, however, we are driven to more prosaic solutions. So, here enter the first of Hoppe’s institutions of private law societies: police. What a little old lady can’t do without a Smith and Wesson, a private police society may well be able to do by dint of training and teamwork. Those not confident in their own abilities as arresters can delegate the job to their chosen police society, in exchange for a fee or subscription. It’s important to note, though, that these are not state police. They have no moral privileges that our little old lady does not. They may not, within the laws of conviviality, do anything she may not do.
Associated with these are Hoppe’s detective agencies. Their function is – at various stages in the case, from initial arrest through to trial – to investigate the facts, and prepare objective summaries of one or both sides of the case, which can be put before an arbitrator. They may operate either on behalf of the victim or victims, or of the accused, or be sub-contracted by the arbitrator himself.
In the guarded convivial order, the roles of judges and magistrates in today’s legal systems are taken by Hoppe’s arbitration societies. In many ways, though, their jobs will be easier than those of today’s judges and magistrates. For, first, the laws of conviviality are simpler and clearer than the tangles of, mostly bad, “laws” made by generations of conniving politicians. And second, the judgement process, having no political aspect at all, will be far more objective than today.
In principle (and to a large extent in practice), any two arbitrators, given the same case, will arrive at the same conclusion. Furthermore, arbitrators must be required to publish their decisions, the factual statements on which they were based, and the reasoning that led to them; and to make these freely available to all. This enables their verdicts to be checked by independent third parties. And these third parties include what I call “quality reporters”  – the free and objective replacements for today’s muzzled, politicized and biased press and media.
Restitution and compensation
The primary function of the arbitrator is to determine, from the facts of the case, what if any restitution (and compensation too, if full restitution isn’t feasible or sufficient) is to be provided. In many cases, the arbitrator will order the perpetrator (or perpetrators) of a breach of conviviality to make a payment to the victim (or victims). The terms and conditions, under which the payment is to be made, are included in the judgement.
The arbitrator has no power to enforce the restitution or compensation he has ordered. So, it’s possible that the perpetrator may refuse to make the payment, or may default on it for other reasons. At this point, an institution Hoppe doesn’t mention comes into play: the bailiffs.
Here’s what the bailiffs do. First, they advance to the victim the compensation he is owed. And second, they take on the burden of recovering the debt. For this purpose, in addition to the compensation awarded and the arbitrator’s own costs, an insurance premium is added to the debt to cover the possibility of default. If they can’t recover the debt, they go back to an arbitrator – preferably, a different one – for further action.
From the point of view of a victim, there are two advantages to this. First, he receives the compensation he is owed as soon as is practically possible. And second, he need take no part in the process of recovering the debt. However, the victim must have the option to bypass this procedure. He can either collect the debt himself, or if he so wishes, forgo it.
Libertarian theories of justice usually stop at (or before) this point. They do not take account of situations where the damage intended is far greater than the damage actually caused. (The example I like to use is the incompetent terrorist, who plants in a public place a bomb that fails to go off). They also fail to cope with situations, such as a perpetrator refusing to pay compensation ordered, which in today’s legal systems are dealt with through devices like “contempt of court.”
In such cases, common sense tells us that the perpetrators deserve harsher penalties than simply those dictated by restitution or compensation. Such acts are equivalent, in the convivial order, to crimes in today’s legal systems. Thus, in the guarded convivial order, there must be available some equivalent of a “criminal law” penalty. But how can we impose such a penalty in practice, given that everyone must have the right to impose it?
Fortunately, Frank van Dun already answered this question, when he said, of convivial justice: “The ultimate sanction is expulsion.” Now, the community of convivial people isn’t a society; it has no membership from which to expel anyone. But people as individuals can, if they wish, withhold the benefits of their conviviality from those that, in their considered opinion, don’t deserve it. And so, they can ostracize those that breach the convivial order. And the level of ostracism can vary, according to how many are willing to take part in it, and how strongly they feel about the matter.
I envisage that, if an arbitrator finds that further penalty is warranted beyond restitution and compensation, he can issue a “card” along with his judgement. Perhaps there might be a three-card system. A green card is a warning. It is a suggestion that convivial people might like to consider ostracizing the perpetrator. A yellow card goes further; it recommends that convivial people should ostracize the perpetrator, if they come across him. And a red card intimates that not only should convivial people withdraw all contact from the perpetrator, but they should consider also ostracizing those that associate with him.
Of course, there need to be safeguards. We can’t have people unlucky enough to look like Tony Blair being rejected by everyone just because Tony Blair has received a much deserved red card. So there needs to be, at least, biometric information published along with judgements, and people will need means to check whether an individual they meet is, or is not, subject to a card.
Furthermore, cards will have a time limit. They will be annulled after a period specified by the arbitrator, if the individual does not commit any more disconvivial acts in the meantime.
Some individuals are a danger to others if allowed to roam freely among them. To deal with this situation in the guarded convivial order, some form of protective custody is necessary.
Such custody, I think, can only be voluntary. To an individual clearly dangerous to others, the arbitrator could, I suggest, offer two options; a more serious card without custody, or a less serious card (or no card at all) with custody. I doubt that many, given the choice between a straight red card and a green card with a period of protective custody, would choose the red!
Importantly, this custody will not be punitive in any way; though, of course, the individual is required to pay for it. And in particular, it will not prevent the individual in custody from receiving visitors, and it will seek to avoid placing any restriction on his ability to earn. He probably has, after all, a debt to pay off.
As Hoppe says, unfair or biased arbitrators would lose customers quickly. So much so, that I expect that arbitrators, like other businesses, will carry out extensive quality controls before publishing their judgements. However, if a bad judgement has been made, even sacking the judge doesn’t help the victim of that bad judgement. Thus, there must be an appeal procedure.
I expect that there will probably grow up a market of “re-arbitrators,” who review and carry out quality controls on cases already judged. They might work on behalf of the original victim, or the perpetrator, or – most likely – a third party such as an insurance company. If successful, they would be able to claim damages for their client against the original arbitrator.
In contrast to the state, there can be no “final court of appeal.” Instead, there will be a hard limit on the number of times any case could go to re-arbitration. I suggest it might be two.
As in Hoppe’s vision, insurance companies will compete to provide protection services. I envisage them as a “one-stop shop” for police, detective work and access to arbitration, as well as insurance against no-fault accidents. And they agree in advance with other insurers how to choose which arbitrator is to judge disputes between their respective clients.
I envisage that these insurers will charge their clients by subscription, probably yearly or monthly. As with car insurers, the price will vary according to the size of the risk insured against, where the client lives, and his level of no-claim bonus. Most people will take out such subscriptions. Nevertheless, some highly independent people (self-insurers) may choose to do their own police or detective work or both. Or, perhaps, to go directly to arbitrators or re-arbitrators for their services.
Societies in the convivial order
In the convivial order, individuals may form or join societies as they wish. Flower arranging societies, musical ensembles, football clubs, boxing clubs, religious groups, business companies, lifestyle communes, insurance societies, arbitration societies, police societies and many more. As Frank van Dun points out, “it makes sense to personify societies and to regard them as artificial or conventional persons defined by their constitution and social decision-rules.” Membership of such societies is signified by a contract between the individual member and the society. And leaving a society is always possible, even if it may involve a pre-agreed forfeit.
Each of these societies has its own rules, which may sometimes vary from the laws of conviviality. And, as Hoppe suggests, these variations can give rise to competing codes of law.
For example, the Catholic Canon Law Society might have an additional rule, which prohibits its members from performing or undergoing abortions. And a boxing club might waive the responsibility of its members for injuries caused to other members during training or boxing matches, provided of course that specified safety precautions are taken. But there must be a general expectation that any such variations, adopted by particular societies, are kept to the minimum necessary.
Further, these variations only apply to dealings between members of the society. Dealings between individuals who aren’t co-members of any one society (or weren’t, at the time of the dealing) are to be governed entirely by the laws of conviviality.
The order I’ve sketched, which I call the guarded convivial order, bears in many of its institutions a strong resemblance to existing systems of law and justice. At least, when those systems are operated honestly. However, there are some major differences between the guarded convivial order and politicized legal systems.
- The guarded convivial order has no state and no sovereign. There are no morally privileged individuals or classes, and there is no central point at which power can collect.
- The laws of conviviality are simple and clear enough to be known, understood, and accepted as just and fair, by most if not all convivial people.
- There is no legislative. To change the laws of conviviality is a long, complex and consensual process.
- Judgements are as objective as possible. The main remedies are restitution and compensation.
- Punishments for disconvivial (criminal) acts take the form of ostracism, with protective custody as a voluntary alternative where needed.
- There is a simple appeal procedure, with no requirement for any ultimate “authority.”
- Individual societies may have their own rules which, while they must be based on the laws of conviviality, may vary as required. But dealings with non-members must always be governed by the laws of conviviality alone.
 Second Treatise of Government, §4.
 Second Treatise of Government, §7.
 See section 19 in https://thelibertarianalliance.com/2015/07/12/a-blueprint-for-human-civilization/
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Friday, 28 October 2016
Jason Brennan is a professor in the School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington DC, a privately funded Catholic and Jesuit university. His background is in philosophy, and his primary interest is political philosophy. He also writes at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a blog I read occasionally, and which is generally seen as being towards the left of the liberty movement.
So, what qualifications do I have to critique such a book? I’m not an academic; I earn my bread (and wine) as a software consultant. But I’m also a regular teacher of the ideas of liberty at Glenn Cripe’s Language of Liberty Institute camps. My degree, long ago, was in mathematics from Cambridge. In philosophy, I’m an educated amateur, not a professional. But I take the philosophy of liberty sufficiently seriously to have written and self published a book on the subject, called “Honest Common Sense.” And I do most of my blogging at the UK’s Libertarian Alliance, where I’m one of the less conservative authors.
Now I knew, before I started, that I would probably agree with most of what Jason Brennan would say about the shortcomings of democracy. In fact, I expected to find his views on that subject rather softer than my own. And what I found was, indeed, as I expected. He thinks democracy is an ugly pig; but his disrespect for it is far less vehement than my own.
Jason Brennan gives the name epistocracy, meaning the rule of the knowledgeable, to his range of proposed solutions to the ills of democracy. Basically, he thinks that the views of more informed, more rational people should carry greater weight than those of the less informed and the less rational. I confess that my instant reaction to this idea was to paraphrase it as, “We’re the experts; trust us.” I’ve been on this planet a few years now. And I’ve heard lines like that far too many times to be anything but extremely skeptical. So, it was always going to be a tough job for Jason Brennan to convince me of his claims. But that said, I’m open to persuasion by good and rational arguments. So, here we go...
First, a few stylistic plaudits for this book. It’s clearly written. Whenever Jason Brennan introduces a technical word – such as “semiotic” – he always takes the trouble to explain exactly what he means by it. And I like the way in which he presents, in an indented section of the text and worded very concisely, a list of options, points or arguments to be discussed, then follows them through in a logical sequence.
I rather liked the idea, near the beginning of the book, of classifying people into hobbits (uninterested in politics), hooligans (political fans and cheerleaders) and vulcans (rational, scientific thinkers about politics). But unfortunately, I find the classification incomplete. I myself, for one, don’t fall into any of the three categories. While I have many of the characteristics of a vulcan, my only interest in politics is in trying to work out how to get rid of it. A term I might use to describe the group I belong to is the alienated. And I suspect that we are a considerably greater fraction of the population than most pundits would attest. For example, the turn-out in the recent Brexit referendum, in which I did vote, was far higher than the usual turn-out in general elections, in which I refuse to vote for any of the parties. I think I'm not alone!
My first substantive disagreement with Jason Brennan’s thesis comes towards the end of chapter 2 (whose title is: “Ignorant, Irrational, Misinformed Nationalists”). He says (and in his note 79 gives references) that voters don’t vote selfishly, but for what they perceive to be in the national interest. (Or, I presume, some other group interest, if the election isn’t a national one). I find this hard to believe, because it doesn’t tally with my own experience.
In the UK, for example, we have a Labour party which, historically, has always been the party of trade union power. Trade unionists used to vote en bloc for it; and many of that persuasion still do. That, to me, is selfish voting. Another reason large numbers of people (including many of my friends) vote the way they do, is that they hate one of the major parties so much, that they will vote for whoever has the best chance of beating them. This is generally known as voting for “the lesser of two evils.” Back in the 1980s, I myself twice voted Conservative for just this reason, believing (naively) that I was doing so in self-defence against Labour.
Not being an expert in political psychology, I can’t say categorically that Jason Brennan is wrong on this point. But my bullshit meter is triggered. I noticed, for example, that many of the papers cited were published before 2000, so would not take any account of the increased polarization of politics since then. I also wonder what methodologies were used to solicit the reasons why people voted as they did. If they were asked directly, for example, I wouldn’t expect the results to be valid; for how many people would be willing to supply an answer that could give others cause to think of them as selfish and unpatriotic?
Chapter 3, “Political Participation Corrupts,” is very good. And Chapter 4, “Politics Doesn’t Empower You or Me,” begins even better. The demolition of the consent argument had me chuckling; in places, it reminded me of John Locke’s First Treatise of Government. And soon after, I came to a key point. While democracy may (or may not?) empower us as a collective, it doesn’t empower us as individuals. Indeed, Jason Brennan says that democracy “is intended to disempower all the individuals in favor of large groups or collections of individuals.” In darts terms, that hits the very centre of the bull. But as I read on, I found this chapter becoming increasingly hard work.
In Chapter 5, “Politics Is Not a Poem,” I found myself disagreeing with the idea that equal voting rights don’t (or shouldn’t) have any value to those who enjoy them. I agree with Jason Brennan that the right to vote is all but worthless in objective terms. But he seems to neglect the fact that individuals make their value judgments subjectively. As the proverb goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So, this chapter left me somewhat underwhelmed.
But it was in Chapter 6, “The Right to Competent Government,” that my alarm bells really started ringing. We have a right to “competent” government. That sounds fair enough. But what is “competent?” The dictionary says “having requisite or adequate ability or qualities.” In essence, competence is fitness for purpose. But fitness for what purpose? To produce just outcomes, seems to be Jason Brennan’s answer. But just (sic) what does “just” mean?
I’ll park that for now, and turn to the other side of the coin, the idea that political decisions must be made “in good faith.” Again, this sounds fair enough. The dictionary defines good faith as “honesty or lawfulness of purpose.” I think I know what honesty means; but “lawfulness?” If a political government makes a law – such as apartheid, or Prohibition – does that necessarily mean it was made in good faith? I think not. Indeed, I contend that most things done by political governments today, democracies included, are done in bad faith. Re-distribution of wealth from the productive to the lazy? Using non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” as an excuse to invade Iraq? Spying on us with cameras, and intercepting our e-mails? Bad faith, all of them.
And there’s an egregious example of bad faith, which Jason Brennan touches on, but fails to spear as he should have done. This is where he talks about “carbon emissions.” That he devotes the following paragraph to energy use, suggests to me that he is actually talking not about carbon emissions, but about carbon dioxide emissions. (School chemistry: at room temperature, carbon is a solid; carbon dioxide is a gas. Any vulcan should know the difference.)
Now, carbon emissions which find their way into the air – such as soot – can, indeed, be a real environmental problem. But carbon dioxide, despite what many politicians and politicized “experts” say, isn’t a pollutant. In fact, it’s essential for plants to survive; and the more of it there is in the atmosphere, up to several times greater than the amount that’s there today, the more the plants will thrive.
An accusation against carbon dioxide, which might carry some weight if true, is that human emissions of it (from using fossil fuels) might cause dangerous, even catastrophic “global warming.” But this accusation, while supposedly “scientific,” is actually purely political. Bad “science” that supports it, and scares about its bad effects, are hyped in the media. While science that contradicts it, and independent, objective cost-benefit assessments on the issue, are suppressed or ignored. Further, the precautionary principle has been subverted, and the burden of proof has been inverted. And those who, like me, have looked objectively at the evidence and found the accusation wanting, are called nasty names like “flat earthers” and “deniers.”
To those who study such things, it’s clear that the political establishment planned today’s green policies – such as cutting use of fossil fuels, and forcing us out of our cars – decades ago. And that scientific truth or falsehood, and what we the people think or want, are of no importance to them. Google “Our Common Future” if you don’t believe me. Bad faith, bad faith, bad faith.
It’s unfortunate for Jason Brennan’s case for epistocracy that he unwittingly shows here how hard it is to be an epistocrat, or even a vulcan. Not only does such an individual need to be expert in political philosophy, ethics, law and social sciences. But he also needs to know about history, psychology, economics, chemistry, physics, engineering, farming and all the other branches of knowledge he might need in his duties. (Not to mention vulcanology). And he needs to be absolutely honest and scrupulous. In short, he needs all the characteristics of a philosopher king. But, as Aristotle told us, such individuals do not and cannot exist.
A little later, Jason Brennan appears to cop out in a big way, when he says: “It’s not clear I need to defend a precise theory of political competence.” But to make his case for epistocracy, it’s absolutely necessary for him to explicate such a theory. For his arguments for epistocracy are instrumental, not procedural. So, if epistocracy is ever to be adopted on a large scale, it must first be trialled; a suggestion he does indeed make in a later chapter. And how should we judge the results of those trials? By measuring how competent epistocratic government is, compared with democratic; how just its outcomes are, and how good the faith in which they are made. But you can’t measure something if you can’t define it precisely. And you can’t persuade others that your system is better than theirs, unless you can agree on how to measure the two against each other.
Chapter 7 is entitled “Is democracy competent?” Jason Brennan answers “No,” and I’m very much in agreement with him on this. But there’s one issue on which I disagree with him fundamentally. He says that the political parties choose candidates they believe will appeal to typical voters. He then uses this to blame the failings of politicians on the failings of the electorate. But I think this should be the other way around.
Recently, I was looking at a standard test used by psychiatrists to detect psychopathic tendencies. I asked the question, how well (or badly) would the typical politician score on this test? What I found supported the idea that politicians will tend to score much higher on the test – that is, they are much more likely to have psychopathic tendencies – than members of the general population.
For example, they are more likely than ordinary people to be superficially charming, arrogant, foolhardy (particularly with others’ resources), lying, insincere, selfish or manipulative. And they are more likely to try to deny accountability for their actions, and to lack remorse towards their victims. This, I think, can help to explain why so many politicians do so much of what they do in bad faith. In a nutshell, power attracts psychopaths. Jason Brennan shows he is aware of this problem, when early in the book he says: “In the real world, if we imbued an office with the discretionary power of a philosopher king, that power would attract the wrong kind of people.”
The electorate, on the other hand, have been gradually corrupted over decades by the perverse incentives and ideas offered to them by the political system, particularly through welfare and through politicized education and media. Jason Brennan is right to say that the electorate as a whole aren’t what they ought to be. But in my view, it’s the political system that has corrupted the people, not the other way round.
And so to Chapter 8, “The Rule of the Knowers,” where Jason Brennan puts forward a range of proposals for how epistocratic government might work. One thing that surprised (and disappointed) me was that most of his proposals involve imposing restrictions on the electorate rather than restrictions on power seekers. If I were designing such a system, I would look to set it up so that the more power an individual wishes to exercise, the higher the bar they have to clear. Thus the level of qualification required to stand for office would be far higher than the level required to vote. And the level of qualification needed to become a president or prime minister would be far higher again than the level required to be a congressman or an MP.
To detail. Christiano’s values-only voting idea doesn’t pass Jason Brennan’s smell test; nor mine. As to suffrage restricted by exam qualification, I immediately see two major drawbacks (beyond the two which Jason Brennan mentions, ideological manipulation and cramming). One, it would be very expensive, requiring as it does the testing of everyone who wishes to vote. And two, it’s liable to spark conflict between the enfranchised and the disenfranchised. Plural voting, on the other hand, doesn’t address the first of these issues, and might be even worse on the second. Plural voting could easily lead to two wolves and ten chickens voting on what’s for dinner!
López-Guerra’s “enfranchisement lottery” seems to me both complicated and naive. He himself admits that it increases the risk of manipulation and agenda control; and that’s the very last thing we need. I suspect the same problem would apply to the “simulated oracle” proposal at the end of the chapter; in particular, there would be risks of hacking of the program or its database.
Epistocratic veto seems, at least at first sight, more promising. The electorate lose no perceived rights, and the politicians’ worst excesses are restrained. Unfortunately, Jason Brennan fails to mention that this particular proposal has already been tried; and it doesn’t work any more, if indeed it ever did. The institution in question is the UK’s House of Lords. Its denizens, originally, were aristocrats rather than epistocrats; but there’s not much difference there. And, prior to 1911, it had pretty much the veto power that Jason Brennan suggests. Today, though, the Lords has not only lost much of its erstwhile power, but it’s also packed full of party hacks and political appointees. Even fifty years ago, the Lords was still a bulwark for the people against bad government; but today, it’s almost as bad as the Commons, and in some ways worse.
Towards the end of the section on epistocratic veto, however, a far more radical and interesting idea appears. In this scheme, epistocratic screening is to be applied to all the winning candidates for offices. To avoid interminable re-runs, I think it would be better to do the screening before the election takes place, on all the candidates. Only those who pass the test may stand for office.
There’s still an issue to be addressed; the selection of panel members. In my view, merely being a vulcan, and having objective expertise in relevant areas, shouldn’t be enough to qualify for epistocratic power. We also need to apply ethical standards. And we need to apply strict quality control to prevent corruption. Jason Brennan doesn’t say anything about these aspects.
All that said, I really do like this idea of epistocratic screening. For, if done properly, it has the potential to stop the politicization of our lives right at source. Even better (as I’ve suggested elsewhere), we could include a psychopathy test as part of the screening process, and qualified psychiatrists on the screening panel. Then the panel could bar from office anyone with even the slightest trace of psychopathy, or at the least with a higher psychopathy test score than the median of the population as a whole. We could even apply the screening test retrospectively to existing office holders! Heh, heh.
Finally, I’ll make a couple more tongue half in cheek proposals along somewhat similar lines to Jason Brennan’s. (1) Create a “hooligan test” to identify political hooligans. Bar all hooligans, including current and past politicians, from voting, and from holding or standing for office. (2) Plural voting, with votes in proportion to the taxes each individual has paid minus the benefits he has received. (I call this the “shareholding model.”)
To sum up. This is a very thought provoking book, with many fine ideas and insights. But Jason Brennan doesn’t manage to convince me to give up my (objectively worthless) political rights to him and his vulcan colleagues. Nice try, my friend, but no cigar. Nevertheless, the book was worth far more to me than the purchase price and the time I spent to read it. And so, I thoroughly recommend Jason Brennan’s “Against Democracy” to all those looking for a better politics.
Saturday, 24 September 2016
This essay arose out of three recent posts at the Libertarian Alliance blog, all on or related to the subject of religious tolerance; by Keir Martland, Stephen Moriarty and Sean Gabb. For which, I thank all three; though I’m not replying specifically to any one of them.
My view on religion
I was brought up in a moderate Anglican household. But these days, I count myself an agnostic. It’s fair to say that I got there by a long and tortuous path. It all began (and I remember my mother’s surprise!) when, aged six, I asked if I could go to Sunday school. My motive, at the time, was curiosity; I wanted to find out what this religion stuff was all about. But as it turned out, this was a good strategic move. For it helped prepare me for the day, two years later, when I was sent to a boarding school whose headmaster was a clergyman, and where the Anglican atmosphere was far heavier than in the local church, or in my (C of E) primary school.
For several years, I was subjected to compulsory chapel – often twice a day. I wasn’t exactly a doubter, but I wasn’t an enthusiast of religion either. Then, a few days before my sixteenth birthday, came the moment that began my move away from religion. I was watching a TV programme, on which some pompously robed bishop was pontificating about “helping the poor.” And I remember thinking, “If you care so much about the poor, why don’t you get out of those silly robes, go out there and get helping them?” By three months later, the religion had simply leached out of me; it had ceased to mean anything to me. It was all part of growing up.
After I left academe, embarked on my career and acquired a modicum of worldly wisdom, I found my thinking becoming more aggressively atheist. I used to ask questions like, “If there’s a god, and he’s so wonderful, why doesn’t he put an end to all the evil in the world?” And, “why don’t we just ban religion altogether?”
At the age of 35, I was exposed for the first time to the ideas of liberty. The following year, I made my bicycle trip across North America. It’s a mode of transport which allows you plenty of time to think; and I used the opportunity to develop my philosophy in many directions. I found myself taking a new, more tolerant attitude to religion. It was at this time that I coined what I now call Neil’s First Precept of Religion: “If you let me have my religion (or lack of it), I’ll let you have yours.”
Being tolerant of others’ personal religion doesn’t, however, mean that I have much respect for institutional religion. My Third Precept, indeed, is a religious equivalent of Pauli’s Exclusion Principle: “If two individuals have exactly the same religion, one of them is surplus to requirements.” This reflects my distaste for the institutionalized conformity and mumbo-jumbo of the officially sanctioned religions. And I am utterly opposed to any attempts to constrain anyone’s religious beliefs – either for or against – using browbeating, threats or violence.
To summarize, broadly, my current views on religion. One, I don’t know whether or not a god exists, and I really don’t care either way. Two, Jesus seems to have been a decent man, who was murdered by the ruling class – like William Tyndale and Giordano Bruno. And the gospels are about as accurate and unbiased as mass media news reports. Three, I’m happy to tolerate in others whatever religion they wish, including Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, any branch of Christianity, atheism or even Pastafarianism, provided they extend the same courtesy to me. (And, of course, as long as it doesn’t lead them to commit aggressions against me or anyone else). Though I greatly prefer the religion to be their own, not someone else’s.
As to Christianity, I agree with those who say it isn’t a very nice religion. I did once, long ago, read the bible through cover to cover, and there’s lots of really nasty stuff in there. And church history is hardly unblemished; consider, for example, the Inquisitions.
Yet one of the worst things about Christianity, I find, is the hypocrisy it inspires. I mentioned earlier the bishop, who turned me away from his religion by failing to practise what he was preaching. That’s just a small example; but there are far bigger ones.
Consider, for example, three of the prime moral edicts of Christianity: “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” There are, of course, circumstances in which keeping to these rules can be wrong; for example, they can sometimes be broken in self defence. Nevertheless, if you’re setting out to construct a morality for civilized people in dealing with others of their kind, these three rules are a pretty good start. Yet many of those, who call themselves Christians, give their support to – or even take part in – gross violations of these rules. Aggressive wars, redistributory taxation and enviro lies and propaganda are cases in point.
Then there is the, to me crazy, doctrine of “original sin,” that tells us that we are “sinful” or “depraved,” at or even before birth. For me, those that make out that humans are naturally bad are merely projecting their own inner badness on to others.
Then there is the tendency of Christians to factional strife. Think, for example, of the Thirty Years’ War. Or the oppression of Catholics by Protestants, which lasted in England until the 19th century.
And further, there is the frequent hostility of Christians towards members of other religions. Jews have been victims of this for many centuries. And Muslims are the latest scapegoats du jour.
Religion and politics
Where there is religious intolerance, there is usually political intolerance too. The prime reason behind 17th century Anglican oppression of Catholics, for example, seems to have been that they were seen as agents of a foreign power, the pope. Other conflicts, which may appear at first sight to be sectarian, often have political roots. The troubles in Northern Ireland, from the 1960s on, are an example. Or the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s, where nationalism and religion seem to have been crazily mixed up.
The Balkans also provide evidence that, absent political troubles, people of different religions can live peaceably together. In present day Albania, for example, it’s not uncommon for a single family to include Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox among its members.
So, what is religious tolerance? Simply put, tolerance is respect for others’ right to be different. And religious tolerance is the application of this respect to the practice, or not, of religion; to the inner life, if you will.
This tolerance can manifest itself in many ways. By recognizing others’ right to worship in their own way, in their place of choice, using their own icons and symbolisms, and in company with whomever they choose. By accepting their right to their own religious customs, such as not eating pork or drinking alcohol, or taking off their shoes for worship. By accepting their right to display their religion, if they wish, by means of their dress or their headgear, be it the burqa, the zucchetto, the turban or the colander.
But, most of all, tolerance in religion is allowing others not to follow particular religious rules and practices. For example, by allowing them to use version X of a religious book rather than version Y. By refraining from restricting their right to trade when they please. Or by allowing them to meet in the pub, drink beer and eat bacon butties, if that’s what they want to do.
All this, of course, is conditional on individuals keeping to basic rules of civilized behaviour. For example, they must refrain from aggression, fraud, deception, provocation and rights violations. And they must, in their turn, show tolerance towards those who show tolerance towards them.
The phrase “political tolerance” seems, at first sight, an oxymoron. For politics, as it’s practised today, is institutionalized intolerance. A ruling class seeks to run everyone else’s lives. It does so by controlling the outdated, failing but still destructive institution that is the political state. And the state’s tools are violence, theft, lies and propaganda, rights violations and crony favouritism.
But let’s explore some possibilities. If political tolerance did exist, what would it be like? I think it would take the form of a general respect for others’ right to be politically different. Subject of course to keeping to the basic rules of civilized behaviour, it would allow people to live in their own way, to enjoy their own property, to use their own skills and abilities, to mind their own business, to trade and to live with whomever they choose. Political tolerance would be to the outer, public side of life what religious tolerance is to the inner, private side.
I’ll try to put a little more flesh on this idea. Individuals form political views in a number of different dimensions. They may, for example, prefer social liberalism to social conservatism. They may prefer a bottom-up, individualist way of life to a top-down, collectivist one. They may prefer capitalism to socialism. In race or religion, they may prefer tolerance to intolerance. They may prefer the seeking of truth to the repetition of politically correct lies. They may prefer peaceableness to warmongering. They may prefer objective, individual justice to the exploitation of some by others. They may prefer honesty and integrity to deceit and hypocrisy. They may prefer a global free market to a compartmentalized and controlled economic order. Political tolerance, then, if it existed, would be a willingness to let each individual select whereabouts in each of these dimensions he or she wants to be.
In a world based on political tolerance, someone who is individualist, capitalist, scrupulously honest, socially liberal and tolerant of difference – for example – would be free to associate and trade with like minded people. Such people would neither need nor want any dealings with those of the opposite persuasions. Collectivist, socialist, dishonest, intolerant social conservatives, on the other hand, could get together, form their own communities, and run them according to their own norms. They wouldn’t need to interact at all with the liberty lovers down the road.
Thus, a general atmosphere of political tolerance would lead, I expect, to a world something like Robert Nozick’s “utopia of utopias.” That would be a win for all good people. Wouldn’t it?
So, I think we liberty lovers might do well to focus on this ideal of political tolerance. Let’s look to develop it, and let’s seek ways to make it practical. Who knows where that might lead?
Friday, 2 September 2016
Clearly, in some ways the Alt-Right are enemies of my enemies. Those currently in power in almost all Western societies – I’ll dub them the Ctrl-Left – are hostile to me and to everything I care about. Yet the Alt-Right aren’t much closer to my views and values. If I could pick a keystroke combination to represent my preferred way forward, it would be Shift+Up.
Now, there are some areas in which I can agree, at least in outline, with the Alt-Right view. To take a few from the introductory quotation: “Equality is bullshit.” Correct – if what is meant is equality of outcome. “The races are different.” Partly correct; there are cultural and genetic differences between races. But that shouldn’t affect the treatment of individuals of different races. “The sexes are different.” Correct. But again, that shouldn’t affect the treatment of individuals. “Morality matters.” Correct; some actions are right and some are wrong, and which is which is the same for everyone. “Degeneracy is real.” Correct; those with state power today do, and get away with, many things that are not only morally wrong, but also inhuman. “Civilization is precious.” Correct.
And I can agree with the Alt-Right’s rejection of feminism, and with the idea that democracy is doomed to fail. But I prefer James Bovard’s (or was it Ben Franklin’s?) two wolves and a sheep to Korwin-Mikke’s bum and intellectual.
Furthermore, I can agree that Trump is less evil than Clinton. If only because, as far as I’m aware, Trump doesn’t yet have the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands. And I enjoyed the description of our mutual enemies as “the Cathedral.”
All that said, on the evidence of this essay, I have serious reservations about Alt-Right. Most of all, that – assuming I’ve understood Jankowski correctly – the “new right,” of which it is a part, rejects Enlightenment principles.
What are “Enlightenment principles?” As it happens, I essayed a list of them in an article I published about 18 months ago . Here it is:
”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.”
No-one complained about my list at the time. Certainly no-one from Alt-Right, or its forebears, came in to tell me that I was wrong, and why.
So, do the Alt-Right denigrate the use of reason? Do they oppose the use of the scientific method? Are they intolerant, religiously or otherwise? Do they put something they call “society” above the individual? Do they think human beings are naturally bad? Do they want to constrain or destroy our freedoms? Do they respect the rights and dignity, which are natural to us? Do they think government should be for the benefit of the governed, or of the rulers? Do they think people should be morally equal, or otherwise said, equal before the law? That is, what is right for one to do, is right for another to do in similar circumstances, and vice versa? Do they want us human beings to move forward and upward?
Some of these questions, I can’t answer on the bare evidence of Jankowski’s essay. But others, I think I can. And the answers I reach are not good for Alt-Right.
“Man is a fallen creature,” says the introductory quotation. This reflects the religious idea of “original sin.” In other words, it says that humans are naturally bad. But I don’t accept this idea. What I say in reply is, if you think you’re “fallen,” take up thy bed and bloody well walk!
“Hierarchy is essential,” also says that quotation. I interpret this as a rejection of the ideas of moral equality and equality before the law. In that view, some – those in power, the hierarchy – should have moral privileges over others. They should be allowed to do things others aren’t allowed to do.
As to religious tolerance, Jankowski’s article promotes a traditional form of Catholicism. Do the Alt-Right want to impose their particular form of religion on others? I would remind American readers, at least, of the following words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
And the Alt-Right, despite its passing nod to Austrian economics, wants to destroy industrial society. It would amuse me, if it wasn’t so sad, that those that intone that we humans have “dominion over all the earth” (Genesis 1:28) also want to stop us putting our dominion into practice, and making the world a better place for ourselves.
Furthermore, it’s been clear to me, for years, that there isn’t much difference between the political right and left. Both want to enjoy power and riches they haven’t earned. But in the past, the right – the best of them, at least – have been content with that. The left, on the other hand, actively want to screw those they don’t like. That’s why the right have been, traditionally, less evil than the left.
But, according to Jankowski, the Alt-Right want to “return to more authoritarian forms of government.” That’s a red flag to me. And who will be the new oligarchy? Who, indeed? You’ve guessed it; the Alt-Right. And what, pray, would prevent them crossing over into Stalinist territory, so becoming the Alt-Left?
Their rejection of what they call “the belief in universal human rights” is also rather chilling. For human rights – like life, liberty, property, privacy – are for human beings. That is, for those who behave as human beings, by respecting others’ equal rights. And these rights are for all those who behave as human beings.
Finally, the Alt-Right tell us we should glorify white civilization; that is to say, European civilization. And correctly so. For the major legacies of white civilization are the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution which followed it.
Yes, it’s true that the Ctrl-Left have perverted our civilization into something all but unrecognizable. But the Alt-Right are almost as bad. Despite maintaining that civilization is precious, they are actually setting out their stall to destroy our civilization, along with our way of life and all its benefits.
Morons. Will they ever learn any lessons?
Sunday, 28 August 2016
I had been invited to Ukraine by Glenn Cripe, who runs the Language of Liberty Institute. What we do is hold “camps,” usually about five days long, to which students (mainly at undergraduate level) come. And at which teachers like me put forward the ideas of liberty, not only as expressed by philosophers of the past, but also we see it ourselves. We enjoy the company of young people, our liberty nephews and nieces. And everything is (supposed to be) in English, the language of liberty.
This was my fourth visit to Ukraine inside 18 months, all for the same purpose. This time we were going to a place called Strilkove, south of Genichesk, on the Arabat Spit which forms the beach on the west side of the Sea of Azov. Strilkove is about 15km from the de facto Crimean border with Russia. It’s about as far south as you can go, and still be in Ukraine. It has little tourist infrastructure yet. But it’s experiencing a boom right now, because many Ukrainian people who would normally have gone to the (much more beautiful and developed) Crimea don’t want to suffer the hassle of crossing the border.
I’ll backtrack. I flew to Kiev (on Lufthansa, these days my favourite airline). I stayed one night there, and spent the day walking around the city. I was footsore when I reached the station and boarded the 21:44 train to Genichesk. I had a berth in a first class sleeper; but this was Soviet first class. It was full, too. As compartment mate, I had a very nice Ukrainian woman a few years younger than myself, who spoke a little English. There’s no gender separation among passengers in Ukrainian sleeper trains!
It was a 15 hour journey to Genichesk; I’d guess almost 1,000 kilometres. The bed was narrow, and the coach had no springs to speak of. That said, the cost of that trip one way was about the same as a standard class peak time return trip to London from my home in Surrey.
It was about 35km from Genichesk to our motel, piloted by a crazy driver. It’s almost the first house in the village, and the paved road ends right outside. (With a foot deep hole to trap drivers who fail to divert!). Our hosts were Muslims, members of the Crimean Tatar minority. As were the local organizers, who had chosen to leave Crimea and move to Ukraine after the “authorities” raided their flat.
We had only 14 full time students, a smaller group than usual. One Crimean Tatar, eleven other Ukrainians, and two from Poland. (A couple of others breezed in and out). There were three faculty members: Glenn, myself and Jacek from Poland. We had guest speakers too: Zarema the local organizer, Miriam from the Friedrich Naumann foundation (the major sponsor of the camp), Kamil the Polish entrepreneur, and a Ukrainian liberal politician called Oleksandr, who gave a very interesting workshop. (In Ukrainian not in English, unfortunately).
But in this group, there were four exceptional students. And at least two, in my estimation, moved in a (classical) liberal direction during the camp.
The Crimean Tatar cuisine at the motel was excellent. As one who abhors most sauces, I like food to taste as it looks. A tomato, for example, should taste like a tomato, not be adulterated by some nondescript, alien dressing. These tomatoes tasted as they should! As did the broth, the vegetables, the meat, the pastries, and the apples from the motel’s own orchard. What sauces they did use, were subtle. And all was washed down by many, many cups of black tea.
Although I was there to teach, I learned a lot too. I developed a fellow feeling for Crimean Tatars. They are under 20 per cent of the population in their supposed homeland, so even without the Russians, “democracy” is a big no-no for them. I looked at their history, and I gagged. Several times. I wonder what English nationalists would think of their cause?
Now to some memorable moments outside the classroom. On the second evening, one of the students found near the beach an all but new born puppy, abandoned by its mother. Having heard my presentation on John Locke earlier in the day, he christened it “John Locke,” and brought it to the motel. Regrettably, it was later found to be a female. But she was thriving when I left.
Ah, and then there was the walk to the store for beer. Only about eight minutes along a sandy track beside the road, but hard work. And even harder work on the way back, under the load of 2.5 litre bottles of Ukrainian lager that cost about £1-30 each.
Then there was the night when five cows invaded the motel garden. On that same night, I saw the stars clearer than I’ve ever seen them before. And there were huge lightning storms away to the south-west – exactly the direction from which the Russians would have been firing, if either side’s idiot politicians had been stupid enough to start a war.
To the journey back. The train was better sprung this time, but my companion was male and spoke no English. I was dumped at Kiev station at 5am. Kiev is a 24 hour city, but not the area around the station (!) I had a leisurely morning, and a superb lunch, before flying back to London. It had been my best trip for many years.
...until I got home. I took the coach to Woking, and the train from there. Arriving at my local station, there were no taxis. I couldn’t haul my bags up the hill, so I left them in the station, walked home and got out the car. I then had a blarney with the ticket operative, who had removed my bags to a storeroom as a “security risk.” I gave him Edmund Burke’s “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny,” and he seemed to understand, sort of.
It’s an interesting world, no?
Friday, 22 July 2016
Here are a dozen methods used by today’s ruling élites and their cronies to pollute, for their own ends, the climate of thought among human beings. There may be many more.
- They have subverted the presumption that society exists for the sake of the individuals in it. They have perverted it into an idea that individuals exist for the sake of some “nation,” “state,” “society” or “community” they may not even feel a part of.
- They have perverted religious belief into institutionalized conformity and mumbo-jumbo.
- They have perverted law into bad laws. They have perverted rules of good conduct natural to human beings, into a system that enables a ruling élite to make “laws” to control others.
- They have subverted the presumption that individuals are responsible for the consequences to others of their own willed or reckless conduct. They have perverted it into an idea that those in power aren’t responsible for the effects of what they do.
- They have perverted the presumption of individual, objective justice – that individuals should be treated, over the long run and in the round, as they treat others – into the idea that “justice” is whatever the ruling élites want it to be.
- They have perverted the notion of equality away from moral equality, the foundation of the rule of law, and towards equality of outcome, without regard to what individuals deserve. Except for the ruling élites and their cronies of course, who simply take and enjoy the spoils of taxation.
- They have subverted the ideal of charity for the poor. They have turned it into a centrally controlled, politicized system which not only steals from productive people what they justly earn, but also hauls the recipients down into dependency.
- They have subverted the presumption that those aggrieved by how government treats them have the right to withdraw their support from it, just like any other supplier they are unhappy with. They have perverted it into something called “democracy,” that offers people a false sense of being consulted in decision making, while giving a veneer of “legitimacy” to the bad policies of the ruling élites.
- They have subverted real human rights like property, privacy and freedom of speech. They have perverted them into pseudo “rights” like “free” education, a “clean environment” and a “right” not to be offended.
- They have subverted the right of free movement, subject to property rights but without regard to arbitrary political boundaries. They have turned it into centrally controlled, politicized “immigration policy,” with negative long term effects for all.
- They have perverted the rights to self-defence and mutual defence into a “right” for agents of the ruling élites to commit aggressions against innocent people.
- They have perverted the climate of truthfulness, honesty, integrity and openness, which is natural for human beings, and necessary for us to flourish. They have polluted it with lies, broken promises, deceptions and corruption, and with attacks on those who stand up for truth and honesty.
Wednesday, 6 July 2016
I got from the BBC’s website the data on votes cast in each borough, and sorted them by percentage of votes cast for Remain and for Leave. Having decided I was only interested in the results in England and Wales, not in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar, I then looked at the top 25 on each side within England and Wales.
Of the 25 boroughs with the highest percentages for Remain, 18 were London boroughs. The remaining seven were Cambridge (8), Oxford (10), Brighton and Hove (16), St. Albans (19), Bristol (21), Manchester (24) and South Cambridgeshire (25). (The last of these is the hinterland of Cambridge, enclosing the city on all sides).
With the possible exceptions of Manchester and St. Albans, all these are strongholds of modern Progressivism. They do very nicely out of the current political arrangements and agendas, thank you. In particular, they are among the “greenest” places in the country. Indeed, if you asked me to name the five most car-unfriendly cities I’ve visited in England and Wales, I’d give you London, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and Bristol.
So on the Remain side, the picture looks quite simple. The city slickers and big businessmen that benefit financially from the current set-up, and the supporters of big government and the green agenda, also support the EU. The latte-sipping, Grauniad-reading, political-correctness-loving, humanity-hating classes that think they’re the only people educated enough to be allowed to have opinions on anything, are Remainers to the core.
On the other side, it’s much more complicated. The areas with the strongest Leave votes were mostly in a few parts of the country – Essex, Lincolnshire and the industrial Midlands and North. But the reasons for that support seem to vary from place to place.
Some will tell you the Leave vote was all about immigration. It’s true that in the borough with the highest Leave percentage of all, Boston (Lincolnshire), immigrants from the EU are the major issue of the day. And quite probably this was also the cause of the high Leave vote in neighbouring South Holland (2).
It seems that in Castle Point (3) and Thurrock (4), both in Essex, the local political hot potato is encroachment on the Green Belt; which, of course, is an indirect effect of large scale immigration. This may well also have been a cause in Havering (12) and Basildon (18). And in Harlow (20) the problem is closely related; there’s a long running battle between those who wish to expand the town northwards and those who don’t.
But in Great Yarmouth (5), the key issue is a quite different one; the destruction of their fishing industry, of which quotas set by the EU was a major cause. This may be a factor also in North East Lincolnshire (10), which includes Grimsby. In Fenland (6), it looks different again; becoming a dormitory area for an expanding Cambridge seems to be the worry.
In Mansfield (7) and Bolsover (8), the issues seem to be the decline, over several decades, of mining and other industries in the area, and the resulting unemployment. This may well also have been the problem in Ashfield (11), Hartlepool (13), Stoke-on-Trent (15), Barnsley (19) and Hull (25).
Doncaster (16), in which about 8 per cent of the population are not white British, has also suffered the decline of its mining industry, and there have been serious troubles in local government stretching back almost 20 years. Rotherham (21), with a similar ethnic composition to Doncaster, has become a by-word for mismanagement and turning a blind eye to criminal abuses. Walsall (22), also with a similar demographic, has been described as among the most deprived districts in England. And Dudley (24) has suffered both racial tensions and severe economic decline.
It’s notable that many of these areas have had huge amounts of tax money poured into them in recent years for “regeneration” schemes. Too late, I suspect, to change the minds of the people who experienced the degeneration.
In some cases it’s hard for a non-local to fathom the reasons for the large Leave votes. In East Lindsey (9) it may have been annoyance at over-zealous charging by the local council for green waste. Tendring (14) is a UKIP stronghold, and there have also been recent troubles in their local politics.
But I confess that I’ve no idea why 68.9% of those who turned out voted Leave in Cannock Chase (17), unless it’s because Walsall is next door. Or why 67.8% voted Leave in Bassetlaw (23).
It seems plain to me that this Leave vote isn’t about one single issue. Immigration was a factor in Boston. I’m not sure how much of a factor it was in Doncaster, Rotherham, Walsall or Dudley. But in those cases, the immigrants concerned aren’t from the EU. So the meme we’ve been bombarded with, that Leave voters are all just racists who hate immigrants, doesn’t hold water for me.
Long term economic decline is a common theme in many of the places with the largest Leave votes. And this decline has taken place over 40 years or so, very much the same period during which Britain has been a member of the EU. Correlation, of course, does not prove causation; but many people will have made the link in their minds. I suspect that economic decline, rather than immigration, is the primary reason for so many people voting Leave.
In fact, it goes further than that. I’m not even sure that it’s all that much about the EU. What I think this Leave vote actually represents is a cry of rage and pain. It is coming from people who feel that for years and decades they have not been cared about or listened to by those in power. That’s why more older people voted Leave than younger ones; they have been suffering far longer.
My own thought processes leading up to the vote may be of some interest. I make no secret of the fact that I despise all politicians and all politics. For me, the only good parliament is a hung parliament – hung at Tyburn, that is. I have vowed never again to vote for any politician. And before the referendum, it had been 29 years since I last voted.
As to the European project, objectively, it has had positives and negatives. Personally, I’m in favour of free movement of people; I would have welcomed Schengen if I had had a chance to enjoy it. And, with some reservations, I approve of the European Convention on Human Rights, which New Labour incorporated into British law as the Human Rights Act. (It was the only good thing they ever did). The European Court of Human Rights, also, has made some right decisions.
On the other side, the endless torrent of regulations about things like bananas and light bulbs has for years been extremely tiresome. And it’s becoming increasingly obvious, to all who can see, that the EU and the eurozone are economically unsustainable. The Greeks nearly pulled it all down a couple of years ago. And when the EU does come down, it will end in tears. Big time. I don’t want to be there when the bomb goes off, thank you very much. That was my first reason for deciding to vote Leave.
The second issue was that the European project was mis-sold to me and to all of us. When the 1975 referendum took place, “Europe” was the EEC (though many preferred to call it the Common Market). The EEC, for me, was generally a good thing. It enabled me, for example, to live and work in Holland for three years in the late 1970s. But about 1990, “Europe” ceased to be an economic construct, and morphed into a political one. That was when I lost all confidence in the European project. What has happened since has only confirmed my apprehensions.
My third reason was Cameron using millions in tax money, stolen from me and others, to send to every household in the land a booklet of propaganda for the Remain side. This was the “final straw” which caused me to make the decision to vote Leave.
These were my three rational reasons. But I had a fourth, more emotional reason. As I wrote a few days before the referendum: “It’s the first time in my 63 years living in a so called democracy that I feel my vote has actually had any value at all. It’s my first (and probably last) opportunity to say fuck off to the establishment that have treated me, all my adult life, as if I was sub-human.”
My own vote for Leave was a cry of rage and pain from the heart. But on Thursday 23rd June 2016, I found out I was not alone. In fact, I think I may have acquired 17.4 million new and unexpected friends.