Wednesday, 12 June 2019

On the Troubles of our Times

Back in January 2008, I took a verbal snapshot of the many bad things the UK government was doing to us at the time. Today, I’ll carry this forward to the present. My purpose is to gain a better understanding of the troubles we suffer under today – and not just in the UK. And thus, to try to fathom what is going on underneath.

My list from 2008

Here are some brief extracts from my snapshot:

“Here in England, the news is uniformly bad. There is financial crisis and looming recession. Food and fuel prices are rocketing. Lifestyle fascists, having already made smokers into pariahs, are now gunning to do the same to alcohol drinkers. Selling our homes has been made harder. The European super-state is being forced on us by the back door. Taxes, as ever, go up and up, even as we are told they are being cut. Cameras film us wherever we go.

“Meanwhile, excuses are trotted out for yet more hassles and indignities to be imposed on us at airports. For yet longer detention without trial. For yet harsher penalties against drivers who break arbitrary speed limits, as those limits are being creepingly lowered. And the ID card project, designed to reduce us all to nothing more than numbers and DNA samples in a database, forges ahead. The agenda of control is out of control.

“All this is accompanied by torrents of anti-human propaganda. From ‘we’re a burden on the planet’ to ‘chimpanzees are more intelligent than humans,’ the humanity haters are having a field day. And, over all, there is a pall of constant fear. Fear of terrorism, fear of recession, fear of climate change, fear of any kind of risk. As sociologist Frank Furedi recently observed: ‘We really do live in an era when most leaders find it difficult to believe in anything other than a scary future.’”

The intervening period

Space does not allow me to give much detail on events since 2008. But I certainly see a continuation and expansion of the trends I saw back then. To be sure, we ordinary people in the UK have won on a few issues. Notably, we managed to stop the ID card project. We somehow deflected their planned “war on alcohol” on to softer targets like soda-pop and chocolate. And eventually the period for detention without trial was lowered to 14 days. But even that is far longer than in other countries. So, many of the woes I listed – government hassling us, impoverishing us, and violating our rights – continue unabated.

In the financial area, for example, the predicted recession did materialize. Failed and failing bankers got bail-outs, which taxpayers had to pay for. Since then, the economy has gone up and down, but mainly down. Industry has declined, as shown by the recent failure of British Steel. Prices have gone up inexorably, without wages increasing to compensate. (An unsurprising result of policies that make energy unnecessarily expensive; along with so called “quantitative easing,” also known as inflating the currency). Taxes, too, have gone up hugely. Every few months there’s a new ruse to take away yet more of our hard-earned wealth, and feed it into the insatiable maw of the state.

As to cameras spying on us, now there’s one for every 14 people in the UK. But also, many of these cameras can now do things they previously couldn’t, like facial recognition. Moreover, Edward Snowden’s revelations made us aware of the scale of the surveillance to which we are all subjected in the Anglophone countries. But since then, there have been repeated calls from the usual suspects for more surveillance! And in 2016, the “Snoopers’ Charter” bill gave them just that; though appeals against it are still going through the courts.

This spying on us, we’re often told, is supposed to be about “fighting terrorism.” Surely, there have been a number of terrorist attacks in Western countries in the last decade or so. To which the media, as is their wont, have screamingly over-reacted. The reality is, that in 2010 non-state terrorism caused about 13,000 deaths world-wide. For each of these deaths by terrorism, there were about 5 deaths in “official” armed conflicts, 40 by interpersonal violence, and 60 by suicide. Since then, the vast majority of terrorist attacks have been in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Many have been in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria; all of which have been targets of military actions by Western governments, which have led to at least a million deaths in those countries.

The fact is, terrorism is nasty and destructive; but political governments are far nastier and more destructive. Terrorism is no good reason at all to curb the rights of innocent people.

Then there is police misconduct and brutality. Confidence in police is low in many UK cities, particularly among black people. There have been cases of wrongful arrest of an MP, and police misconduct against another. Even beside the 2005 killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, there was the dubious killing of Mark Duggan, which sparked extensive riots. And police tasered a blind man. Yet the government want to give police more power, including “emergency” powers to access phone and internet records. And they want to issue tasers to all police officers!

Then there is Cameron’s introduction of “secret courts,” including secret evidence and closed court hearings. A clear violation of human rights; and liable to be used, so it seems, against anyone who annoys the establishment, even in minor matters. Combine this with a suffocating climate of political correctness, in which all of us are in danger of being accused of nebulous and wide ranging “hate crimes,” and you have tyranny indeed.

Add to all this the scandal of many MPs grossly over-claiming expenses. The NHS failing – again. Micro-chipping dogs; will we be next? More red tape to bind businesses. A proposal to abolish cash, so making every item of every purchase, however small, traceable via database to the individual who made it – a boon to the Lifestyle Police, no? If not also to the taxman.

Then there is large scale immigration, deliberately encouraged by government; presumably, to increase the tax base in an attempt to shore up the Ponzi scheme called the welfare state. Accompanied, ironically, by a scandal in which many long-standing UK residents were treated as “illegal” immigrants. And a proposal for tougher prison sentences for “people trafficking!” Meanwhile, asylum seekers can be held indefinitely without any hearing.

But the worst of the worst among the UK political class’s behaviour has been in two areas: Brexit and environment. Despite a very clear instruction from the people, and despite committing to it in their election manifestos, they have failed to take the UK out of the European Union. It’s become clear that many, if not most, among the political class don’t want Brexit, and never have done. They have put their own selfish and party interests ahead of the expressed will of the people. That is atrociously bad faith. Some of them, even, have worked deviously towards an outcome that might look like an exit, but in fact would bind the UK ever tighter into the EU.

As to the environment, all the main parties have descended into deep green madness. They and their media have backed the “humans are causing catastrophic climate change” fraud with everything they’ve got. Not only making energy far more expensive than it need be, but also risking the stability of the electricity grid in the future. They have made a big hoo-hah out of the “problem” of plastic waste. Even though most plastic which finds its way into the oceans comes from Asia; and the UK has never been a significant contributor to the problem. They have made to the EU and UN commitments on air pollution, which cannot be met. To subject us to these inflexible, ever tightening, collective limits was clearly an act of bad faith. But as a result, they are now seeking to make driving cars so expensive, that many of us are likely to lose our personal mobility entirely. Beyond this, they have banned new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. Moreover, our so called “representatives” have capitulated to an extreme and
disruptive green activist group, and declared a “climate emergency” for which there is no hard evidence at all.

The wider world

Looking at the wider world, you see similar problems. Whole governments have been bailed out – Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus. The political classes do not show respect or concern for ordinary people. There is dishonesty everywhere. Political debate has become more and more polarized, and nastier in tone. The green agenda is rampant. Even the churches have bought into it. Meanwhile, life becomes more and more of a struggle for ordinary people.

In many places, there are “grass roots” stirrings from those who are fed up with the whole system. In democracies, new political parties are springing up, like the Brexit party. But nothing seems to be bringing about any real change. The much vaunted “Arab Spring” has all but petered out, with Tunisia the only country in the region to have made significant reforms. And Islamic extremism is on the rise in places like Turkey.

Meanwhile, there are ongoing troubles in countries like the Ukraine, Venezuela, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. And the hopes many Americans and others had, that Donald Trump might prove to be different from, and better than, his predecessors, are starting to fade. Indeed, the USA seems to be continuing its policy of behaving as the biggest bully in the world.

A longer-term perspective

Our troubles today, I think, are the results of more than a century and a half of political and moral decline. There has been, as I described in an earlier essay, a centuries long battle between two opposite visions of politics. One is the top-down Leviathan state, in which the ruling classes essentially have licence to do what they will, and the rights and freedoms of ordinary people are not important. The other is the bottom-up, Enlightenment view, in which government is supposed to be for the good of the people – that is, of all the people. For a brief period in the 19th century, Enlightenment values were in the ascendant. But since then, Leviathan has been fighting back, and has inexorably increased its power, destructiveness and arrogance.

In the UK, it seems to me, the 19th-century reforms towards universal suffrage also contained the seeds of the rot. As I’ve recounted elsewhere, “democracy” has not proved to be much of a check on the state. If anything, it’s had the opposite effect, by giving a false legitimacy to bad governments. This was compounded when the political parties started to appeal to particular voter bases, aiming to benefit their own supporters (and themselves) at the expense of everyone else. Then, during the 1980s, the parties started to converge. The factions within the political class began to align themselves with each other, and against the interests of the people they were supposed to be serving. Something similar happened in the media too. To such an extent, that it’s now very rare for mainstream media to deviate from the politically correct message of the day. Even when that message is no more than lies, deceptions and hype.

Meanwhile, the big corporations got in on the act. They began to lobby government for subsidies, or for policies to favour them or to hamstring their competitors. This incest between corporations and government led to increases in the power and wealth of both, at the expense of smaller businesses and of ordinary people. And so, wealth was re-distributed from the poor and the middle classes to the rich. Meanwhile, the financial sector, encouraged by (and, some say, copying) government, became more and more irresponsible with other people’s money.

To add to all this, the UK political class have enthusiastically adopted the globalist, internationalist and environmentalist agenda, peddled by the United Nations and the European Union. This despite the policies resulting from this agenda being ruinous to ordinary people. But the statist political class don’t care. To act in bad faith, against the interests of the people they’re supposed to serve, has become for them the norm, not the exception.

How did they get away with it?

How has the state contrived to do all these things to us, without sparking a revolution? One way is by offering people “carrots,” to make them think the state is a benefit to them. Education is one example of this. Initially, state provision of education did improve standards; but over the long term, it appears to have produced a dumbing-down. And when a political class sets the curriculum, what will be taught will be only what the political class wants to be taught.

Welfare, pensions and health care are more such carrots. But obviously, carrots have to be paid for by someone. And that can only be the taxpayer. That, and an aging recipient population, are why taxes go up and up. That’s also why they want to get rid of cash; to make even the tiniest transactions visible, and so taxable. And that’s why they encourage large scale immigration, despite the cultural problems it brings with it. All these things, they have done in bad faith.

Another thing the state does is take measures to protect itself. This is what the surveillance is really about – the state seeking early warning of any possible opposition. This is what the political correctness and the secret courts are about, too. The political class want to be able to get anyone they want to, with innocence being no defence. And, while gun ownership has never been a big part of UK culture, I think it no coincidence that the Dunblane massacre was used as a lever to bring in very tight gun laws. All these things, too, they have done in bad faith.

And then there are the scares. In 1918, H. L. Mencken wrote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” And the state has taken his advice very seriously.

Terrorism is one such hobgoblin; real, but grossly overhyped. The environmental scares – global warming, air pollution, species extinction – are far less real. Indeed, looking objectively into these issues, I find no evidence that any of them is a big problem. To talk, as some do, of climate change as a threat on a par with a world war is sheer lunacy.

I do, though, find plenty of evidence of skulduggery on the part of the alarmists, of government itself and of its advisors. They seek to curb, and ultimately to bring down, our industrial civilization, which has done so much for all of us – including themselves. They have arbitrarily moved goalposts, e.g. from a target of 2 degrees above “pre-industrial” levels to 1.5 degrees. They have disguised politics as science. They have refused to release data to allow replication of studies. They have deleted, mis-represented and (probably) doctored data. They have sought to suppress dissenting views. They have whitewashed claims of alarmist misconduct. In environmental matters, they have inverted the burden of proof, and negated the presumption of innocence. And they have made costly commitments on behalf of us all, without rigorous justification. In all these things, the political class and their cohorts have acted in bad faith.

Whither the state?

For a while, a state can get away with ruses like these. The political class and their media and hangers-on can lie and distort the truth. They can reject all criticism, never correct their story, and never admit they were wrong. They can intimidate people into believing and following their agenda. They can harass, bully, impoverish or even murder anyone who tries to gainsay them. But over the long term, this is a high-risk strategy. After a while, the statists will start to lose people’s hearts and minds. Indeed, this is already happening.

But the key, I think, is that as Frank Furedi identified, the political class and their media find it hard – indeed, all but impossible – to see any positive prospects for the future. That raises the question: What are they afraid of? What is it, that causes the global political class and their hangers-on to be so negative about the future?

My diagnosis is as follows. I think the political classes know that, despite all their ploys, their state and the current political system are, slowly but surely, losing credibility and support among the people. And once people see through one of their scams, all the others immediately become suspect; and the bad faith that underlies them becomes more and more obvious. It’s becoming clear that the current system is not sustainable, either politically or economically. And that is what makes the statists fearful; because the inevitable consequence is that their system will eventually collapse, and they themselves will be dumped out of power.

This loss of credibility is greatest in the Anglophone nations, like the UK and the USA; but it’s happening in other places, too. As yet, those of us who have woken ourselves up, and have lost all respect and fellow feeling for the state and its political class, are a minority. But we are increasing. When enough people come to understand how badly they have been treated, there will be much anger against those responsible. That anger, properly channelled, can lead to real change for the better.

This is a dangerous time, of course. We must not only spread the truth about the state and explicate our alternatives to it, but we must also stay alive and solvent. But we owe it to ourselves, and to those around us, to be always rationally optimistic about the future. Optimists are sometimes wrong, of course; but we can’t afford to be pessimistic. For in the end, pessimists almost always turn out to have been right!

Friday, 31 May 2019

The backstory behind the war on cars in the UK

On May 20th, 2019, I gave a talk to the Libertarian Alliance about the damaging political policies being imposed on car drivers in the UK, and the history behind them. Normally, these talks are recorded on video. But on this occasion, an unfortunate combination of circumstances prevented a recording. As this subject is a topical one – and becoming more so by the day – I thought it appropriate to create a “transcript” of the talk, re-constructed from my notes.


On April 8th, 2019, London mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) went live in the Congestion Charge area in central London. It now costs the driver £12.50 a day, on top of the congestion charge, to drive in this zone a diesel car built before September 2015, or a petrol car built before 2006. This is an outrageous amount; and it also has to be paid at week-ends! This scheme is planned to be extended to all of the area inside North and South Circular Roads in October 2021. And after that, who knows?

Beyond this, there is talk of charging drivers of diesel cars to enter any of 35 or so cities around the UK. Some cities, like Southampton, have decided not to do this. Others, like Birmingham, are pressing on. Meanwhile, on May 9th the Times began a campaign claiming that “air pollution on the streets is poisoning 2.6 million schoolchildren,” and that this is due to “clogged roads”.

And yet, a recent (May 2nd) Sky News poll showed that more than 50 per cent of a random sample of people in the UK were “unwilling to significantly reduce the amount they drive, fly and eat meat,” either to combat climate change or to protect the environment in a more general sense. This is evidence of a huge disconnect between the political classes and the people!

There is a long backstory behind all this, which not many people seem to be aware of. In the last two years, I’ve managed to pull a lot of this backstory together. So, tonight I’ll bring it out into the open for you. In the process, I’ll identify what I call the Ten Deadly Dishonesties. These are attitudes and ploys that anti-car and other green campaigners have used, many of them more than once, in the course of their political machinations.

Outline of my talk

My talk will consist of five parts. In Part 1, I’ll give a very brief history of the green agenda in general, and the part played in it by the United Nations. In Part 2, I’ll give some backstory behind “global warming,” the central plank of the green agenda. I know that Nico Metten gave a presentation to you on this subject a few months ago; so those of you, who listened to that talk, will already be experts on the science! Therefore, I’ll talk mainly about the history and politics behind the scare, both of which are closely intertwined with the backstory to the war on cars.

In Part 3, I’ll discuss the background, and the regulatory framework within which all this is happening. And in Parts 4 and 5, I’ll look at the two kinds of pollution, which are being used as the main excuses for the war on drivers and our cars. These are: particulate matter (“PM”, and in particular PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Part 1: The UN and the green agenda

Those of you who have studied the green agenda will already know that the driver of it, all along, has been the United Nations. This has been so ever since 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. The then UN Secretary General, U Thant, personally sanctioned the Earth Day idea!

In 1972, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) was started, under the directorship of Maurice Strong. Strong was a Canadian oil baron, and he had a scandal ridden career. His attitude can be summed up by the following quote, from a 1997 magazine interview: “Frankly, we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.”

This is the first of my Ten Deadly Dishonesties; enmity towards our industrial and capitalist civilization, which has given so much to every one of us. Including, of course, to Maurice Strong. Strong himself, though, is no longer with us. He was implicated in the Oil-for-Food scandal of 2005, went to live in China, and died in 2015.

In 1982, the UN put forward a Resolution called the World Charter for Nature. This included extreme statements, like: “Activities which might have an impact on nature shall be controlled,” and “where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed.” The Charter was passed by 111 votes to 1, with 18 abstentions. The USA was the only country voting against.

On to 1987, the year in which a UN report called Our Common Future laid out a blueprint for a “green” future. Maurice Strong was on the commission that wrote it – surprise, surprise.

In 2017, I wrote a headpost about that report, which you can find at, the world’s No.1 climate skeptic website. Broadly speaking, the report raised alarms on 14 environmental issues. They included species loss, acid rain (later re-badged as “air quality”) and global warming. These are the three that are currently being actively pushed. In terms of the car, Our Common Future focused mainly on third world countries and cities. The agenda to force people in the West out of our cars came later. But the report was hardly moderate. It included extremist rhetoric such as: “Development involves a progressive transformation of economy and society.” And “We are serving notice… that the time has come to take the decisions needed.”

Our Common Future led to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, to whose extreme agenda idiot politicians like the then UK Prime Minister, John Major, signed up with glee. As I like to put it, they sold us all down the Rio. In particular, they signed up to a binding Framework Convention on Climate Change, and to Agenda 21 (which has since morphed into Agenda 2030).

The Framework Convention on Climate Change led to the yearly “Conference of the Parties” meetings, about which you’ve heard so much. And, in particular, it led to the meetings in Copenhagen in 2009 and Paris in 2015, which aimed to reach binding agreements to keep global temperatures below some completely arbitrary limit. At Paris, the second of the Ten Deadly Dishonesties became apparent: moving the goalposts. The “limit” touted prior to Paris was 2 degrees Celsius above “pre-industrial levels.” But in 2015, it looked (before the El Niño which started in that year) as though global warming had stopped, and wasn’t going to reach 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, or anywhere near it. So, they arbitrarily lowered the limit from 2 degrees to 1.5! That was moving the goalposts, no? And later on, when we come to PM2.5, I’ll show you an even more egregious example of moving the goalposts.

As to Agenda 21, I read it, and wished I hadn’t. It consists of 350 pages of bureaucratese, in which the word “women” occurs more than 250 times! It includes demands such as: “Significant changes in the consumption patterns of industries, governments, households and individuals.” And “Favouring high-occupancy public transport.” This was where the anti-car agenda came in, seeking to force drivers in Western countries out of our cars. Moreover, Agenda 21 was to be implemented at the local government level. So, it passed under many people’s political radar. A clever trick, no?

To sum up: In environmental matters, don’t believe the UN, or anyone associated with it.

Part 2: The backstory behind “global warming”

The accusation, that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW), appears to be a factual matter. It ought to be easy to establish the facts beyond reasonable doubt, using honest, unbiased science. Then, if the accusation turns out to be true, it’s possible to make policy decisions fair to everyone. Yet, what we have is a highly charged rumpus, in which governments and virtually all the mainstream media (and, most of all, the BBC) peddle the global warming narrative at the tops of their voices. And those sceptical of the narrative are labelled with nasty names like “deniers” or “flat earthers.”

The organization at the centre of this rumpus is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was established in 1988; and guess what, it’s a UN organization. It has prepared five major reports so far, the first in 1990, the most recent in 2013. Parts of these reports (including the key “Summary for Policymakers”) are approved line by line by government officials! And in 1996, a section of the Summary was re-worded in a more alarmist way, at the request of governments – including the UK. Then the technical reports were updated to match! Here is the third of my Ten Deadly Dishonesties: politics disguised as science.

The IPCC “process” is currently in its 6th assessment cycle. This isn’t due to be completed until 2022. However, their plan looks to be to keep the pot boiling, by publishing another small alarmist report every few months until then.

On the scientific issues, the temperature data is of poor quality, and is incomplete both spatially and chronologically. Many measurements have been “homogenized,” and filled in from nearby data. The data we do have is noisy and full of errors, and it includes measurements made by different means (e.g. ships, buoys, satellites), by instruments of different types, at different times of day. Many sites on land are of low quality (e.g. near asphalt, or air-conditioning outlets). Many measurements have been “adjusted,” often in ways that are documented poorly or not at all. More often than not, they cool the past or warm the present, so making any warming trend look higher. Could this be doctoring of the data? Hard to prove.

And it’s not just the temperature data. Similar things are happening with sea level data. We know that sea levels have been rising fairly steadily for about 12,000 years. We also know that there are huge differences between sea level rise trends calculated from tide gauges and satellites; tide gauges consistently show much lower trends. Neither trend seems to be increasing much, but we keep on seeing new papers that claim to show a recent acceleration! Make of that what you will.

Moreover, the case for alarm is built almost entirely on computer models. But these models aren’t used to make specific predictions that can be tested, and validated or rejected using the scientific method. All they deliver is “projections,” which cannot be falsified. Furthermore, the results of model runs are all over the place. Even after all the homogenizations and adjustments, models consistently run “hotter” than real-world measurements. And a more basic question: How do we know the models’ built-in assumptions don’t simply reflect the prejudices of the modellers?

Further, the alarmists’ use of what I call nonscience (a cross between non-science and nonsense!) is on-going. There is technical nonscience, such as unrelated data being grafted together without explanation (Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” was an example of this). Or data inconvenient to the alarmist case being dropped altogether. Or dubious statistical methods that produce “hockey sticks” from random noise, or exaggerate the contribution of a small sample.

Then there is media nonscience. For example, using clever graphs and tricks to spread alarmism. (The “hockey stick” is still out there, would you believe!) We’ve seen photo-shopped alarmist pictures on the front covers of supposedly scientific journals – who can forget that (in)famous picture of a polar bear on an ice floe? Meanwhile, we’re repeatedly told that “It’s worse than we thought.” Or that “97 per cent of climate scientists agree” it’s all our fault! Or that “the science is settled” – when anyone who knows anything about science knows that science is never settled.

Then there is what I call procedural nonscience. And here, we encounter the fourth Deadly Dishonesty: refusing to release data that supports alarmist scientific papers. The reason this is a big issue, is that it makes independent replication of the results – or, indeed, showing that the results were faulty – impossible. There has also been evidence, notably from the Climategate e-mails, of scientists deleting data to evade Freedom of Information requests.

On to the fifth of the Deadly Dishonesties: suppressing dissenting scientific views. The Climategate e-mails, again, show repeated attempts to stop publication of skeptical papers. And there have been several cases in which skeptical scientists have been persecuted, and at least one in which a journal editor was sacked at the behest of alarmists.

The word “Climategate” refers to the release, in November 2009, of e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. These e-mails showed proof positive of the nonscience that was going on. In response, the UK government commissioned no less than three inquiries, none of which did their job properly!

The parliamentary committee (except for Graham Stringer) chose to avoid the most important questions. The Oxburgh inquiry didn’t listen to any critics of the CRU, didn’t cover the controversial areas, and most importantly didn’t look at work done for the IPCC. Yet a senior government scientist described the report as “a blinder well played.” The third inquiry, under Muir Russell, failed to investigate the central issues – Was the science being done properly? And was it being done honestly? So, all the important issues “fell through the gaps” between the three inquiries. Here is the sixth of the Deadly Dishonesties: government whitewash of the problems with the alarmist case and conduct.

But the most egregious of all the bad things the alarmists have done (I have another headpost on this at – is more subtle. They have perverted, indeed they have inverted, the precautionary principle. In its true form, the principle says “look before you leap,” or even “first, do no harm.” It means that you should not take risky action unless and until you are very confident the result will be beneficial rather than the opposite. Furthermore, the burden of proof must always be on those wanting to act – and most particularly if they are a government. (This exactly mirrors the presumption of innocence in criminal trials).

Yet in 2002, the UK government re-wrote the precautionary principle. They changed its purpose to: “to create an impetus to take a decision notwithstanding scientific uncertainty about the nature and extent of the risk.” And they used the mantra, attributed to Carl Sagan: “Absence of evidence of risk is not evidence of absence of risk.” It is hard not to hear in this an echo of “absence of evidence of guilt is not evidence of absence of guilt.” If such principles were used in criminal trials, no defendant would ever be acquitted.

There are no less than three Deadly Dishonesties here. Number seven, inverting the burden of proof. Number eight, negating the presumption of innocence. And number nine, requiring the accused to prove a negative – namely, that humans are not causing catastrophic global warming. If you doubt the serious nature of this last, consider: If you had to prove there are no fairies at the bottom of your garden, how would you do it?

Now to the 2008 UK Climate Change Bill. They did make a token attempt at a “cost benefit analysis.” But there was a factor of 7 uncertainty in the costs, and a factor of 12 in the “benefits,” of action to “mitigate” climate change! That’s if we could believe the figures in the first place. Such numbers are useless for making any kind of objective decisions. Yet, the politicians didn’t care, and went ahead anyway. That’s the tenth and last of the Ten Deadly Dishonesties: making costly commitments on behalf of others, without rigorous justification.

And yet, here we are, with the idiots in parliament, on May 1st just gone, declaring (on the basis of no evidence at all) that there’s a “climate emergency!”

Part 3: The background and the regulatory framework

Now for some background to the war on our cars. In the last half century, we have made huge progress in reducing air pollution. DEFRA, the government agency responsible for this area, produce yearly statistics on UK emissions of air pollutants from all sources. These show that progress in reducing emissions since 1970 has been most impressive. For example, PM2.5 emissions in 2015 were less than a quarter of 1970 levels. And NOx emissions were also down, to less than a third of 1970 levels.

That said, since about 2005 the reduction in PM2.5 emissions has slowed. My understanding is that this was the point at which all the “low hanging fruit” – reductions which could be made without causing great pain to millions of people – had been picked. Last I looked, PM2.5 emissions were roughly static from year to year. They may even have started to go up, because of government encouragement for the burning of wood, which produces much PM2.5.

But none of this progress has been enough to satisfy the anti-car extremists. There has been an anti-car movement in the UK since the 1970s, perhaps even before. But it was in 1993, the year after the Rio summit, that the propaganda machine really got going. Our TV screens showed (staged) pictures of rural roads chock-a-block with cars. Of traffic jams in foggy weather, complete with smoking exhaust-pipes. Of the aftermaths of accidents. It was hard, even then, to avoid thinking that we drivers were being set up. Furthermore, organizations that should have defended us, like the Automobile Association, looked the other way, or even added their voices to the witch-hunt.

The responses of successive governments to the anti-car fanatics has been to give them, again and again, enthusiastic support. Blair’s government was extremely anti-car. Almost the very first law they passed was the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997. But far worse was to come. For in 1999, Blair and co agreed to the Gothenburg protocol. I know I repeat myself, but the instigator of this protocol was the UN. It covered a range of pollutants, including PM2.5 and NOx. And for the first time, it set controls on emissions of pollutants. A far better tool for controlling people than earlier policies, which had been designed around concentrations! That was the start of creeping speed limits (including 20mph), speed bumps, bus lanes, congestion charges, “smart” motorways, cameras everywhere to catch us out, and all the rest.

And the Coalition and the Tories have been no better. It’s clear that all the mainstream political parties in the UK are in on the scam. In 2012, Cameron and co agreed an extension to the Gothenburg protocol, which set even more stringent limits on emissions to 2020 and to 2030. They even went to the UN office in Geneva to sign it!

The EU, of course, is also in on the game. It sets “targets” and “limits” for various pollutants. (Because their origins pre-date the Gothenburg protocol, these are based on concentrations, not emissions). Targets are “to be attained where possible by taking all necessary measures not entailing disproportionate costs.” Limits are “legally binding EU parameters that must not be exceeded.” Targets have a habit of morphing into Limits on some arbitrary cut-off date.

The UN and EU strands converged in 2016, with the EU “national emission ceilings” directive, based on the commitments made in 2012. This requires the UK to cut PM2.5 emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. (And 54 per cent below by 2030). Now, here’s the rub. That commitment for 2020 simply isn’t going to be met. It can’t be met; and it should never have been made. That’s why this is such a big issue now. This is another case of making costly commitments on behalf of others, without rigorous justification. It is Cameron and co that should be held to account, not us poor car drivers!

Another thing the EU does is set emissions standards for new cars. Now, diesel cars emit both PM2.5 and NOx. Petrol cars do emit some NOx, but a lot less than diesels; and they produce very little PM2.5. Every five years or so, the EU makes new, tighter standards for emissions from new cars. The Euro 3 standard came in in 2001, Euro 4 in 2006, Euro 5 in September 2010, and Euro 6 in September 2015. The PM2.5 standards have been tightened so much over the years, that Euro 5 and 6 diesels emit only a tenth as much PM2.5 as Euro 3 models. NOx standards have also been tightened, though this has become somewhat moot since the Volkswagen diesel scandal.

For both petrol and diesel cars, there’s also an uncertain amount of PM from tyres and brakes. DEFRA seem to think most of this is of a larger size than PM2.5, so is far less toxic, and therefore not a big problem. But anti-car extremists still try to make a big deal out of it.

Part 4: Particulate matter (PM2.5)

So, what exactly is PM2.5? It consists of small, airborne solid particles. The “2.5” means that particles of this type are less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. Adverse health effects from PM are believed to come almost entirely from PM2.5, because they are small enough to get through the body’s defences into the lungs. They can also potentially carry chemical poisons, such as nickel and arsenic. I saw recently a Chinese study suggesting that the element vanadium may be a major part of the problem. Though I doubt that; because vanadium, while toxic, is far less toxic than PM2.5 is claimed to be.

One characteristic of PM2.5 is that the particles tend to remain in the air for quite a long time. So PM2.5 pollution can travel far from its source, even across national borders. Making it a perfect weapon for the UN and EU to use to bind national governments, and so to control their people.

On top of all this, experts tell us that PM2.5 is very difficult to measure with any confidence. And furthermore, the mechanism by which PM2.5 causes its claimed toxic effects is not well understood. Contrast this with, for example, arsenic, where we know the mechanisms in some detail. Given that an average Londoner breathes in only about 5 grams of PM2.5 in a lifetime, we need urgently to understand exactly what makes it as toxic as it’s claimed to be. Without this knowledge, we cannot reasonably conclude that PM2.5 is a cause of any health problems; even if we do find some correlation between PM2.5 levels and the incidence of those health problems.

Now for the backstory on PM2.5. In the 1980s, data was collected in the USA, notably from industrial areas in Ohio, to see if there might be a correlation between PM2.5 and mortality rates. As a result, two major studies were published, both claiming to link PM2.5 with mortality. One was the Harvard “Six Cities” study of 1993 – interesting date, that one. The other was the American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Prevention Study II,” published in 1995.

These studies claimed to show a “risk factor” of about 6 per cent for inhaling PM2.5 at and around a typical concentration of 10 micrograms per cubic metre. The mathematics of toxicology is arcane, but this appears to be equivalent to “about 5 per cent of adults who die, die from this cause”. This seems to me high. Moreover, the uncertainties were (and still are) huge. And other studies, for example from California, haven’t found any such correlation. This throws still further into doubt the idea that PM2.5 causes observed health problems.

There are several parallels between the PM2.5 backstory and the global warming one. There has been at least one case of suppressing dissenting scientific views. Epidemiologist James Enstrom used to work on American Cancer Society projects; but they terminated his funding in 1994, another interesting date. In 2006, the ACS accused Enstrom of “misrepresenting scientific evidence to deny that passive smoking was harmful.” And in 2010 his university, UCLA in Los Angeles, tried to fire him, and he had to take the case to court.

In 2000, a special scientific team set up by the US government (the Health Effects Institute) was allowed access to the raw data, by now held by the US EPA, which underlay the 1993 and 1995 studies. They reported that they had validated the original studies. But no independent scientists were allowed access to the data! This is refusing to release data, and perhaps also politics masquerading as science, or even government whitewash. Moreover, in 2013, the US House of Representatives subpoenaed the EPA for the data, but they still refused to release it. I’ve heard that some US scientists, including Enstrom, have since the change of administration been allowed access to early versions of the data, from before the EPA took it over. But as far as I’m aware, the EPA data still hasn’t been released. Does it still exist?

In the UK, in 2009, the government Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) tried to work out how big a problem PM2.5 was in the UK. In essence, they accepted the 6 per cent risk factor from the US cancer prevention study. However, their scientific basis for accepting this risk factor is not clear. Moreover, they tried a novel way of estimating the uncertainty, which amounted to seven experts waving a wet finger in the air, and pooling results. The outcome was a factor of 12 between their lower and upper bounds! Useless for making objective decisions, yet they went ahead anyway. This is making costly commitments on behalf of others, without rigorous justification. Again.

In 2010, another UK government report concluded that in 2008 PM2.5 had caused nearly 29,000 deaths in the UK, with an average loss of life expectancy of 11.7 years. But it could have been anywhere between 4,700 and 51,000.

The rest of the PM2.5 backstory joins up with the NOx one. So, I’ll leave it until the final section of my talk. I’ll now look at the facts and accusations about PM2.5 pollution in the UK.

Currently, the EU limit for PM2.5 (since 2015) is 25 micrograms per cubic metre. For brevity, I’ll call this 25 units. The current average in London is about 14 or 15 units. A few sites in central London are above 20; but as of 2015 at least, there was no place in London at which the EU limit was broken. The UK-wide level is very close to (slightly under) 10 units. But recently, PM2.5 emitted by wood burning stoves has been increasing rapidly – as a result of government subsidizing them! It’s estimated that burning wood now produces twice as much PM2.5 as all road traffic put together. Madness!

Now, to the accusations that are being made about PM2.5 in London. I’ll quote a Guardian article from October 2017: “Every person in the capital is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for one of the most dangerous toxic particles… Every area in the capital exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) limits for a damaging type of particle known as PM2.5… Nearly 95% of the capital’s population live in areas that exceed the limit by 50% or more. In central London the average annual levels are almost double the WHO limit.”

Sounds scary, eh? But wait – what’s this “WHO?” It’s a UN organization! Let that sink in first, and then I’ll ask: Did you see the goalposts move there?

Yes, this is another case of moving the goalposts, and it's a lulu. The WHO “guideline” figure for PM2.5 (10 units) is only 40 per cent of the EU limit (25)! Where is the science behind the WHO’s figure? I couldn’t find any. And the date of issue of the “guideline” – 2005, the last year in which Maurice Strong was involved – is suggestive, too.

The “guideline” figure of 10 units is very close to the UK wide average. And the UK is among the less polluted countries in the world. So, this is a ridiculously low number. And it’s worse than that. There’s a background level of PM2.5, which would be there without any human activity at all. Experts say this is about 7 units. So, going from the EU limit to the WHO guideline requires a reduction in the human component of PM2.5 by a factor of 6. That’s not feasible without destroying our industrial civilization. Maurice Strong must be laughing in his grave.

Now, my own entry into this story. I was trained as a mathematician, so I know how to do calculations! In the summer of 2017, I set out to answer objectively the question: are the proposed levels of charges for entry to the London ULEZ reasonable, or are they a gross rip-off? So, I wrote a paper, in which I calculated the “social cost” (i.e. the total expense, to all those affected) of the effects of pollution from cars in the UK, using the government’s figures from the 2009 and 2010 reports. My paper was published by the Association of British Drivers, and later also at

I worked out the social cost of PM2.5 emissions from diesel cars in the UK in 2008 as £183 per car per year. This is significant, but it’s way lower than the perceived value of cars to the people who drive them (at least £5,000 per year – £3,500 running cost plus £1,500 capital cost).

I also broke these costs down by Euro standard. Things have got much better since 2008. This is because the Euro 5 standard came in from 2010, with PM2.5 emissions 10 times lower than the Euro 3 cars which had been prevalent in 2008. For a Euro 5 diesel car like my own, the social cost of PM2.5 pollution per car per year is just £21. That’s peanuts, compared with the benefits.

Part 5: Nitrogen oxides (NOx)

NOx is a combination of two oxides of nitrogen, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. NOx from cars is produced mainly by diesel engines, but also by petrol ones. And it’s very unclear indeed just how toxic NOx is. DEFRA have given different numbers at different times. I’ve even heard that some experts say it’s not itself toxic at all; the only problems it causes come from “secondary” PM2.5 caused by its reactions with other gases, such as ammonia.

So, here’s the backstory. In 2001, Blair and co offered incentives to drivers to buy, and so to manufacturers to make, diesel cars. They did it, apparently, because diesels “emit less CO2” than petrol cars!

By 2006, insiders at the European Federation for Transport and Environment had found out that, in the real world, emissions of NOx from diesel engines were much higher than the limits they were supposedly built to meet. Then in 2009, the London Air Quality Network’s report for 2006/7 identified that the EU limit value for NOx was being exceeded in many places in London. Curiously, the 2008, 2009 and 2010 reports weren’t published until 2012! Might this, perhaps, be another government whitewash? Did Brown have these reports suppressed?

In 2014, the European Commission took the UK to court for exceeding NOx limits. In 2015, DEFRA issued a report on NOx pollution, giving a central estimate of 23,500 deaths in the year 2013, and an error range of a factor of 4. It was not clear how much overlap there might be with deaths caused by PM2.5 pollution. They also admitted that the previous estimates for PM2.5 may well have been high. In that same year, the Volkswagen diesel scandal erupted in the USA. What insiders had known since 2006 now became public knowledge. And in 2016, the Royal College of Physicians published a highly alarmist report, which put together figures for PM2.5 and NOx to give a claimed total of 40,000 deaths per year caused by the two together. This has been described by one expert as a “zombie statistic” – every time it’s debunked, it comes back again!

In the same paper as the PM2.5 calculations, I worked out the social cost of NOx emissions from cars. This was a much more complicated exercise than the PM2.5 calculation! For my own car, a Euro 5 diesel, the social cost of the combined emissions of PM2.5 and NOx is £113 per year. Of this, £75 is due to the manufacturers’ fault; the cost would be only £38, if the car kept to the standards it was supposed to. That shows that the London charges are completely over the top. Three ULEZ entry fees would pay for the social cost of the pollution (excluding the part due to the manufacturers’ fault), caused by driving my car for a whole year, all over the UK!

All of this, of course, assumes the government figures I used are correct. But my suspicion is that, in reality, they grossly overstated the toxicity of both PM2.5 and NOx. If that turns out to be so, then pollution from cars is not, and never has been, a real problem. And yet, the idiots that masquerade as a government have pressed on to ban all petrol and diesel cars from 2040 or some such! (And now they’re trying to bring the date forward to 2030).

All this has come about because UK politicians, in cahoots with the UN and EU, have chosen to set hard, inflexible, ever tightening collective limits on what people may do. That is both crazy and tyrannical. As Edmund Burke famously said, 250 years ago next year: “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.”

To sum up

In the war on cars, as with “global warming,” the politicians, government “scientists” and green campaigners have again and again used the Ten Deadly Dishonesties:

  1. Enmity towards our industrial and capitalist civilization.
  2. Moving the goalposts.
  3. Politics disguised as science.
  4. Refusing to release data, or even deleting data.
  5. Suppressing dissenting scientific views.
  6. Government whitewashing the problems.
  7. Inverting the burden of proof.
  8. Negating the presumption of innocence.
  9. Requiring the accused to prove a negative.
  10. Making costly commitments on behalf of others, without rigorous justification.
We car drivers have been had. But we know it now. Many people, particularly in London, are becoming very concerned about this. When the ULEZ goes out to the North/South circular, we may have enough angry people that we’ll have a gilets jaunes situation on our hands.

And maybe more than that. For the Brexit Party is on the rise, and Nigel Farage is a known climate change skeptic. And he’s also, as far as I can tell, pro-car. Meanwhile in the USA, Donald Trump is trying to commission a “Presidential Committee on Climate Security,” supposedly to give a “fact-based and unbiased examination of the topic of climate change.”

More news has come (since the talk) from Germany, the country that so far has gone furthest down the line of charging ridiculous fees to drivers for simply going about their daily business. There, the problems faced by people who have been forced to scrap their cars because they can’t afford either to pay the fees or to replace their cars, are starting to be publicly discussed (even on TV!) as a major issue.

The fight-back, I think, is just beginning. We are living in “interesting times.”

Friday, 24 May 2019

On the state

Every political philosopher worth his salt has written a book, or a chapter, or at least an essay, on the subject of the state. What is the state intended to be? What is the state, in reality? And where is it going? Today, I’ll add to this bonfire my modest contribution of kindling.

Ideas of the state

Since its earliest times, the primary model of the state has been all-but-absolute monarchy. One man is appointed by God (or the gods, or whatever passes for deities in your neck of the woods) to rule over everyone in an area. Being the representative of the gods, he is to be treated as a god. In theory, he can do anything he likes to anybody. Although he does, sometimes, have to be careful when dealing with those of his subjects who know how to wield a sword.

Plato in his Republic, after reviewing several options, came up with the idea of “aristocracy” or “the rule of the best.” His ideal state is ruled over by a philosopher-king. It is a three-class society. The ruling class (the king and his élites) have souls of gold. The enforcing class (soldiers) have souls of silver. Everyone else has souls of bronze or iron, and is subjected to the decrees of the ruling class, as enforced by the soldiers.

The first modern thinker to address the philosophy of the state was Niccolò Machiavelli. His system, like Plato’s, was top-down. He saw the state, whether monarchy or republic, as an organization of supreme political power. He thought that the prince, at the helm of his state, should seek to be feared more than loved. That the “art” of war is of prime importance. That the end of getting and maintaining political power justifies any means. That cruelty and even murder are OK. And that the prince should seek to become a great liar and deceiver.

The next thinker on the state’s bandwagon, Jean Bodin, was little better. I’ve written elsewhere about Bodin’s scheme of “sovereign” and “subjects,” in which the ruler or ruling élite has moral privileges over the “subjects” or people. And it bears no responsibility for the consequences of its actions, being accountable “only to God.” This scheme was very successful in its aim of increasing and consolidating the power of the French kings. So successful, indeed, that it is still the basis of the “Westphalian” nation-states of today. But for us poor “subjects,” it hasn’t been much of a bulwark against tyranny, to say the least.

Next, cue Thomas Hobbes. His “Leviathan” – also known as the state or the commonwealth – is also ruled over by an absolute sovereign. Supposedly, the people (or, at least, a majority of them) have consented to this. They have committed to each other, that they authorize and approve whatever the sovereign chooses to do. In essence, Hobbes views the people as a body, of which the sovereign is the soul. Once the system has been set up, there is no possibility of changing it, or of escape from it. And the sovereign may do whatever it deems necessary, including restricting free speech and censoring the press.

It fell to John Locke to introduce, at last, some rights and freedoms for ordinary people. In his First Treatise of Government, he laid to rest, once and for all, the bogeyman of the “divine right” of kings to rule. And in his Second, he outlined a new system, in which government is to be for the good of the governed.

Locke does not use the word “state,” preferring “commonwealth.” His commonwealth is a community, whose chief purpose is the preservation of the property of the people. The purpose or “end” of law, he says, is not to abolish or restrain freedom, but to preserve and enlarge it. All this is to be directed to nothing but the peace, safety and public good of the people; where “public good” means “the good of every member of the society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for.” And if in doubt, the majority should have the final say. Moreover, Locke explicitly allows the possibility of replacing a government which has gone bad.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, sadly, seems to have mis-interpreted Locke’s idea of the majority having the power to resolve issues when necessary. He introduced an idea of “the general will” – that is, the will of the people as a whole. This, in effect, turned Locke’s system upside-down, by subordinating individuals to this rather nebulous “general will.”

On to the twentieth century, and Franz Oppenheimer. He was, to my knowledge, the first to write a whole book simply called “The State.” And he was very clear about what he thought of it. In looking at the ways in which people can get their needs and desires satisfied, he distinguished the political means – in one word, robbery – from the economic means – work and trade. And he said, “The state is an organization of the political means.”

Max Weber saw the state as a monopoly of “legitimate” violence in a particular area. Only it, and those it appoints, may use force in its territory. Albert Jay Nock followed Oppenheimer, but went further; his book was titled “Our Enemy, the State.” He saw the state as claiming and exercising a monopoly of crime. And every expansion of the state shrinks the power of community, or what we might today call “civil society.”

Lastly, Anthony de Jasay, whose book “The State” dates from 1985. For Hobbes, he says, the state keeps the peace. For Locke, it upholds the natural right to liberty and property. For Rousseau, it realizes the general will. But de Jasay understands the state, and calls it out, for what it has become today. The state is a power clique, that acts in its own interests, and picks winners and losers. The winners, of course, being its supporters, and those from whom it wants support. Thus, its acts often go against the interests of ordinary individuals in its territory, or even against the needs and desires of “the people” as a whole. And the modern state relentlessly seeks to maximize its power, by taking away the property and the liberties of its subjects.

What binds a state together?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the binding forces, which hold together communities of human beings. The people who reside in a state’s territory are, indeed, a community. For they all have something in common; namely, living under the rule of that state. So, I thought I would look again at those binding forces, to see how well they fare when put into the context of a state.

The first binding force is a shared humanity. Biologically, the inhabitants of a state are indeed all human. But there is doubt, in my mind at least, whether the ruling classes of states have much humanity. At least, in its sense of “benevolence, or the quality of being humane.” In fact, there’s a good case to be made – and I’ve made it elsewhere – that many of them are psychopaths.

Second comes kinship, as in a family. But the idea of the state as a family, which up until 50 or so years ago was quite widely touted, no longer works. Part of this is due to large scale migration. But a greater part, I think, is due to a general degradation of the feeling of community. Caused, if we are to believe Albert Jay Nock (and I do), by the increasing power of the state.

Next come three facets of co-operation: teamwork, trade and leadership. While in our daily lives we do use teamwork, the state can hardly be seen as a team. For to be a member of a team, you must identify with its objectives. And the objectives of the rulers of the state, per de Jasay, are often hostile to the interests of good people. As to trade, the state makes all kinds of “laws” to restrict what we may do in our dealings with others. I know this from personal experience, having had my career as a software consultant ruined by a bad tax “law” that for 20 years has all but taken away my access to the market. And as to leadership, what I feel for virtually every politician in the world is not respect, but contempt and loathing.

The sixth binding force is a shared belief system, of which a shared religion is a particular case. But as an agnostic, church religion means little to me. And having been trained long ago as a mathematician, my belief system is a strongly bottom-up one. I like to build up conclusions logically from known facts, and I’m skeptical of anything that doesn’t look right. The state and its minions, on the other hand, continuously bombard me with their propaganda narratives. To which, my reaction is to switch off, if not also to disbelieve everything they say.

As to proximity, I do indeed feel a love for the land and people of my corner of the world. For I am a Wessex man. I was born, and now live, in its eastern marches. And I was schooled in its heartlands of Hampshire and Wiltshire. So, if I became a patriot, I would be a Wessex patriot.

As to culture and shared customs, I am an Englishman. I am fluent in, and admire, the English language. I eat an English breakfast each morning. I played English cricket at village level over more than 30 years. I love the English pub; and I have respect for the English common law, when in honest hands. But I have also acquired cultural overtones from other places where I have lived over the years, notably Holland and the USA.

The ninth binding force, enlightenment, is one which I feel very strongly. I am an individualist, and a strong supporter of the values of the Enlightenment. Like natural rights and freedoms, scientific thinking, and tolerance of difference. But today’s states seek to force on their subjects whatever is the political ideology of those in power at the time; be it for example socialism, fascism, rabid environmentalism, or a combination of all of them.

Moreover, statist thinkers are virulently opposed to Enlightenment values. They promote conceits like “post-modern” philosophy and “post-normal” science. They resist human progress, hate honest business and industry, deny the value of facts and rational thought, promote moral relativism, and aim to politicize everything and to impose a suffocating conformism on everyone.

Community versus society

Before I tackle the final putative binding force, nation, I’ll take a look at what I think may be a major cause of our troubles with today’s nation-states. That cause can be brought into focus by asking the question: Do the human beings, who reside in the territory of a state, constitute a society, or are they merely a community?

As I’ve said before, a society has some form of, usually written, constitution. Among much else this will, almost certainly, state the goals of the members as a group. It is likely to have a president or chairman, and a committee or other group of officials. Under its constitution, the society makes decisions based on its principles and interests, and acts on them. Even though some of its members may disagree on an issue, the society as a whole takes only one view.

A community, on the other hand, has no constitution. It has no president or chairman, no officials and no goals as a group. It may spawn societies, which act in certain respects on behalf of all those in the community; an example I gave in an earlier essay is a home-owners’ association. But a community has no “general will,” beyond its own continuation.

In the case of a group of people resident in a territory, if those people also form a society, then the territory becomes what I’ve called a commune. In such a set-up, the territory is ruled over – and, in some sense at least, owned – by the society. In this model, then, the state is in essence the committee of the society, and the people are the members. The state is the head, while the people are the body; this is almost exactly Hobbes’ Leviathan.

If, on the other hand, the people residing in a territory are merely a community, not a society, there is no place for a state. The people have formed the community for the purpose of mutual defence of rights, and they have no agreed agendas beyond that. The private areas of the territory are each owned by individuals, families or societies. And the public areas are common to, but not owned by, all.

There is no need for Leviathan in such a set-up. But there is, nevertheless, room for societies, whose remit is to perform functions for the public good of all in the community. These societies might, for example, adjudicate disputes, maintain the public areas, and defend the community against external attack and internal violence. Collectively, I’ll give these societies the name “governance.” Such an ideal of governance is, I think, not so far from John Locke’s view.

So, which of these two views is the correct one? I find it odd that today’s political states are supposedly founded on a “social contract,” and yet there is no agreed, signed contract between each individual and their government, stating what each must provide to the other. The only case where there is anything like such a contract is when an immigrant applies for, and receives, citizenship in a new country. This suggests that the idea, that all the residents in a given territory have consented to join a society run by a state, is well wide of the mark.

John Locke himself, unfortunately, was rather unclear on this matter. In his Second Treatise, he often uses the words “community” and “society” as if they were almost interchangeable. It is understandable, then, that those who came after him seem to have erred on this point. Rousseau, as I noted earlier, got it very seriously wrong. Even the writers of the US Constitution, in its very first words “We the People,” show that they thought they were setting up a society made up of everyone in the North American colonies. But what they were doing, in reality, was setting up a system of government to replace George the Third. They may have escaped the clutches of one particular king and his state. But only at the cost of erecting another state, and so another sovereign – albeit one called “the people” – in his place.

Nation and state

To return to nation. I noted, in an earlier essay, that if it is a binding force at all, nation is little more than a mixture of kinship, leadership, belief system, proximity and shared culture. I have also observed that many people seem to think of nation, country, “the people,” “society” and the state as essentially the same thing. And those, whose world-view is top-down, regard this thing as being of supreme importance, and the human individual as of little or no importance in comparison.

But if nation is simply the state, then for me at least – and, I suspect, for many others who, like me, are sick and tired of today’s dismal politics – it has lost all power to bind people together. Indeed, the state as it exists today, with its evil traits that thinkers like de Jasay have noted, actively works against many, if not all, of the forces which ought to bind people into communities. Such as kinship, teamwork, leadership and enlightenment.

So, from where does a state get its supposed legitimacy? I will look, first, at the state called “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” Plainly, this state is mis-named; since it is neither united, nor a kingdom, nor in any way great. Be that as it may, the theory seems to be that a silly, rich old woman called Lizzie, who lives in a castle at Windsor, is “sovereign” over all the people in a particular group of islands (and a few other places). And that her cronies, among whom the current chief mafiosa is (was! I just read the news) one Theresa May, thereby have a right to rule over the people, and do to us whatever they think they can get away with.

In the USA, and in most other countries, the legitimacy of the state is supposed to come from a constitutional document. But such constitutions are of no use – indeed, they are dangerous – when applied to a group of people who rightly form a community, but have not explicitly agreed to form a society, and have no general will. And moreover, the political class have a habit of ignoring these constitutions when it suits them.


Ah, you may say, but these states are supposedly “democracies.” If people don’t like what the current crop of mafiosi are doing to them, they can vote them out, and vote in another lot instead! My reply is, if only that were true.

Democracy, as I’ve shown in an earlier essay, tends to favour the worst psychopaths for positions of power. Moreover, it encourages the formation of political factions, as James Madison warned more than 200 years ago. These factions seek to enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of everyone else. As a result, people tend to divide along party lines, and start to lose social cohesion. These dynamics are happening in most, if not all, democracies in the world. I have been astonished, for example, at the personal venom which those opposed to Donald Trump show towards those who support him. They should not be surprised if the backlash, when it comes, is even more virulent. A “community” with such divisions, I think, cannot survive for long as a community.

But after a while, the political factions start to align with each other, and against the people – exactly as de Jasay identified. Now the state becomes totally divided, with the rulers (of all the factions) and their cronies and supporters on one side, and the ordinary people – the victims – on the other. There is no “general will,” no sense of fellowship, and little or no possibility of agreement or even compromise on anything. As shown, for example, by the deliberate failure of the “United Kingdom” political class to implement the Brexit which they had all promised.

In such a state, politics becomes a war, waged by the politically rich against the politically poor. And that’s where we are today.

A world-wide Leviathan

On top of all this, we have the European Union and the United Nations. With the eager co-operation of most of the national political élites, these remote, bureaucratic, unaccountable organizations and their rich hangers-on are seeking to drive politics, all over the world, towards a single planet-wide super-state. What they are trying to create is a giant, world-wide Leviathan, under which there is to be no possibility of freedom, change or escape.

The root of the issue

The nub of all these problems, I think, is not so much democracy per se. Nor is it even the idea of the nation. The root problem is the state. The state in its current form, as devised by thinkers like Machiavelli, Bodin and Hobbes, is a failed system. The state is out of date; indeed, it is already centuries past its last use by date. And it is my view, that the current incarnation of the state must, and will, be the last. The idea, that some have a right to rule over others, has shot its bolt. And missed.

The state has got to go, and soonest. And the question, which must now concern us all, is: With what shall we replace it?

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

A week-end in Wiltshire

I just had a wonderful week-end in Wiltshire. It was the best I could afford for my 66th birthday celebration; trips abroad, except in winter, seem to be outside my price range these days.

I stayed in Swindon. Not exactly a tourist destination; but there’s a hotel there, which I consider to be the best of its chain (and I’ve stayed at more than 100 of them). Comfy beds, nice staff, great breakfast, less than 2 miles from town, and has a lift. It was also cheaper, for my dates, than any other hotel in the chain in southern England.

I drove there on the Friday afternoon. It took less than 2 hours – fastest ever on that route. I walked into town, had a couple of beers at Wetherspoon’s, then trudged up the hill to the Old Town.

For me, there’s one best pub in Swindon: the Goddard Arms. Its address – 1 High Street – tells it all. Their Hog Roast Pie isn’t bad, either. Nor their wine.

On Saturday, the weather was partly cloudy, but dry and reasonably warm. I decided to do one of my longer walks. So, I took a bus to Marlborough – my old stamping ground, having been at the College there in the late 1960s. I set out westwards, through Preshute and Manton to Clatford. My plan was to walk up on the Downs as far as I could, and get whatever transport was available back to Swindon.

I went past the “Devil’s Den,” a trilithon of sarsen stones which, 50 years before, I had noted as having about it a kind of “evil electricity.” It still had that feel! And it caused me to mis-navigate; meaning that when I got to the top of the hill, I was in the right place, but the wrong side of a fence I couldn’t climb. Requiring a substantial détour.

Then I picked up a westward path, towards Avebury. There were many runners coming in the opposite direction; I later found they belonged to a club called the “Swindon Striders.”

I branched to the right, on to the “White Horse Trail.” This took me through a beautiful wood, with sarsen stones carpeted with lichen, and great numbers of bumblebees, butterflies (of many colours) and bluebells. Anyone who believes there is a human-caused “species extinction crisis” ought to visit that wood in early summer, and see the bio-diversity for themselves.

When I came to the Ridgeway path, I could see the hills of Gloucestershire in the distance. Turning right, it wasn’t long before I could see the hills of Oxfordshire. I passed the spot where, back in 2007, I had written my (so far) only profitable literary work, an essay which won me a prize of £1,000. Deciding it was time to come off the hill, I turned left and made for the village of Broad Hinton.

On the way down, I had to divert off the path to avoid a swarm of bees. Only the third time I have seen bees swarming in my 66 years! I had to wade through waist-high crops to get around them. And they were spread over a wide area. It was half a mile before I reached the shade of a copse, and could get away from them entirely. Are bees endangered? Not in Wiltshire.

At the bottom, good news! There’s an hourly bus back to Swindon, even on a Saturday. And there’s a pub – the Barbury Inn – right there. The people were friendly, and the first pint of Stella didn’t even touch the sides! Then, I took the bus back to the Old Town; and the Goddard Arms fed me again. The fish pie was even better than the Hog Roast.

To Sunday. I decided to take the bus (which, for those of a certain age in the UK, is “free”) to Oxford. And the buses on that route are especially comfortable. As a Cambridge man, I have a degree of contempt for all things Oxford. But I enjoyed my wander around what I used to dub “the second-best university in the world.” And the pint in the King’s Head afterwards.

On the way back, on the upper deck of a double-decker, I noticed that the front window was absolutely splattered with the remains of bugs that had flown into it. And as we travelled back towards Swindon, detectably more bugs added themselves to the carnage. Those who claim that there are less bugs than there used to be, and cite as “evidence” that their car windscreens don’t get as many as they used to, ignore the aerodynamic improvements in cars, which have taken place in the meantime.

But perhaps the highlight of the whole trip was my brief stop in Faringdon. This is a beautiful small town, but it has some very strange local politics. It prides itself as a “Fairtrade Town,” and claims that it signed the “Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change” back in 2007. But my main excursion was up the hill, to All Saints’ Church. Part of it dates from the late 12th century, and the vicar and his wife (at least, that’s who I assume they were) were happy to let me browse, and to chat to me. I’m not a churchy person, but that is a church worth visiting.

A pint in the Old Crown Coaching Inn, and the lux bus back to Swindon. The rest of the evening was banal, but it included (lots of) food and drink, and I enjoyed it. So was completed my 66th birthday week-end in Wiltshire.

Friday, 3 May 2019

On the Rhythms of History

Today, I’ll take a step back from detail, and try to look at the big picture. I’ll seek to trace in outline the rhythms of human history. Rise and fall, fall and rise. Progress and regress, revolution and reaction.

The rise and fall of empires

See first, in your mind’s eye, the Roman empire. See it change from monarchy, to republic, and back to near monarchy. See its western half, in time, become decadent, and collapse in chaos. See its eastern half, sometimes weakening, sometimes strengthening itself; but eventually unable to hold together against its enemies.

See, in your mind, the British empire over several centuries grow and prosper, until the sun never set on it. Then watch it decay, and become first a rump, then a laughing-stock. See the Soviet Union rise, and become a super-power. Then see it lose confidence in its ideology, and eventually shatter. See the European Union, which supposedly began as an economic project, grow, morph into a political project of “ever closer union,” and become hated by many as élitist, bureaucratic and untrustworthy. See the current American hegemony, which has risen, peaked and – so some say – might self-destruct at any moment.

Here is a rhythm of history. Human political institutions rise when they meet the demands of their times. They grow and prosper, as long as the times are right for them. When times change, they may adapt by mutating into different forms, as the Roman empire did. But eventually, they overstay their welcome. They decay and die. And the bigger they are, and the more centralized, the harder they fall.

The rhythm of revolution

Think, next, about the Renaissance. Think of its re-discovery of the legacy of Greece and Rome. Think of the spurt of dynamism and innovation it brought. Think of the art, architecture and literature it produced. Think of the new spirit of free enquiry, of recognition of the dignity of Man, of our mastery over our surroundings.

At the Renaissance, something changed inside many people’s minds. They became more individual, more dynamic, more innovative, more civilized. The change was gradual from the point of view of individual lives, but it was quick compared with the centuries preceding it.

Think of the development of the scientific method; devise an experiment to ask Nature a question, and let Nature answer. So building up, piece by piece, a picture of the scientific truth.

Think of the Enlightenment, and the new values it brought. That right and wrong are determined by human nature, not by the decrees of rulers. That government must be for the benefit of the governed. That human beings have rights, which must not be trampled on. Again, something changed in many people’s minds. The results were seen in the American revolution.

Now think of the Industrial Revolution, and the entrepreneurial spirit and improvement in living standards which it brought. Think of the energy revolution, which has enabled us to keep warm in winter, and comfortably cool in summer. Think of the transport revolution, which has enabled us to travel, at reasonable cost, where and when we want or need to, whether over short, medium or long distances. Think of the technology and computer revolution, and – for example – of how much easier it is to write an essay like this today than, say, sixty years ago. Think of the communications revolution and the Internet, and of how they have enriched and improved both the finding and taking in of information and ideas (research) and their giving out (publication).

Here is a second rhythm of our history. Periodically, new ideas give rise to an increase in human capabilities, and an improvement in the human condition. Every so often, a revolution takes place in our thinking, and we bound forwards.

The rhythm of reaction

But there is an antithesis to our revolutionary rhythm. In every case, there is a current of reaction; of opposition and resistance to change for the better.

I think it no coincidence, for example, that the printing press was developed, and Renaissance thought spread, in the same time period as the Borgia pope and the founding of the Spanish Inquisition. Nor that the scientific method was discovered, and the Enlightenment ushered in, in a 17th century characterized by religious wars and political strife. Nor that today’s governments misuse our advances in technology and communications to subject us to constant surveillance; and increasingly seek to prevent the expression of views not sanctioned by the establishment.

Moreover, there is today a concerted effort, by the political class and their hangers-on, to discredit the advances we have made over the last several centuries. No, they try to tell us, we are not masters of our surroundings; we are no more than (and, to some of them, we are less than) animals. No, they try to tell us, there is no such thing as truth. And you should not try to use science to seek truth; this is a “post-normal” era, in which you must simply believe whatever the “experts” tell you. No, they try to tell us, there are no objective standards of right and wrong; you must simply obey whatever “laws” the panjandrums currently in power dictate.

No, they try to tell us, industry is not good; it causes pollution, damage to the environment, and risks to health. Not to mention global warming and endangering species. And, so they say, it should be curtailed or eliminated. No, they try to tell us, capitalism – that is, private ownership of business and industry, with investments determined by private decision – is not a good thing; we should simply rely on the state to do everything and to take care of us.

No, they try to tell us, we should not heat (or, even worse, cool) our homes so as to be comfortable. No, they try to tell us, we must not drive cars, but should walk, cycle or use public transport; or not travel at all. No, they try to tell us, we must not travel by air – even though they themselves do it regularly. And on top of all this, they shower us with nasty epithets like “selfish,” “ignorant” or “wanton” – not to mention “denier.”


There is a fourth rhythm of human history, too. It is on a larger scale than the first three. Periodically, the way we do things changes. An old way of doing things – an old paradigm, if you like – comes to its breaking point, and is replaced by a new.

For example, as I explained in an earlier essay, before about twelve and a half thousand years ago, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. Then something changed. Perhaps the population reached a critical mass in some areas. Or perhaps there were many bad hunting seasons in a row. Whatever the reason, our ancestors began to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. So, agriculture was born. I can only imagine the tensions between the new cultivators and herdsmen, and those that continued in the old ways. But the fact is, the agriculturalists won out. And no-one today – except a very few crazy environmentalists – would willingly give up the benefits which come from farming, and return to a subsistence based on hunting and gathering.

Until five or six thousand years ago, later in some places, societies were mostly peaceful. Power and prestige were acquired by the mere fact of survival into relative old age. Then, something changed. Perhaps, again, the population reached a critical mass in particular areas. Perhaps there were many years of bad farming conditions, leading to famines. Whatever the reason, something changed inside the minds of some of the stronger and more intelligent men. They began to desire power – power over others. They didn’t want to wait to become elders; they wanted power now! They began to develop their skills in combat, and in leading and controlling people. They started to raid their neighbours. They began to cultivate violence and deceit; for in war, violence and deceit are considered virtues. Thus arose the state – institutionalized violence and dishonesty.

Others, meanwhile, were learning to control people more subtly. They knew that people sensed, through their minds, a great power at the edge of experience. This power went by many names – the gods, God, the “logos,” the Muses – and many people liked to do homage to it. So, the unscrupulous began to control people by setting themselves up as representatives of this power. They claimed moral authority by placing themselves between people and their gods. Thus arose the church – institutionalized mental control and mumbo-jumbo.

From that time, right up to the present, we’ve been suffering the Age of State and Church. And control and conflict have been the dominant themes of human history.

Progress and Regress

But then came the Renaissance. And it was followed by after-shocks: the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the 19th-century entrepreneurial spirit, the 20th-century technology and communications revolutions. These times of progress have, however, always been resisted by the “old guard,” the establishment and their cronies. They don’t want to give up any of their power or their unearned privileges. So, they fight hard; and they use lies, ruses, harassment and, at need, organized violence as their weapons in that fight.

It is in our nature, human nature, to be civilized. And that means building civilizations. We have built up from the Neolithic villages, through the ancient and mediaeval city-states, to the current (but failed) system of nation-states. And now we are approaching the ability to build a world-wide Civilization, in which every individual can flourish to the limit of his or her abilities. Ever since the Enlightenment, though, our progress towards this Civilization has been fitful. Like the contractions which precede the birth of a baby, there have been motions of forward and backward, of progress and regress.

In an earlier essay, “On Political Ideologies,” I recounted how the tone and flavour of political societies have evolved over the last four centuries or so. And the story isn’t good. The current political model, laid down in the 16th century by Frenchman Jean Bodin, has allowed wave after wave of evil political ideologies to take hold in various parts of the world. Socialism, Marxism and communism, fascism, racism, dictatorship, theocracy. And recently in the West, the unholy trinity of welfarism, warfarism and environmentalism, supplemented by political correctness. That’s without even mentioning the super-state projects: the EU and the UN.

Except for Enlightenment liberalism, all these ideologies have been anti-human. Corruption and decay are built into the entire political system. And the fig-leaf called Democracy, despite initial promise, has proved a failure. For democracy has allowed the worst actual and potential psychopaths into positions of power. It has polluted our mental atmosphere with lies, deceit, ruses, propaganda and empty promises. And it gives apparent legitimacy to bad governments.

The deep rhythm

From my reading of history, I think I see a deep, underlying rhythm, a repeated pattern in human events. When new ways of doing things are tried, at first, they can work well and be a benefit. But after a certain point, they often become corrupted, polluted and perverted. Then they cease to be positives, and become drains on people. But those, that benefit from the continuation of the system, seek to preserve it, and even to expand and intensify it.

Gradually, things get worse, until a tipping point is reached. Before the tipping point, there is often a time of chaos. These are not easy times to live in. The old way of doing things is collapsing; but the new way has not yet arrived.

In the lead up to a major tipping point, the chaos is not just political; there are uncertainties and contradictions inside people’s minds, too. People lose confidence in “authorities” and “experts.” Many lose confidence in religion, too. And their trust in those at the top of the political system reduces, and eventually approaches zero.

But when the tipping point happens, the game changes completely. There is a paradigm shift; a, relatively sudden, change in the way in which many people think. This happened, for example, at the Renaissance and at the Enlightenment. And this shift leads to further new ideas being tried. Often, radical ones. Eventually, one or more of these new ideas works well. And life starts to get better again – often, very substantially and very quickly.

This rhythm, I think, helps to explain our slow and fitful progress towards Civilization over the last several centuries. And today, we’re in the lead-up to a tipping point. Not just any old tipping point, either. I think we’re headed for the biggest change in several thousand years. That is, the impending collapse of the state, and the political system as we know it; and their replacement by a new and better way.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Foresters’ Cough: A Fable


Once upon a time, there was an island. On which, there were two realms, each ruled over by a king. On one side the ruler was King Nick, of the O’Hell dynasty. And on the other, King Dopo, of the house of O’Whinger. They were totally different characters; and they had completely different approaches to ruling.

King Nick was an individual. He knew how lucky he was, to have been born a king. He had been trained as a mathematician, so he thought from the bottom up. He knew he was fallible, but he always strove to be rational and objective. When opposing points of view were presented to him, he sought to look at both sides, compare one with the other, and work out which was closer to right. When one of his advisors asserted something not sufficiently backed up with facts, he liked to reply: “Prove it!” And when someone admitted that they didn’t know the answer to one of his questions, he often asked: “What would it take to find out?”

He was a strong supporter of the precautionary principle: “Look before you leap,” or even “First, do no harm.” So, he was always reluctant to intervene in the affairs of his subjects, unless he had reason to be pretty damn sure the effects would be positive.

King Nick cared about his people – the human beings over whom, by some chance, he had been “elected” to rule. Not only in the singular – “the people.” But even more so, in the plural: “people.” Persons. Individuals. He had a very strong ideal of justice: everyone deserves to be treated as he or she treats others. Of course, he didn’t care much for criminals or political operators – “I’ll give them what they damn well deserve” was one of his favourite sayings. But if people didn’t do bad things to others, he let them get on with their lives in their own way.

As a result, the economy flourished, and King Nick’s people were happier than those in other realms of the time. Moreover, Nick took only such payment as was necessary to support his own role as Chief Justice, his assistant judges and support staff, his advisors for the time being, a few Sheriffs to deal with those violent criminals that were too dangerous for ordinary people to arrest, and such a militia as might be necessary from time to time. And he never re-distributed wealth, except to make wrongdoers compensate the victims of their wrongs.

King Dopo, across the border, might have been a nice person, if he hadn’t been a king. But he was a top-down thinker, and he had his own dogmas. One was that the collective was everything, and individual freedoms, rights and desires meant nothing. Dopo called this idea “democratic socialism.” Another was… because he had been born a king, that gave him a right to rule.

Dopo had a restless mind, and a fiery imagination. Having been trained as a biologist, he loved animals, but he didn’t like people very much. He thought that people were naturally bad; and that most of them never grew up. He also thought he knew everything there was to know about the world. That meant, that every time he had a new brainwave, he conceived a desperate urge to try it out on his people. Regardless of the consequences to those people; for Dopo believed that “the king can do no wrong.”

Moreover, when presented with an issue, Dopo only ever looked at the bad consequences, never the good. His interpretation of the precautionary principle was: “If something bad might happen, I must act.” He never looked at the other side of the issue, or at the damage his actions might cause. Nor did he ever accept responsibility for that damage when it happened.

King Dopo fawned on those among his advisors, who told him what he wanted to hear. He called them “experts,” and elevated them to the highest positions. And, on the promptings of those “experts,” he made laws. Lots of laws. Most of them, bad laws. For the advisors spent most of their time scheming how they could fool Dopo into supporting their own interests. The rest of the time, he spent indulging himself with his own pet projects.

And Dopo taxed his people heavily. Not merely for courts, police and militia; but also, for his pet schemes, and for his advisors and their ever-growing cadres of bureaucrats, propagandists and hangers-on. So, the people of Dopo’s realm were subjected to rigid rule, in which taxes went forever up and up, and relief – let alone progress – was out of the question.

But to give him his due, Dopo wasn’t a warlike king. King Nick, who wasn’t warlike either, had chosen simply to let him be. And the kings from other islands were put off by the stories of his terrible taste in colour. When in military dress, Dopo’s subjects wore, and carried shields of, a mixture of bright red and green so disgusting to behold, that enemy soldiers who saw them felt an overwhelming urge to be physically sick, and soon recused themselves from the battlefield. Thus, although life for people under Dopo’s rule was dull, depressing and draining, his realm endured for decades without a revolution.


Some years before, vast deposits of oil had been discovered in Nick’s realm. The people had soon found many uses for this black, sticky, flammable stuff. They used it to heat their homes. They used it to make chemical products. They used it to drive their (steam) engines. They developed steam ploughs and steam seeders. The effect of these innovations was to free up much of the labour force; who then went to the towns and cities, and started making other products which were in demand in Nick’s realm and in others. They built oil powered ships to transport their wares to other islands, and steam carriages – running on specially constructed tracks – to transport people and goods within the realm. And so, Nick’s realm became a great manufacturing and trading power, and his people prospered ever more.

On the other side of the border, Dopo had bought a polar bear from a king in the far North, and installed it in a specially constructed reservation. This project failed, because the bear escaped from the reservation, and killed about fifty of Dopo’s subjects before being put down. More successful was the heron colony, which Dopo founded in a forest a few miles from his capital. Indeed, the herons – large, vicious, long-beaked birds, up to five feet tall, that lived on a diet of large fish and small to medium-sized mammals – were too successful. They increased so rapidly in size, that they started to eat human children, when available.

Meanwhile, Dopo’s people continued to farm using the ancient methods. The rich used animals to haul their ploughs, while the poor had to yoke themselves up and do all the work themselves. And in winter, they continued to heat their homes using wood. Indeed, it was already noticeable that the forests were becoming smaller in some parts of the realm.

When Dopo heard about the discovery of oil, he was worried. Now, Dopo’s realm also had oil, though not as much as Nick’s. But he worried that this “oil” stuff might be toxic. He worried that it might run out. He worried that it might be unsafe to use. But, alarmed also about the possibility of running out of wood, he did allow a pilot project to be built, a small oil-fired incinerator that burned dried sewage. But this project was a failure. A stuck valve, and a lax attitude to safety typical of the privileged class under socialism, resulted in a mighty explosion and fire, that destroyed half of one of the prettiest cities in the realm.

Dopo issued a Royal Proclamation that the extraction and use of oil would henceforth be banned in his realm. Knowing that the people would not be happy about this, he also put his spinmeisters into action. Their latest slogan, “Burn wood, and life will be good; burn oil, and we’ll all boil,” echoed up and down the land. And the people bought it – for now.


Now it came to pass, that a disease arose among the people on the island. The main symptom was a raw, hacking cough. It was at its worst in quiet weather, during the seasons of Autumn and Winter. The disease was first noticed among the people in remote, heavily forested parts of King Nick’s realm. And so, it was dubbed Foresters’ Cough. Most people soon recovered from the cough, and returned to full health; but a very few of those, who got the cough, died.

Nick, true to his nature, asked one of his advisors to find out what might be the cause or causes of this ailment. The adviser went out to the boondocks, and returned with a suggestion that there might, perhaps, be some association between the burning of wood, particularly in closed spaces, and the incidence of Foresters’ Cough. Nick set up a commission to investigate this. Up and down the realm they went, measuring how much wood was being burned in each place, and how many people got (and how many died from) Foresters’ Cough there.

The Commission wrote a report, and presented it to Nick. Foresters’ Cough was lowest in the towns and cities, where many people now burned oil. And it was highest in the remote forests, particularly among the poorest people. It seemed that there was a clear correlation between the burning of wood and the cough. Some members of the commission suggested that wood smoke was the cause of the cough. Nick, however, was scathing. He said: “Correlation does not imply causation. And what are the physical and chemical mechanisms, by which wood smoke causes toxic effects?” The commissioners could not answer.

Then Nick said: “You have done good, honest work. But there is not enough proof here for me to make any regulations regarding the burning of wood by my people. So, I bid you publish and promulgate your report. Let the people read it, and do each what they will.” He also suggested, to a group of industrialists: “You may want to increase production of your gas masks, to protect those people who cannot avoid breathing the smoke from burning wood.”

Out of courtesy, Nick sent Dopo a copy of the report by personal messenger. As a result – no pun intended – Hell broke loose.

Now Dopo’s treasury at the time was badly stretched, under the ever-increasing demands of the rich and powerful “experts” and their hangers-on. Not to mention the huge, and ever growing, projects he had taken on at their suggestion. And worse, he had recently precipitated the fiasco of the Low Dung Zone.

The Low Dung Zone had been a brilliant idea. Horse dung was obviously damaging to the people; it smelled bad, and they could slip in it. So, Dopo had instituted a swingeing tax on all journeys by horse in the most populated parts of his realm. The “experts” and other cronies were exempted, of course; for when they rode, they were doing so on the King’s business. But far from bringing in the revenues he had hoped, the tax had backfired. Unable to afford to pay the tax, the people had simply stopped making any journeys longer than they could do on foot. As a result, everyone was worse off; even Dopo himself.

Foresters’ Cough was also affecting Dopo’s kingdom. In fact, because the people were far poorer, its effects were much more severe than they had been in Nick’s realm. Dopo’s advisers urged him to “act decisively to remove this scourge,” and to “declare a public health emergency.”

Dopo liked what he heard from his sycophants, so he acted. He banned the burning of wood, throughout the kingdom and with immediate effect. The ban would be enforced by mounted squads of Wood Police, staffed by the most violent, vicious and unthinkingly obedient scum in the realm. And as always, Dopo and his buddies would be exempted from the ban.

Dopo issued the relevant Royal Proclamation. Then he scribbled a note to Nick thanking him for the report and outlining what he was going to do, and gave it to the messenger. Next, he gave his spinmeisters instructions for a change of course. To Full Astern, indeed. Now, the slogans that poured out of the spin machine included “Save Our Forests!” and “If you burn wood, you’ll soon be coffin’!”


When the messenger returned to Nick’s palace, Nick read the note from Dopo. Now, the season was already Autumn. And Nick’s weather forecasters had predicted a hard Winter. Nick, unusually for him, took immediate action. He gave orders for a force to be sent to the border area. “Methinks we’re going to have a refugee problem,” he said to the messenger.

Nick’s forecasters had predicted well. The weather became cold, then colder, then coldest.

Meanwhile, in Dopo’s realm, the Wood Police galloped around looking for people to punish for burning wood against “the law.” The punishment was incineration of the people’s houses, along with everyone in them. As the great majority of the houses were made of wood, the effect was actually to increase the amount of wood smoke in the air – a subtlety that had been entirely lost on Dopo.

The weather grew colder, and it snowed profusely. Dopo and all his closest cronies withdrew to his Winter Palace, next to the heron colony. There, they burned huge quantities of wood to keep themselves warm. They thought they were safe, because they had bought a job lot of the latest designer gas masks from the manufacturers in Nick’s kingdom.

Cold, hungry and angry at Dopo, the people got up and left en masse. Those who lived near the coasts took to ships. Some sailed south, seeking softer seasons. Some sought sanctuary with kings on neighbouring islands. The rest took such provision as they had, and embarked on the long trudge towards the border of King Nick’s realm. Except for a few of the relatively rich who owned mules, they had to leave their horses behind, as they could not carry enough fodder for the journey, and no grass was available because of the snow.

Even the Wood Police had grown tired of Dopo. They stole the few ships which remained in the harbours, and set off to sea. Since only a few were seamen, many of them perished. But historians tell us that the Wood Police founded the first of the many colonies of pirates, which would so plague sea trade in the region over the next century or so.

When the caravan arrived at Nick’s border, the border guards were friendly, but would not allow them across the river which separated the two realms. “Settle yourselves on the other side of the river,” they said, “and nominate twelve of your number to form a delegation to King Nick.”

The delegation, once admitted, travelled to Nick’s capital by steam carriage. All agreed that it was warmer, smoother and much faster than even the finest coach-and-four. Nick received them cordially, and said: “I will issue a proclamation, that all who are willing and able to give should send to the border food for you, to help you through your immediate emergency. After that, all the help we give you, you will have eventually to pay for. But that should not be too hard for you, because Dopo’s realm has ample deposits of gold. And I’m sure our financiers can work out a payment plan for you, which is acceptable on both sides.”

Nick appointed a viceroy, to go back with the delegation to their camps on the other side of the river, and to lead them in integrating into industrial society. There were few trees in the immediate border area. So, Nick also sent engineers, to teach them how to find and extract oil – for there was oil on Dopo’s side of the river, too – to keep them warm through the winter.

By February, back at the Winter Palace, the supply of wood was running out. Dopo sent a group of his cronies out for more, but they came back bemused. There was not a single human being to be seen in all of the area. “Cut it yourselves, then,” ordered Dopo. But few of the “experts,” propagandists and the like had any knowledge of forestry. The efforts to gather more wood were slow, noisy and doomed to failure.

The last days of King Dopo are not recorded in the annals. But there is a theory, which some ascribe to King Nick himself, that alerted by all the noise, the hundreds of huge, hungry herons – now, each big enough to devour a grown man – got him. And all his cronies, too. And then, the herons all died of food poisoning.

On the first day of Spring, King Nick travelled by steam carriage to the border. He walked across the bridge, conferred with his viceroy, and then said to the assembled multitude: “Those of you, who wish to settle on this side of the river and trade with us, are free to do so. For the rest of you, it is time to go home.”

And they all lived happily – not to mention freely and prosperously – ever after.