Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Sunday, 20 October 2019
Now, isn’t government supposed to be for the benefit of the governed? All the governed? So, what benefit is there to ordinary Dutch people from these limits? None at all, I’d say. Where is the science which, objectively and without political bias, quantifies the bad (or good) effects of these emissions? And what is the loss to ordinary Dutch people (and the rest of us) if their supposedly “liberal” government is allowed to pursue these policies? Biefstuk, ossehaas, spek… I don’t need to go on.
Let’s fast backward to 1984, and Margaret Thatcher’s campaign against the UK coal miners. At the time, I confess, I was so naïve that I supported Thatcher. I did so because the miners’ union had gone beyond reasonable bounds of behaviour; and because the trade unions had run the country for most of the previous 20 years, and I was sick of it.
Just two week-ends ago, I played the tuba in my brass band in four performances of “Brassed Off.” (The stage version of a UK film set in a mining community in 1994, in the aftermath of Thatcher’s purges.) Our performances were a great success, and we, cast and band, enjoyed a standing ovation from 300+ people on the Saturday evening – only the third time I have ever experienced that.
And there’s a speech, given by the main character (Danny Ormondroyd) at the end of the play. I’ll quote two excerpts:
“Over last ten years, this government has systematically destroyed an entire industry, our industry. Communities. Homes. Lives. All in the name of progress and a few lousy bob…
“Point is, if this lot were bloody seals, or bloody whales or summat, you’d be up in bloody arms – but they’re not. They’re just men. Honest, decent, fallible men and women. And not one on ‘em with an ounce of hope left. Oh ay, they can knock out a good tune, but what the fuck does that matter? Unless they matter. Unless we matter.”
I’ll adapt Danny’s speech to where we are today. Actually, apart from replacing “progress” by “sustainability,” I don’t need to change anything but the first sentence. The second excerpt is spot on, even today. Whoever wrote it deserves a Knobble Prize for Witterature. So, here’s my opener:
“Over last thirty years and more, political governments, and the EU and the UN, have actively sought to destroy our industries and our civilization.”
Back to my Dutch farmer friends. Like the French gilets jaunes, they are under assault by the corrupt criminal gangs endemic in politics today, and they don’t like it. As yet, unfortunately, like the gilets jaunes they don’t seem to have any real idea of what they want. I have a hint for them: what they should want is for people to matter. You matter; I matter; we matter. Op mij; op ons; op jullie.
I lived in Holland for three years, 40 years ago. While my Dutch may be remedial these days, I have enjoyed the company of many fine Dutch people. And I stand with the Dutch farmers in their struggle against those that would destroy our civilization. Ik sta achter de boeren.
Sunday, 6 October 2019
Payment for protection
How to pay for government has been an issue for centuries. John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Government, wrote: “It is true governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit everyone who enjoys his share of the protection should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it.”
From which, I deduce two things about Locke’s view on this matter. First, an individual’s payment must be his proportion of the total. Second, it must come out of his estate. That is, from his wealth, not from his income, or from a cut on transactions he makes. What I think Locke is saying is that an individual’s payment for the “protection” functions of government should be in direct proportion to his wealth. That is similar to what happens with home buildings insurance, where (assuming the risk is constant) the price is in proportion to the amount insured for. And it seems very reasonable indeed, to me at least.
So, the amount each individual must pay each year for the “protection” elements of convivial governance ought to be a (small) percentage of the individual’s total wealth. Once this is achieved, to support these functions there will be no need for any taxes on income, or on transactions, or on anything else.
The services of convivial governance
Referring back to my previous essay, the services provided by convivial governance will be as follows:
At the neighbourhood level (NCG): A small set of functions concerned with neighbourhood matters, migration and representation at the community level.
At the community level (CCG): Military defence. First responders, including police. Setting of local rules as needed. Co-ordination of the provision of infrastructure. Maintenance of the local publicly accessible infrastructure, notably roads. And quality control. Of these, the first two come under the heading of protection, as might quality control too.
At the non-local level (SCG): Detective work on criminal cases. A justice and arbitration system, covering (at least) restitution for wrongs, punishment for crimes, and contract disputes. Together, of course, with its back-ups, such as prisons. Diplomacy, as required. And quality control. Of these, detectives and criminal justice come under the heading of protection. Diplomacy and quality control, too, might reasonably be included under that heading.
Payments for convivial governance
So, here are the various payments, which individuals or households might be expected to make each year, in order to support convivial governance.
First and foremost, payments to the CCG and SCG for those of their functions which come under the heading of protection. In a perfect world, these amounts should be in proportion to the total wealth of the individual or household being protected. Unfortunately, it’s hard to assess a person’s wealth accurately, without knowing so much about them that their privacy becomes compromised. So, at the start, I expect the system might work like home contents insurance, with the payer declaring how much wealth they want to insure, and a “cap” in proportion being placed on the level of protection. But for the longer term, I think there may be a better solution, which I’ll come to a little later.
Second, a payment for the NCG. This, I would expect, would be a small payment per head, just like a personal subscription to any other society.
Third, payments for infrastructure. It is only fair that the costs of infrastructure development and maintenance should be borne by the users of that infrastructure, in proportion to their use of it. For new infrastructure, this can be achieved through pay-as-you-go fees, such as tolls. These fees should include an allowance for the CCG’s work on co-ordinating the development.
As to maintenance, the only payments to convivial governance will be to the CCG for maintenance of local infrastructure in the public space, such as roads and parks. How this should best be paid for will vary from place to place and from asset to asset. In the particular case of roads, it might be achieved reasonably fairly by a small levy (far smaller than today’s fuel taxes!) on fuel sold in the CCG. For other types of infrastructure, the simplest and easiest option may be to include this, and the local rules function, along with the protection payments.
Fourth and last, civil courts would operate much as they do today, with court fees being paid by the loser of each case.
Some numbers – the current system
So, it’s time to start chucking around some ball-park numbers. I’ve been looking at figures for the UK, which ought to be fairly representative among Western countries.
According to Wikipedia, in 2017 the UK government spent about £34 billion on police and the criminal justice system combined, and £46 billion on the military. This is £80 billion out of a total spend of £772 billion, or just over 10% of total government spend. At the then UK population of 66 million, this amounts to £1,210 per head, or £2,900 per household.
The total government spend was £11,700 per head, or just over £28,000 per household. To put that in context, the government spend per household was almost exactly equal to the average worker’s gross pay in that year.
Of the 90% of government spend which did not go on police, military or criminal justice, part is accounted for by infrastructure development. This looks like around £50 billion, or 6.5% of total spend. Under convivial governance, this would be paid for by user fees for the new infrastructure.
Then there are things like welfare and pensions (looks like £270 billion, 35%), health care (£145 billion, 19%) and education (£102 billion, 13%). These, while vital, should never have been allowed to become politicized. In convivial governance, they would be provided by private actors operating in the free market, satisfying the needs and desires of individuals who know their own priorities and know what they need.
The rest of the spend looks to be things like vote-buying schemes, and subsidies to cronies. However, from a different source, I managed to find a figure of £4 billion for road maintenance in that year; a piffling 0.5% of total spend.
Some numbers – convivial governance
Let’s contrast this with how much convivial governance would cost us, shall we? The protection payments to CCG and SCG combined would be about £2,900 per household per year. The NCG annual subscription would be small, probably not much more than £25 per person. The road maintenance charge to the CCG would be of the order of £60 per year per person or (given that there are about 47 vehicles – cars and larger – in the UK per 100 people) £130 per vehicle. We’d also have to pay some tolls when using new infrastructure; add another £250 or so per year for that. Add it all up, put on an extra 15% for contingency, and you get £3,800 or so per year. Per household, not per person. And that’s it!
And that’s it. The rest of our earnings, we can use to buy the things we want, from the people we like to deal with. We can keep our money away from those we don’t like, and those that have treated us badly. For example: politicians, bureaucrats, psychopaths, crony “capitalists” and other rip-off merchants, bullies, killjoys, guilt-trippers, snoopers, bossy busybodies, meddlers, enviers, wasters, thieves, dirty-tricksters, troublemakers, obstructers, stop-the-worlders, peddlers of lies, bullshitters, the dishonest, assholes in general, and anyone that has or ever has had a political agenda. To hell with the damned lot of them. We, the good people of the world, will be able to live our own lives at last!
I mentioned above that there might be a better solution for collecting protection payments. In fact, for collecting any payment whose size should be in proportion to the total wealth of the payer. But it could only work in an ACG (Area of Convivial Governance – in concept, a group of allied CCGs) which is sufficiently large to have its own currency.
This solution is called demurrage. This word has several senses, but the one I mean here is a controlled, predictable inflation of the currency. With the proceeds being passed to CCGs and their SCGs, in proportion to the population of each CCG. This would spread the burden fairly, by in effect taxing fixed assets in the ACG, and other assets denominated in the ACG’s currency, at a rate in direct proportion to their value. It would also eliminate tax bureaucracy!
I envisage this demurrage would probably be done each month, to supply the month’s budget to each CCG and its SCG. And because these are non-profit organizations, any surplus remaining at the end of the month would be fed back to the people in the CCG, in the form of a per capita bonus.
Now, let’s look at some numbers again. At 2017 prices, we need to raise £80 billion a year for protection services in a UK sized ACG. Add 15% for contingency, giving £92 billion. Now, the UK GDP (nominal) that year was £2.04 trillion, so the amount we need for the year is 4.5% of GDP. (In contrast to what the UK government actually took in 2017, which was 38% of GDP).
At the historical average wealth to GDP ratio, about 3.5, that would be 1.3% of total UK wealth. Though that ratio is currently higher than 3.5, meaning the demurrage required to cover all protection services is less than 1.3% per year. If we decided to go the whole way, and use demurrage to cover all activities of convivial governance – so no-one would ever have to pay any kind of “taxes” at all – then the inflation needed would still be less than 1.5% per year.
In wartime, there might be additional levies, or a higher demurrage, for an expanded militia. But once we have got rid of the last political states, there will be no rationale for anyone to try to make a war. For, with all individuals on the look-out for real wrongdoings, anyone planning a war would find it hard to avoid detection for long. And under convivial governance and its ideal of common sense justice, anyone seeking to start a war would be extremely harshly punished. So, once the last state has gone, we will be able to reduce, and eventually abolish, all militaries. Along, of course, with the costs that go with them.
I won’t try to sum up this essay, or its three predecessors. Instead, I’ll offer a little ditty, to give an idea of what life might be like under convivial governance. It is modelled after the playground song “No more Latin, no more French.”
In a few years, how will things be,
When England is an ACG?
No more taxes, no more wars,
No more scheming behind closed doors.
No more lies or propaganda,
No more “justice” without candour.
No more politician prats,
No more bossy bureaucrats.
No more weasel words from moanies,
No more cushy jobs for cronies.
No more marxists, no more greens,
We all know that they’re has-beens.
No more fascists, no more tories,
We don’t listen to their stories.
No more barriers in the way
Of those who want to earn good pay.
No more taking of earned wealth,
Whether obvious or by stealth.
No more cameras all about,
Spying on us to catch us out.
No more tracking of our bytes,
No more trampling on our rights.
No more stops without good cause,
No more bad, politicized laws.
When England is an ACG,
Then all its people will be free.
Friday, 4 October 2019
This essay will be far more speculative than my norm. This is because what I am describing will be a bottom-up system, growing organically and adapting, as all organisms do. I believe that I have correctly diagnosed many of the reasons for the failure of current political systems, which is leading to the need for this new approach. So, it’s likely that I will be along the right lines in many of my suggestions; but the details may turn out to be very different.
The structure of convivial governance
Convivial governance will be a bottom-up system. It will focus on the individual, and on small communities of people. It will be networked; closer in concept and structure to the Internet than to a top-down hierarchy. Thus, convivial governance will be organized to serve a network of individuals and small communities.
I foresee, most likely, just two levels of community. One, sufficiently small that those in the community can know each other personally. The other, sufficiently large to be viable as an economic unit in a free market; but not significantly larger. Only when absolutely necessary will these communities make alliances on a larger scale.
The functions of convivial governance
For completeness, I’ll repeat the list of the six valid functions of convivial governance, which I identified earlier.
First comes the maintenance of peace, corresponding roughly to military defence in existing political systems. Second, the provision of objective, common sense justice to every individual; equivalent to a justice and arbitration system, both civil and criminal. Third, the defence of the rights of those who respect others’ rights. The nearest equivalent today would be an honest and non-politicized police force. These three are the core functions of convivial governance.
Three further functions are needed to support this core. Fourth, co-ordinating provision and maintenance of infrastructure in the public space – that is, in places freely accessible to all – as necessary. (But not supplying it; that’s a matter for private industry). Fifth, maintaining good relations with other communities. And last, quality control on all the functions of convivial governance.
Local and distributed services
Some of the functions of convivial governance are, at their roots, local. Part, at least, of each of these services must be delivered in the immediate vicinity of those who need them. Others can, and indeed should, be supplied over a wider area than simply a single small community. Thus, convivial governance will deliver two types of service; the local and the distributed.
This will lead to two main kinds of institution within convivial governance. The first will be local, at either the neighbourhood or community level. The second will be distributed, supplying its services to the governance market in general, potentially across many different communities.
The human resources, which the institutions of convivial governance require from time to time in order to do their work, will be taken from what I call “pools.” The members of such pools are individuals and groups of suitably skilled people, for example arbitrators, quality auditors or detectives, who can be called upon as needed.
These will be business people, who offer services valuable to governance in return for payment. Some will be one-person independents. Others will band together into, generally small, companies; likely using a partnership model. They will not need to be local to the communities they serve. And many of them will also do business with other customers beyond governance.
The Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG)
Now, to the institutions of convivial governance at the local level.
I expect there will be two levels of local community. The first, which I call the Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG), will be small enough that everyone in it can know everyone else. I would envisage its size, perhaps, as between the maximum size of a group who can function as a unit (generally regarded as 150 or so), and the number of people the average individual can know and interact with at any one time (perhaps 250 to 300). But there will be no hard limits.
While an NCG will broadly coincide with the people who reside in a small geographical area, the link need not be exact. Some in the area may choose to belong to a different NCG. And some, particularly before full roll-out of convivial governance, will not be part of an NCG at all.
The main functions of the NCG I expect to be as follows. One, to assess proposed changes to the character of the area. Two, to assess the suitability of potential incoming migrants. Three, to represent the people of the NCG in the next higher level of community, the CCG.
I imagine that the people of an NCG would meet regularly to discuss matters affecting them. Thus, they would make communal decisions by a form of “direct democracy.” The NCG as an institution would probably be a society of the normal kind, staffed by volunteers.
The Community of Convivial Governance (CCG)
At the second level is what I call the Community of Convivial Governance (CCG). This aims to be a unit large enough to be economically viable in a free market. (This is not the same thing as being self-sufficient without outside trade; that would require a far larger unit.) I would expect its size to be something like 22,500 to 90,000 people, the squares of the likely NCG size range.
I would expect the CCG, as an institution, to be a non-profit company, and to perform the following functions. One, to organize those functions of convivial governance which must be delivered at the local level, such as local military defence, and first response to incidents. Two, to make “local rules” which are appropriate to the area. Three, to maintain the local infrastructure. And four, to select those who will represent the CCG in any alliances or negotiations with other CCGs which might be necessary. Perhaps through a ballot of all those in NCGs in the CCG, or perhaps through a “town meeting” of representatives from the NCGs.
A brief clarification about local rules. These are sane, sensible, non-politicized conventions for the benefit of all users of the public space in the local area. For example, rules of priority for traffic junctions. But local rules must be kept to a minimum. They must be clearly publicized and signed, and should not vary unreasonably between neighbouring locations.
A CCG will also require a quality control operation, to vet its suppliers and audit its own processes. Most of the people, who actually perform these exercises, are likely to be sourced from a pool of independent quality auditors.
As with NCGs, the correspondence between CCGs and people in a geographical area will not be exact. Particularly near the edges, people may belong to different CCGs. But I envisage that an NCG will belong at any one time to one, and only one, CCG.
Friendly secession and friendly union
I expect that at any time, subject to reasonable notice, NCGs and CCGs will be able to split or join as they see fit. In a friendly secession, an NCG might leave a CCG, and either join another CCG, or form a new “friendly union” CCG with other neighbour or near-neighbour NCGs. In an extreme case, where they are dissatisfied with the performance of a CCG, the representatives of the NCGs can agree to dissolve it and form a new CCG to succeed it.
Similarly, CCGs can agree to split – for example, if their population has grown sufficiently that two or more parts can be independently viable. Or they can agree to join, for example if the population has declined to the point where the CCG is no longer viable as an economic unit.
Similar things may happen at the lower level, too. Individual households can leave an NCG and join another, or choose to join together to form a new NCG. All this will result in the match between neighbourhoods, communities and geographical areas becoming less exact with time. However, it will provide a vital (and peaceful) safety valve for those who at any time are unhappy with the set-up they are currently living in.
The Society for Convivial Governance (SCG)
An SCG is a non-profit company, whose remit is to provide those functions of convivial governance which can be managed and delivered from outside any particular CCG. The SCG is the nearest equivalent in convivial governance to a government today. It is a project management and contracting organization, using externally sourced skills, such as detectives, judges and diplomats, to do the work. It will operate in a free market.
At any time, an SCG will govern one or more CCGs. A CCG will be able to switch SCGs at need, subject to reasonable notice. In the future, individual NCGs, and eventually even individual households, will be able to select which SCG they prefer. Just as people today can pick their preferred supplier for their home contents insurance.
It is important to note that SCGs do not have to be territorial. In that sense, they are like insurance companies, not like political states.
Functions and scopes
At this point, I will classify the functions of convivial governance into the two kinds or scopes I identified above: local and distributed.
Since its primary function is to defend a local area and the people in it, a Militia for Convivial Governance (MCG) will be organized at the local CCG level. Most of its members will live in the CCG. In a war or potential war situation, CCGs will ally and pool their militias as may be necessary. In a war situation, MCGs may be significantly expanded, though I would expect them to remain voluntary.
The First Responders for Convivial Governance (FRCG) – first-contact police, firemen, paramedics and the like – also must provide quick response in a local area. Thus they, too, will be organized at the CCG level.
The detective function of police, on the other hand, does not have to be performed by people from where the incident took place. I envisage that the SCG will manage this function, by contracting the services of individual detectives and teams of detectives as needed.
The justice system, too, will be primarily distributed; in the same way as, in times gone by, judges used to travel from assize to assize. I envisage that the SCG will contract individual judges or arbitrators, or teams of such individuals, as tasks suitable for them come up. However, the CCG will also be involved, providing suitable accommodation for the court, and probably local court officials such as ushers. Prisons could be managed in a similar way, using a pool of prison service providers.
I envisage that the “diplomats,” who maintain relations between an CCG and other CCGs and (for a time) legacy political states, would also be independents. They would be contracted in the same way as judges, but would be required to have their main residence in the CCG. I expect that many of these diplomats would be only part time in that role; their main business would be using their knowledge of different cultures to advise people wishing to trade with those cultures.
The co-ordination of infrastructure development is a CCG level function, to be negotiated by representatives from each of the CCGs involved. As this might involve CCGs which are governed by different SCGs, or even (for a time) representatives from legacy political states or sub-states, the diplomats would need to be included in the process.
Lastly, I envisage there would be a quality control department within the SCG. Like the corresponding function in a CCG, it would vet suppliers and audit the SCG’s performance.
Any group of people may also crowd-source an audit of their SCG, or CCG, or both. This can provide good reasons for, or against, a proposal for a change of SCG, or for friendly secession from a CCG.
The Area of Convivial Governance (ACG)
An Area of Convivial Governance (ACG) is an area in which convivial governance is in operation. It is little more than an area on the map.
In concept, the ACG as an institution consists of a number of allied CCGs. But in practice, I envisage that an ACG will not have any institutional existence at all; except, possibly, a financial function, which I’ll discuss in the last essay in this set.
I expect that, in time, many areas which are currently nation-states will become ACGs. But when areas on both sides of a former border have become ACGs, there should be little difference apart from cultural flavour and possibly some detailed justice procedures between the ACGs on the two sides. In this way, convivial governance will eventually expand world-wide.
To sum up
I have sketched in this essay an outline of how convivial governance might look in practice. I see the following main institutional components:
- The Neighbourhood of Convivial Governance (NCG), at the very local level, staffed by volunteers.
- The Community of Convivial Governance (CCG), a non-profit company at the level of the town or small city. It is at this level that services such as military defence and first responders (e.g. police) will be delivered.
- The Society for Convivial Governance (SCG), a non-profit company not tied to any one geographical location. It is at this level that services such as detectives and the justice system will be provided.
Wednesday, 2 October 2019
I’ll also describe the “agreement to vary,” which allows societies and individuals, by mutual agreement, to add to or to deviate from the Convivial Code in their dealings with each other. And I’ll ask: From where will convivial governance, and the Convivial Code which represents its ethical core, get their authority and their right to claim obedience?
The first of the fundamental principles of convivial governance is equality – moral equality. Every individual is morally equal. Or, as I’ve put it elsewhere: “What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa.”
The basis of my argument for moral equality is not unlike John Rawls’ “original position” thought experiment. If you were behind a veil of ignorance, not knowing into what social position you were going to be born, what kind of moral set-up would you prefer? One where everyone is morally equal, and may do the same things in the same circumstances as anyone else? Or one of moral inequality, in which a minority – of kings or princes, say – can do what they like, and ride roughshod over the wills and interests of everyone else? Few, I think, would pick the latter. For the likelihood of being born an oppressed commoner would grossly outweigh the minuscule chance of being born a prince.
And to those who still quibble over the moral equality principle, I say: Exactly who do you think is to be allowed moral privilege over others? How much? When? For what reasons? Who are you to decide? And why should you yourself not be thrown down to the very bottom of the heap?
The Convivial Code
From this principle of moral equality, it follows that there exists a moral code of what is right and wrong. And this is independent of time, place, culture or the social status of an individual.
To see this, try the following thought experiment. Take a large (large!) sheet of paper, and make two column headings: Act and Circumstance. Then write down pairs of acts and circumstances, in which the act is wrong for any human being to do under the circumstance, and should be prohibited. Any such prohibition must apply equally to all individuals. Continue until you have covered all such situations you can think of. Then take another sheet (rather smaller), and do the same for acts which are required. In other words, it’s wrong not to do the act under the circumstances. When finished, you have your moral code. The first sheet lists its prohibitions, the second its mandates.
I call this code of core ethical rules the Convivial Code. It is, in essence, the “law of the land” for convivial people; the Belgian philosopher Frank van Dun calls it the “laws of conviviality.”
The Convivial Code will also specify those conditions under which individuals may reasonably break the Code, and at what level they may do so. (For example, to use an appropriate level of physical violence in self-defence).
But… does this code actually contain anything?
Before anyone gets too excited, I’d point out that some thinkers have opined that such a code would be empty. Will Durant, for example, wrote to the effect that if you added up all the behaviours considered sacred by some culture, then subtracted all the behaviours considered taboo by some culture, you would end up with nothing.
But fortunately, we don’t need to get our core Convivial Code spot-on right. For using the idea of “agreement to vary,” societies can agree among their members, or individuals or societies can agree by mutual consent, to use additional or different rules above and beyond the core list, or to waive certain rules between themselves. So, we can simply put into our core list whatever we think is right for dealings between strangers, who might be from different cultures. We can then leave societies and individuals to agree to “do their own thing” if they feel they need to.
Constructing, agreeing and maintaining the code
The initial construction and agreement of the Convivial Code will, of course, be a mammoth undertaking. That demands a whole essay in itself. For now, all I’ll say is that we need to extract its essence from many different sources. From Confucius’ Golden Rule, for example. From the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – the only half decent thing the UN ever did. From the Judaeo-Christian Ten Commandments. From the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. And from many other sources of ethical wisdom from the sages of the ages.
Once done, there may from time to time be reasons to change the Code. I envisage this would be unusual, happening perhaps once in a generation. The procedure would need to be (deliberately) ponderous; probably requiring something on a similar scale to a Constitutional Convention. I call this, of course, a Convivial Convention. And “agreement to vary” would always allow people to keep on using an older version, if it suits them.
Thus, once the Convivial Code is in place, convivial governance will not have any need for a sitting (or even a standing!) legislature. This, I think, is a major step forward; for it gets rid of all opportunities to make screeds of bad laws, and all rationale for having political parties.
Moreover, the Convivial Code has no statute of limitations. As I said earlier, it is independent of time, place, culture or the social status of an individual. It applies to everyone, throughout their lives. And because human nature changes on a scale far slower than the length of an individual’s lifetime, it will apply also to actions in the past, before its promulgation.
Whence the Convivial Code?
Where does the Convivial Code come from? It arises out of the nature of human beings to be convivial; that is, to live together (and to live together as well as possible). Ultimately, it comes from our nature as human beings, as opposed to mere animals. I’ll repeat what I’ve said elsewhere on the subject of human nature:
“We human beings are individuals. And we have free will. But we have also an ethical dimension. We are moral agents, who strive to know right from wrong. And we are naturally good; that is, our nature leads us to seek to do what is right. Even though, obviously, some among us fail to develop that nature.
“Furthermore, it is in our nature to form societies and to build civilization. And at a higher level yet, it is in our nature to be creative. It is this creativity which elevates us above mere animals.”
The second of the fundamental principles, which underlie convivial governance, is justice. I earlier defined justice (common sense justice) as: “the condition in which each individual is treated, over the long run, in the round and as far as practicable, as he or she treats others.”
As with the principle of moral equality, I have a quasi-Rawlsian justification for this idea. Behind your veil of ignorance, what kind of justice would you pick? One where everyone is treated, as far as practicable, as they treat others? Or one where some are able to behave like assholes, and to get away with it on a regular basis? While others, who try always to behave peacefully and honestly, are exploited by the assholes, and punished for “bad” things they haven’t done? To me, it’s a no-brainer.
Moreover, a key benefit of this form of justice is that it gives an incentive to behave well towards others. If you want to be treated better by others, all you need do is find a way of treating others better, of making yourself more valuable to others. Thus, the implementation, within convivial governance, of common sense justice will lead towards order; Frank van Dun’s convivial order.
But any implementation of common sense justice must aim to be practical. The target in practice must be to minimize injustice, and to avoid gross or persistent treatment of individuals worse than they treat others. Thus, the courts, judges, arbitrators and support services, which implement justice as part of convivial governance, will not take decisions lightly. They will be required to be as objective as possible, as quantitative as possible, and as impartial and even-handed as possible. And they must be meticulous in their decisions and in their record-keeping.
I will have more to say in a later essay about the justice system within convivial governance. For now, I’ll just say that it will cover at least restitution for wrongs, compensation for unavoidable nuisance or risk, disconviviality (otherwise known as crime), resolution of disputes, and contracts. It will judge, where necessary, disputes between individuals or societies, such as claims for harm suffered. It will judge cases such as libel and divorce, as needed. And it will adjudicate disputes between societies and their members; such as where someone wants to leave a society, against the wishes of the committee or the membership. It will also route compensation payments – for example, for noise or air pollution, which cannot be cost-effectively abated – to those to whom the compensation is due.
It will include safeguards, such as “due process” in all cases, the presumption of innocence and a right to a public trial for criminal accusations. And where they are compatible with conviviality, it will continue to use the procedures of local systems of law.
One of the functions of convivial governance is to defend the rights – such as life (in the negative sense), security of person, property, privacy, and right to means of self-defence – of everyone who respects the equal rights of others. Rights are the “other side of the coin” to the prohibitions and mandates of the Convivial Code. I like to put this as follows: “Provided you behave as a convivial human being, you have the right to be treated as a convivial human being.”
One important point is that, in convivial governance, rights can sometimes be trumped by justice. For example, someone, that has behaved in a disconvivial way, can have some of their rights taken away for a time. This parallels the imprisonment of a convicted criminal under today’s systems. Or someone that has caused objective damage to others, can have some of their property taken away in order to provide compensation to the victim or victims.
But these situations apart, convivial governance must always adhere to one of the most fundamental of all ethical rules: “First, do no harm.” It must never violate anyone’s rights without a good and objective reason.
Freedom is the fourth and last of the fundamental principles of convivial governance. Freedom of thought and action are the default for everyone at all times, unless there is good reason to the contrary under the circumstances. This includes freedom of movement, of peaceful association, of opinion, expression and communication, and of religion. I like to put this as: “Except where countermanded by the Convivial Code, by due process of justice or by the requirement to respect others’ rights, every individual is free to choose and to act as he or she wishes.”
One particularly important freedom under convivial governance is that those, who so wish, may form their own associations and communes in which to live. Thus, a group of people who share a particular lifestyle, or religious belief, or political ideology, can live together under their own set of rules, as long as they obey the Convivial Code in all their dealings with outsiders.
Agreement to vary
In convivial governance, a key idea is “agreement to vary” the provisions of the Convivial Code. Such agreements must be recorded in writing and signed by all the parties. They must, of course, be fair both to the parties and to everyone else, and they must be, in a real sense, “reasonable.”
Through such an agreement, societies can agree with their members, if they so wish, extra rules over and above the core in their dealings among themselves. An example might be a religious society, which demands that its members obey dietary restrictions, such as not eating pork or not drinking alcohol, which arise from tenets of the religion.
Another use of agreement to vary will be to waive certain provisions of the Convivial Code when needed. For example, aggressively punching people will be forbidden by the Convivial Code. But a boxing club will want to allow its members to punch each other, under certain rules, in training or in an actual fight. Indeed, it may want to contract with another boxing club to allow a specific member or members of one club to box against a specific member or members of the other.
Individuals and societies can also agree, by mutual consent, to waive certain provisions of the core rules, either for one transaction or on a more regular basis. For example, a sports club might waive the requirement to compensate for injuries caused while playing the sport, if the parties are willing to take the risk.
Whence the “authority” of convivial governance?
Lastly, the question of where the “authority” of convivial governance will come from. Why should people obey and support such governance?
Before I tackle that question, I’ll first ask, where does “authority” come from under current political systems? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get different answers. In the UK for example, it may come from the “sovereignty” of Silly Lizzie. A rich old woman, who lives in a castle, and has never done a day’s honest, productive work in her life. With a husband that wants to be re-incarnated as a pox to kill off humanity, and a son and heir that is not only a deep-green maniac, but a hypocrite too.
Or it may come from “democracy.” This is a system, under which people are allowed to vote to select from among a number of candidates, none of which are worth voting for. And the majority is supposed to get its way over the minority (or not, if the political class disagree; as over Brexit).
Or it may come from a “parliament” of psychopathic politicians, that care nothing for anyone except themselves and their followers and cronies; have no interest in anything except their damned politics and their own privileged positions in it; and couldn’t keep a promise even if they wanted to. Or it may come from a bunch of unelected, unaccountable, activist globalists and bureaucrats in places like Brussels or New York.
Given all that, maybe I don’t need to answer my original question. But I will, anyway. The authority of the Convivial Code comes from inside ourselves. It comes from human nature – from the nature of all peaceful, honest, productive human beings. And the authority of common sense justice, as implemented by convivial governance, comes from a deep sense of what is right and what is wrong, and from the objective, even-handed and meticulous nature of its processes.
To sum up
The first principle of convivial governance is moral equality; everyone is morally equal. From this flows the existence of a Convivial Code, a moral code of what is right and wrong, which is independent of time, place, culture or the social status of an individual. Moreover, individuals and societies, and societies and their members, can mutually agree to add to or to vary the conditions of the Convivial Code to fit their particular situations. And once constructed and agreed, the Code will abolish the need for any permanent legislature.
The second principle of convivial governance is justice. That is, common sense justice; the condition in which each individual is treated, over the long run, in the round and as far as practicable, as he or she treats others.
The third principle of convivial governance is defence of the rights of every individual who respects others’ equal rights. But rights can, at need, be trumped by justice; for example, to secure compensation to victims, or to forestall a repeat of a disconvivial act.
The fourth and last principle of convivial governance is maximum freedom for every individual. Except where countermanded by the Convivial Code, by due process of justice or by the requirement to respect others’ rights, every individual is free to choose and to act as he or she wishes.
Finally, the authority of the Convivial Code and of common sense justice comes from inside ourselves. It arises from our nature as human beings.
Sunday, 29 September 2019
I’m just about done with the diagnosis. So today, I’ll embark on my search for Cure.
This essay is the first of a set of four, in which I aim to outline a new system of minimal or, as some say, “minarchist” governance. I call this convivial governance. This system will be bottom-up and de-politicized. That is: First, it will focus on the individual, and on small communities. And second, it will not allow any political ideology or agenda to be imposed on any of the governed against their wills.
In this, the first of the set, I’ll give an overview of my system. I’ll look at its aims, its functions, and its general design. The second essay will address the ethical principles on which it will be based. These are: First, moral equality, and the Convivial Code which encapsulates it. Second, common sense justice. Third, human rights. And fourth, maximum freedom for every individual. The third essay will sketch out some of the institutions which might implement convivial governance. And the fourth will discuss the thorny matter of how it should be paid for. After that, I’ll fill in some of the remaining gaps in a number of follow-up essays.
I’m sure that many people will find my ideas crazy, unworkable or both. But in that case, it’s up to them to tell me where and why I’m wrong, and to suggest better solutions if they can.
What is convivial governance?
Convivial governance is the phrase I use for a future system of minimal governance, which will allow good people to live together in an environment of peace, justice and maximum freedom for every individual. Put succinctly, it will be governance of convivial people, by convivial people, for convivial people.
It will govern a community of individuals, in much the same way as a referee governs a football match. It will also adjudicate as needed on the relationships between those individuals, the voluntary societies to which they belong, and other individuals and societies with which they interact.
The word convivial, meaning living together (with a side sense of living together well), I have borrowed from the Belgian philosopher Frank van Dun. His convivial order is a framework in which: “people live together regardless of their membership, status, position, role or function in any, let alone the same, society.” And he describes it as: “an order of friendly exchange among independent persons.”
I think of convivial governance as a system of governance intended to support, and to help to maintain, a particular kind of order. That is, Frank van Dun’s convivial order. And this “order” is, indeed, ordered. Though it is not a social order; it is not order imposed from the top down. The convivial order is a bottom-up order. Convivial order is spontaneous order.
I also use the word convivial in a more general sense, of treating other people peacefully and civilly. And convivial conduct (also known as conviviality) is the behaviour habitually indulged in by those who are, generally speaking, good people to have around you. Peacefulness, truthfulness and dealing in good faith are examples of convivial conduct. And aggressions, thefts, lies, dishonesty, deceptions and bad faith are examples of unconvivial conduct.
It’s important to note that convivial conduct is not at all the same as obeying the rules or laws of any particular culture, society or government. In fact, the core rules of convivial conduct – that is, what is convivial when dealing with strangers – are independent of any culture, religious rules or government laws. I’ll say more about this (the Convivial Code) in the next essay in this set.
The aims of convivial governance
Convivial governance aims at two main things. First, to supersede, and eventually to extinguish, the top-down, failed, 16th-century system that is the “Westphalian” political state. Along with the super-states and multi-national political organizations that have flowed from it, such as the EU and the UN. And second, to form an embryo, from which can grow a future world free from war, injustice and the imposition of political ideologies or agendas.
By getting rid of the state, I expect that convivial governance will solve several of the problems we suffer today. One, it will end the imposition by political factions or pressure groups of laws that are harmful to ordinary people. Two, it will make starting a war both difficult and very, very risky. Three, it will end re-distributory, punitive and abusive taxation, by making a direct link between what individuals pay for governance and the benefit they receive from it. Four, there will be no “sovereign immunity” to allow officials or favourites to get away with what, if done by someone else, would be crimes.
The governed are a community, not a society
Convivial governance starts from a slightly different premise than the “social contract” idea, which has dominated political thought for centuries. That premise is, that the people in a particular geographical area form, not a society, but a community. Such a community is bound together, not by a “general will” to follow any one direction or political agenda, or by a contract, whether signed or not; but merely by ties of mutual convenience. It is similar, for example, to the communities of people who own homes in the same development, or flats in the same block.
Such a community may spawn societies, which act in certain respects on behalf of all those in the community. Such as a home-owners’ association, or the management company of a block of flats. Indeed, the two primary organizations for delivery of convivial governance, which I call the Community of Convivial Governance (CCG) and Society for Convivial Governance (SCG), will be societies – in essence, non-profit companies. But the community itself has no leader, no officials, no goals as a group beyond living together for mutual convenience, no political ideology, and no agenda beyond its own continuation.
A system of very limited function
The valid functions of governance in a community, as I discussed in an earlier essay, consist of three primary and three secondary functions. The primary functions are: To maintain peace, including defending the governed against attack or violent disruption. To deliver objective justice as needed, including the arbitration of disputes. And to defend the rights of every individual who respects others’ rights. Broadly, these correspond to the military, the justice system (with its back-ups, such as prisons) and the police in current systems of government.
The secondary functions: To co-ordinate, as necessary, the provision and maintenance of infrastructure, such as roads, between communities. To maintain good relations with other, friendly communities. And quality control on every aspect of the governance process.
Convivial governance will never interfere in matters like religion, health, education or welfare, that are outside its valid functions. Nor will it ever attempt to impose, or allow to be imposed, any political ideology or agenda on any of the governed against their wills.
Moreover, it will not seek to control or to meddle with the economy in any way. It will not interfere with any economic activity, unless there is rights violation, fraud or actual harm being done to someone; or intention to violate rights, to defraud or to cause harm; or recklessness beyond the bounds of reason.
A bottom-up system
Convivial governance is a “bottom-up” system. It focuses, first and foremost, on the individual. It seeks maximum freedom for every individual, consistent with living in a community of convivial people. And it expects every adult individual to take personal responsibility for the effects on others of his or her voluntary actions.
It seeks to work with the nature of peaceful, honest, productive human beings, rather than against that nature. It eschews aggressions and wars. And it avoids, as far as possible, pitting people or groups against each other. It seeks to let people “agree to disagree” wherever that is workable.
Its institutions, too, will be built from the bottom up. First, a local or neighbourhood community; then a second level of community on the scale of a town or small city. On the few occasions on which a larger scale of agreement is necessary – for example, fighting a defensive war, or agreeing on infrastructure development – this will be accomplished through alliances, with representatives of the different communities working together.
A de-centralized and networked system
Convivial governance will be, by its nature, de-centralized. The communities, into which the governed will be grouped, will be small enough to produce diverse “flavours” of community for people of different tastes. Economically, different communities will also tend to specialize in different things. For example: agriculture, retail, finance, new technology, particular industries, or providing specialist services over a wide geographical area. So, there will be much trade, both between neighbouring communities and between those further apart from each other.
Thus, convivial governance will be like a network, not a hierarchy. It will have no head, and no central point at which political power can collect. And it will have no mechanisms to allow one interest group or community forcibly to override the interests of others.
Moreover, free movement between communities will be the norm. Change of residence, while requiring the agreement of those in the receiving local community, will be easy enough that dis-satisfied convivial people can choose to move to places more congenial to them.
A reactive system, not a pro-active one
Convivial governance will be reactive rather than pro-active. It will not send out officials seeking things to meddle in. It will expect convivial individuals to be on the alert for things which are, or may well be, real wrongdoings. And it will expect them to report these as they see them.
In particular, every adult will have the right to arrest anyone they reasonably suspect of a real wrongdoing, and bring them to justice. This is like the English common law tradition of the “citizen’s arrest.” Thus, in convivial governance, everyone will be a member of the executive.
A free-market system
The two primary vehicles for delivery of convivial governance, the CCG and SCG, will be non-profit companies. The CCG will provide services which must be delivered locally, in the immediate vicinity of those who need them. On the other hand, the SCG will provide those services, which can be delivered on a wider scale than simply a single community.
I’ll give more on these two organizations in the third essay of this set. At this point, I’ll merely say that SCGs will be able to compete in a free market for the custom of the inhabitants of CCGs. It is also important to note that SCGs do not have to be territorial. In that sense, they will be like insurance companies, not like political states.
A system of accountability, impartiality and honesty
Under convivial governance, everyone will be accountable for the effects of their voluntary actions on others. And that includes those involved in the processes of governance itself. The managing director of an SCG, a top detective, even a senior judge, are all to be held accountable in the same way as anyone else.
Moreover, convivial governance will have procedures designed to ensure maximum honesty, integrity and impartiality in all its doings. It will always seek the facts and the truth in any matter. It will make its judgements as objectively as possible. It will keep meticulous records, and make them open to inspection. And it will not allow its processes to be influenced by lies, hype or political agendas of any kind.
A flexible system
I have tried to build flexibility into the system in several different ways. First, while it must work initially in a defined geographical territory, I want it to be adaptable to a future non-territorial system, in which SCGs will compete for customers in the free market, like insurance companies.
Second, I want it to work over a wide range of scales, from a few households up to communities of town or city size. That is, up to the size of community which can be economically viable or “sustainable” in a totally free market. Its de-centralization and networked nature should then enable it to be scaled up to areas inhabited by hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people. Eventually, so I foresee, it can grow to become world-wide. But this will not be a “world government,” or anything like it. Its growth will be bottom-up like the Internet, not top-down like the EU or United Nations.
Third, I want it to be able to adapt as people move in or out of communities, or as tastes change. I envisage that, at need, communities will be able to split via what I call “friendly secession.” Or, where appropriate, to join together via “friendly union.”
Fourth, I want it to work for and among many cultures. As I’ll explain in the second of these four essays, there will be a fairly small set of core ethical rules. These rules are intended to apply to interactions between parties, who have not made any prior agreement with each other, and who may be from different cultures. Since I expect such rules would need to change only once in a generation or so, this would remove any requirement for a standing legislature.
But convivial governance will also allow for what I call “agreement to vary.” Through such an agreement, societies can agree with their members, if they so wish, extra rules or different rules from the core in their dealings among themselves. Individuals and societies can also agree, by mutual consent, to waive certain provisions of the core rules, either for one transaction or on a more regular basis.
To sum up
I have given a very broad outline of my ideas on how a minimalist system of convivial governance might work. Some of the major differences between this system and current Western systems of government (as exemplified by countries like the UK and the US) are:
- There will be no state, and so no sovereignty. Actions such as starting wars, making bad laws and imposing abusive taxation will not be acceptable.
- Convivial governance sees the governed not as a society, but as a community. They have no “general will,” beyond mutual convenience and the continuation of the community.
- Thus, convivial governance will not impose on anyone against their wills any political ideology or agenda.
- The functions of governance are reduced to their core: peace, justice, defence of rights, co-ordination of infrastructure, diplomacy and quality control.
- The system will be bottom-up, focusing on the individual and on small communities.
- The system will be reactive rather than pro-active.
- The system will be honest and impartial, and everyone will be accountable.
- The system will be de-centralized and networked, to make it scalable to areas of different sizes, eventually right up to world-wide.
- The system is designed to be flexible enough to work among multiple cultures.
- The system allows individuals and societies to extend or modify the basic rules by mutual consent.
Saturday, 21 September 2019
Friday, 13 September 2019
Imagine my pleasure, then, when – having cleaned a little bit of the muck off the sign, for it was very dirty – I read the following:
“Shalford water meadows were once lush farmland to grow hay and graze cattle. This was achieved by creating a water meadow system across the fields along the Wey Navigation. Eventually the water meadows fell out of use and nature began to reclaim them for herself.
“If the water meadows continued to be left to nature they would eventually turn to woodland and dry up. This would result in the loss of all the fantastic plants and animals that made the meadows their home. To prevent this happening we are carrying out sensitive management work across the meadows.”
Now, one could criticize this missive for its lack of commas, and for dubbing plants and animals “fantastic” when, in truth, they are real and no fantasy. But this message came across to me most clearly:
See? Humans are good for wildlife, not bad. And it’s “official” – ‘cos Guildford Borough Council sez so!
Monday, 9 September 2019
Now, one reason it’s hard to argue against this, is that part of it is actually true. While the idea of the nation as a cultural force is still perfectly viable, as is the idea of patriotism (love for the land and people of a particular area), the political aspect of nationalism – that is, the national state – has, indeed, failed. Democracy, too, has failed; as I discussed earlier.
But beyond nationalism and globalism, there is a third possible vision of the future, which most people don’t even know about yet. One of its names is cosmopolitanism. The original of this approach was stated by Tom Paine: “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” It does not seek any global political or cultural unity. Instead, it seeks to allow people to associate with whoever they choose, whether from the same or from different backgrounds.
Cosmopolitanism, of course, comes in many different flavours. But my own maxim of: “It doesn’t matter who you are, only what you do” is, very much, one of them. Such an approach, I think, can help to point a way towards a world of, to coin a phrase: “Economics global, politics local.” There will be no centralized political Leviathan, and no élite to control it. Governance may remain at the national level in some places, or may be de-centralized into smaller units. And it will be one of my purposes, when I turn to Cure, to sketch out some possibilities. Despite all the storm clouds, there’s hope for humanity yet!
Friday, 6 September 2019
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.
Now, political states are like societies in one respect; they have a (usually written) constitution. The constitution of the USA, for example, states its purpose as: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” But this is not the same thing as a constitution for a society of all inhabitants of the US! You can see this when you parse the whole sentence: “We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This is a constitution for a government called “the USA,” not for a putative society consisting of everyone in the US.
A community, in contrast, 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 earlier is a home-owners’ association. And the USA government, indeed, is a society whose remit is to act in certain respects on behalf of everyone in the territory called the US. But a community, even if all its members share common values – such as mutual respect for property rights and rejection of psychopathic behaviours – has no “general will,” beyond its own continuation.
If the people of the US (for example) form only a community, not a society, then it would be wrong, I think, to present as “the will of the people” what is, in reality, no more than the will of the USA government for the time being. And it would be wrong to subordinate the people of the US (or of any other country) to whatever political ideology is in vogue among those in power at a given time.
Tuesday, 3 September 2019
For me, what is right and what is wrong must be the same for everyone. That is, indeed, implied by the concepts of the rule of law and equality before the law. So, you cannot reasonably claim, of twin brothers Mo and Ahmed, neither of whom has ever committed a crime, that it’s legal for one to be in a particular place in the public space, and illegal for the other. Therefore, no-one may ban any individual, who has not committed and is not committing any harm to anyone, from any point of the public space.
With private property, of course, it’s different. You can say that Mo is rightly on your private property, because he’s a plumber, and you’ve invited him in to fix a leak. While Ahmed, if he was in the same place, would be trespassing, unless you chose to invite him in. But by calling one of them legal in the public space and the other illegal for being in the same place, you reject the idea of equality before the law. You also accept the dangerous notion that a government, unlike any other landowner, has a right to deny the passage of individuals across a piece of land it does not own.
Thus, there is no case for preventing any convivial individual from going anywhere he or she wishes within the public space. Otherwise said, visitors should be able to move freely, as long as they behave convivially.
Immigration, however – by which, I mean entry to an area with intent to reside there, either for a period or permanently – is a more complex matter. Someone who goes to reside in an area is, in effect, joining the community of people who live in that area.
Now, the criteria for joining a community are not as strict as those for joining a society. For example, there is no requirement to agree with a society’s particular set of goals. Nevertheless, the people already in the community must have the right to decide who is to be allowed to join their community. Shared culture is not necessary; but a willingness to accept the culture of the people already there is a requirement. And that is so, however small the community.
There is another aspect, too. If a small community agrees to let an individual join them, that individual should be able to travel to that community. He or she must not be prevented from doing so by a third party (e.g. a government) refusing permission for the individual to enter or to cross its land, such as at a border.
So, the current system of arbitrary borders and immigration controls is unjust and unworkable. This is made worse by deliberate encouragement of mass migration by some political factions, and opposition to it by others. The system needs radical change.
Saturday, 31 August 2019
They want to impose, or even to force, their ideology on to others, whether they like it or not. They show no concern for individuals; for them, the collective is everything, the individual is nothing. They show no qualms about causing unjust harms or inconveniences to ordinary people. They have no worries about violating rights, or restricting or even destroying freedoms. Indeed, they seem actively to enjoy harassing or impoverishing people they don’t like. By their actions, they show themselves to be extremely selfish and uncaring. Yet, they often project their own faults on to others, and accuse their victims of being selfish and uncaring!
Their approach is generally one-size-fits-all. They seem not to understand that different people need and want different things. They seem not to understand that different people – urban and rural dwellers, for example – are in different situations, so policies which might work for one could cause catastrophic damage to the other. Moreover, they show little or no care for truth or facts. And they are never satisfied; give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile.
They hate anyone – other than themselves and their buddies, of course – enjoying life, or having anything good. And many of them show a hatred of human civilization, and of human progress.
They all favour the state, and want to increase its power. They worship the political set-up which, far from defending people against mass-murdering psychopaths like Hitler and Pol Pot, actively gave those psychopaths licence to wreck the lives of many millions of people. And today’s politicians, instead of defending us against civilization-wreckers like Maurice Strong and Extinction Rebellion, kow-tow to their demands.
Any half decent system of governance ought to defend ordinary people against humanity haters like Hitler, Pol Pot or Maurice Strong – and against their henchpersons and supporters. But today’s system of political states and super-states does exactly the opposite. Not only does it encourage the worst to seek power. But once they are in power, it lets them act with impunity, until someone else gets sufficient power to topple them.
Wednesday, 28 August 2019
The way I see it is that, historically, the left have been driven mainly by political agendas. They want power in order to do things to people. And, when faced by ideas beyond their comfort zone, they try to enlist them and to pervert them into supporting their own agendas. The right, on the other hand, are more driven by selfishness and greed. They want power because they enjoy it, and in order to make themselves rich. And their response to ideas outside their comfort zone is usually to ignore them, or to try to suppress them.
Moreover, there are hatreds common to many on both left and right. Notably, both hate people who are different. And most of all, those who are different from themselves. Almost no-one in politics, either left or right, has any empathy or real concern for the individual human beings they seek to rule over. The worst of them, on both sides, even go so far as to hate humanity as a species. But while the left hate most those who develop their talents and make themselves good at anything, the right hate more those who have the wrong skin colour, culture or religion. And both of them hate anyone who tries to be individual and independent, or dares to disagree with them in any way.
All political ideologies today, from my point of view, are no more than a mixture of these two tendencies in one proportion or another.
Monday, 26 August 2019
The first step towards solving the political problems we face today, I think, must be to understand what the valid functions of government (or, as I prefer to call it, governance) actually are. In my view, proper governance has a total of six functions; three principal and three subsidiary.
The first function of governance is to maintain peace. This includes the defence of the governed against external attack or internal violence.
The second function of governance is to deliver justice. This function includes the just resolution of disputes. Justice, as I put forward earlier, is the condition in which every individual, over the long term, in the round and as far as practicable, is treated as he or she treats others. And governance must be fair, objective and meticulous in all its decisions.
The third function of governance is defence of the rights of those who respect others’ rights. Those rights, as I discussed earlier, include fundamental rights like life, property and privacy; and rights of non-impedance, such as freedom of speech, religion and association.
All these three principal functions of governance can be seen as different aspects of a single whole. Namely, the delivery of peace and justice to all individuals.
There are further functions of governance which, while not as important as the first three, are nevertheless necessities. The fourth is co-ordination of the building of infrastructure. This is needed because, although infrastructure must be created and maintained at the local level, some degree of co-ordination is required to ensure that the infrastructure forms a coherent whole. For example, that a new road doesn’t suddenly dead-end at some arbitrary community border. But these functions must always be delivered and paid for in a way that is just towards every individual.
The fifth function is the maintenance of good relations with other, friendly communities.
The sixth and final function of governance is quality control of itself. It must maintain a constant ethical watch on the actions of governance as a whole, and of the individuals who constitute it. It must assure that the functions of governance are being performed as they should be. That those whose job is to maintain peace are indeed doing so to the best of their abilities. That the justice system is, and remains, just, objective and fair to everyone. That no-one in governance violates the rights of innocent people. That any decisions governance needs to make on behalf of those under it are made objectively, fairly, and taking into account the costs and benefits to every individual or group. And that governance – including the quality assurance function! – keeps meticulous and publicly accessible audit trails of all it does, and of the reasons behind every decision it makes.
In my view, these six are the valid functions, and the only valid functions, of governance. It is not a function of governance to impose any particular political or religious ideology. It is not a function of governance to try to cure perceived social ills. It is not a function of governance to pick winners and losers, or to re-distribute wealth from one group of people to another. And it is not a function of governance to provide education, or insurance, or any other good or service which can be effectively provided by individuals and groups in the free market.
Tuesday, 6 August 2019
But then, the Personal Transition began to kick in among human beings. Many people, at much the same time, woke up from the zombie state in which they had been held by the battering of lies and propaganda from the politicals and their media and “educators.” People started to think: Why should I put up with this claptrap any more? And they started to feel better about themselves.
It was as if, after decades of ever increasing madness and badness, some threshold had been reached, beyond which the political system could not hold together. It was as if, after a long, dark night, there had come a sudden, bright dawn. And people began to see clearly where they were, and what was around them.
Good people, who all their lives had been bombarded with false guilt by politicians, educators and media, snapped out of it. They no longer felt guilt for using energy, or failing to recycle, or because they were – falsely – accused of wasting natural resources, causing dangerous global warming or endangering species. They no longer felt guilt for being successful through their own efforts, or being prosperous, or looking after their own interests. They no longer felt guilt for spending their fairly earned wealth on the goods and services they wanted, and on the people who provided those goods and services.
They no longer felt guilt for driving cars, or flying in aeroplanes, or eating meat, or not eating enough fruit or veg, or drinking alcohol, or smoking. And they no longer accepted any guilt at all for anything they as individuals had no control over.
People came to understand that as long as they behaved up to basic human standards – such as honesty, peacefulness, responsibility and respect for others’ rights – they were not guilty of anything. And it didn’t matter what “laws” anyone made.
Instead, good people started to feel pride in their own achievements. They felt a renewed love of individuality, independence, economic productivity, progress and justice. They felt change for the better in the mental climate. They felt a new atmosphere of optimism, of expanding horizons, of confidence in themselves and in the future.
Very suddenly by historical standards, people stopped believing, or even being interested in, what they were told by the politicals and their media. They began to understand the frauds that had been committed against them. People fell out of love with politics, and with the political state. And they began strongly to react against its worst abuses. Against aggressive wars. Against violations of rights and liberties. Against lies, dishonesty and double standards by politicians, officials, celebrities and media. Against re-distributory or confiscatory taxation.
Perhaps the strongest reaction was against the environmentalist or green agenda. At the end of the Nasty Noughties, the greens had almost succeeded in taking over the world with their humanity-hating agenda of destroying prosperity, stopping progress and ending individual freedom. Of course, they didn’t put it like that. They bleated about the environment, or polar bears, or “saving the planet” from climate change. But they put no value at all on us human beings, our nature and our rights and freedoms.
But, with the Personal Transition, people saw this agenda for what it was. They came to understand that the environment which we must preserve and cherish is the environment for human beings. That peace, prosperity and justice for human beings are far more important than polar bears or saving a few watts of energy. They saw that there was a way to a sustainable future, and it wasn’t the greens’ pipe-dream of using less and less resources. Instead, the way forward was to create more and more wealth.
And people felt a new kind of fellowship. They cared about the good people they dealt with in their daily lives. They cared about their customers and their suppliers. And they cared about those good people worldwide, who shared their basic human values like honesty and peacefulness. But, on the other side, people also came to understand that those that failed to make the effort to behave up to human standards were not their fellows.
There were other changes in people’s perceptions too. The idea, that people owed allegiance to some country or state, began to seem strange. The idea that governments had rights to stop people from passing across arbitrary lines, or to take a toll of goods passing across such lines, was seen as ridiculous. The idea that governments had a right to tell you who your friends and enemies were, was seen as crazy. For it was now obvious to everyone, that your friends are those who treat you well, and your enemies those that treat you badly.
And the idea that those who happened to live in a geographical area were owed compassion and support from others in that area, no matter how badly they behaved, began to seem even odder. Honest people started to think, why should I care about the dishonest? Peaceful people started to think, why should I care about the warlike? Dynamic people started to think, why should I care about the lazy? Those, who had been victims of bad political policies, started to think, why should I care about those that assaulted me?
Not that anyone was any less inclined to be charitable than before – as long as the recipients deserved it. But those that didn’t deserve charity – the lazy, the dishonest, the aggressive, the violent, the political – were shunned. And that was entirely their own fault.
At a higher level of thinking, people began to see politics for what it was – an outdated way of dealing with others, based on nothing better than violence, dishonesty and intimidation. They came to compare and contrast it with the way of dealing with others, which is natural to human beings – economics. A way based on being a value to others, and trading with them in an environment of peace, honesty and justice.
All along, so good people now understood, it had been the political way of doing things – their system – that had been unsustainable. There was nothing wrong with our way of doing things, the economic system, that couldn’t easily be solved given the will and a bit of effort.
People came to see political policies, designed to harm innocent people, as assaults against those innocent people. And to see those that promoted, supported or enforced such policies as criminals and worse, deserving nothing but contempt and loathing.
So, those that robbed good people through re-distributory or confiscatory taxation, were seen as the thieves they were. Corrupt corporate bosses, that ran to government to get subsidies, or to bring harm to their competitors, were seen as the crooks they were. Those that ordered aggressive wars, were seen as the mass murderers they were. Police, soldiers and others, that behaved with brutality, were seen as the brutes they were.
Those that spied on innocent people were seen as the stalkers they were. Those that lobbied for bad laws were seen as the perverters of justice they were. Governments that oppressed, impoverished or aggressed against innocent people were seen as the criminal gangs they were. And those that promoted the “human activities cause catastrophic global warming” fraud – wanting, as they did, to destroy industrial civilization for the sake of nothing more than a pack of lies – were seen as the traitors to humanity that they were.
There grew also, in the minds of good people, a divide, a separation, from the politicals. Good people began to see the politicals as something different from themselves, as less than members of the human species. Neanderthals, some called them.
And there grew in the minds of good people a demand to bring the politicals to justice. All those that had taken an active part in politics deserved to be thoroughly investigated, scrutinized and judged as individuals. And those – whether politicians, lobbyists, bullying bureaucrats or officials, media, corrupt corporate bosses or other vested interests – that were found to have used political ruses to harm good people, or to profit at the expense of good people, deserved to be made to compensate their victims, and to be treated as the criminals they were. It was now their turn to feel fear and guilt.
But the most significant change of all was that people came to think of themselves, and those around them, as individuals. What mattered was not where people came from, or what colour their skin was, or even what religion they had been brought up in. What mattered was how each individual behaved. That, and only that.
One by one, the zombies awoke, and found that they were human.
Friday, 19 July 2019
I’ll briefly summarize what I found. In the first essay, I looked at the forces which bind human beings together into communities. First, species – that is, shared humanity. Next, kinship or family; teamwork, trade and good leadership; and a shared belief system. Next, proximity or patriotism; a love for the land and the people of a particular area. Then, shared culture, including a set of values and customs. And last, for most people the Enlightenment, which freed our minds from shackles religious and political. I examined a tenth possible binding force, which I called nation; but I could not be sure that it truly was a binding force.
In the second essay, I looked at the mental disorder of psychopathy, and its relation to current political systems. I found that these systems, and in particular democracy, not only attract psychopaths, but also favour them for positions of power. Resulting in the giant collective insanity that is politics today.
In the third, I uncovered a deep rhythm of history; of the rise of institutions, of their corruption and decay, of the battles between those who favour new ways and those that hold on to the old. And of the tipping points, the times laden with uncertainties and contradictions, in which everything seems to be falling apart, and yet at the same time new possibilities are unfolding.
In the fourth essay, I looked at the political state: “Institutionalized violence and dishonesty” is how I had characterized it earlier. I saw that the state, along with the idea of nation with which it is so often identified, had ceased to bind people together – if, indeed, it ever had done so. I saw that the state is an out of date, failed system. And that, despite this, the political classes are trying to make a world-wide Leviathan, a super-state from which there can be no escape for anyone. I concluded, therefore, that the political state has got to go.
In the fifth essay, I listed many of the troubles of our times, and I came to the conclusion that a tipping point is approaching. Despite all their ruses and ploys, the political classes are losing credibility and support among the people. And in the sixth, I identified two opposing “armies.” One, convivial people, who in the main treat others peacefully, tolerantly, honestly and justly, and respect their rights. And the other, the politicals, that promote, support, enforce or take profit from damaging, unjust or rights-violating policies of political governments. I went so far as to compare this divide to the long-ago species split between homo sapiens and Neanderthals.
Such claims, of course, require evidence. That’s where my first two series of essays come in. The first twelve essays were about the politics, ethics, science and philosophy of our times. The second group of seven were about economic matters.
In those earlier essays, I said much about the modern political state. I told of its 16th-century origin and 17th-century heyday, and of the moral privileges and immunities it grants itself. I told of the evil political ideologies, that the state allows the powerful and unscrupulous to impose, by force or threat of force, on everyone. I told of the fig-leaf called “democracy,” and of how it divides people from each other. I told of its inevitable decay into squabbling factions, then into a war of the powerful against the people.
I told of the economic woes, which we all suffer at the hands of a rapacious political class and their hangers-on. I told of the cronyism and corporatism, through which vested interests suck up to the state, and make themselves rich at the expense of the ordinary people. I noted how life has become more and more difficult for working people. I told of how bad laws have taken away access to the market, and so the earning power, of many productive people, including myself.
I told of the lies and dishonesties, which the political class routinely use in their attempts to “justify” their harmful policies. I told of the resulting bad policies, such as making energy unnecessarily expensive, and seeking to force us out of our cars. I told about the corruption of science, which governments have actively encouraged. I told of their perversion and even inversion of the precautionary principle. And I told of the desire of the political classes, at the behest of green fundamentalists, to destroy the industrial civilization which has given us so much over the last two centuries.
God, Government and Gaia
For thousands of years, human minds have been shackled by two sets of received ideas: God and Government. Both have been constantly used, by the rich and powerful, to hold people down and make them acquiesce to being ruled over. Recently, they have added a third, which I call Gaia; in essence, the idea that we should not leave any permanent mark or “footprint” on our planet.
Now, I don’t mean at all that worshipping a god is a bad thing, if you’re that way inclined; as long as it’s your god, not someone else’s. Nor that all government is necessarily bad – even though, today, most of them are bad to downright awful. Nor that taking care of our planet is a bad thing to do. What I mean, when I talk of God and Government with capital Gs (not to mention Gaia), are the top-down ideas, that the politically rich seek to foist on us. They want to impose on us a particular religious view, a particular political agenda, or a particular vision of how our planet should be. They want to enforce their views on us from the top down. Such desires are the essence of what, in the last essay of my first series, I called “Downerism.”
The Copernicus Moment
Over the last century or so, organized religion has lost its grip on the minds of large numbers of people in many parts of the planet, particularly in Europe. Archbishops and popes are now seen by many, not as great spiritual leaders, but as crazed idiots. Meanwhile, governments – even “democratic” ones – have become steadily greedier, more dishonest and more repressive. And the Gaia-cult of environmentalism has grown in politics and the media to such an extent, that it’s become hard to close our ears to its lies, its hype and its screams of “catastrophe!”
But it’s clear, to those who look, that there is today a rising tide of resentment against politics. As yet, most people direct their anger at specific political parties, or even individual politicians. But some, like me, have come to resent and to condemn the political class as a whole, their cronies, and the system that lets them do – and get away with – what they do. We are coming to see that it is not just specific parties, policies or ideologies that have failed, but politics as a whole. We are the people, who have experienced what I call the Copernicus moment.
In the early 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus studied astronomy. The then prevalent view was that the Earth was stationary, and that the Sun and the planets revolved around it in more or less complex ways. But Copernicus formed in his mind a different picture. If the Sun was stationary, and the Earth and the other planets revolved around it, that would explain the observations better. It was simpler and more elegant than the old view. And, as we now know, closer to the truth.
With one small flip of the mind, one small change of perspective, Copernicus had changed the human conception of the Universe. That mind-flip I call the Copernicus moment. It was a revolution. But, like all real revolutions, it was quiet and peaceful. It sidled up to him, perhaps while he was thinking about something else; then, all of a sudden, it happened. And the human world was never the same again.
There is today, I think, a new kind of Copernicus moment, spreading – slowly, as yet – among us human beings. This mind-flip has as its subject matter, not astronomy, but politics. After you go through this new Copernicus moment, it is no longer God or Government – or even Gaia! – that has pride of place at the centre of the political Universe. Instead, it is the human being; the individual human being. From that moment, you see people as individuals. You judge each of them as an individual. And, having made that shift of perspective, you can never go back.
I myself went through this Copernicus moment almost two decades ago, soon after the events of 11th September 2001. I was very well equipped to be an early adopter of the new view. Not only had I been an only child, and so inclined to individualism in the first place. But I had also been trained in mathematics and science, making my thinking processes bottom-up rather than top-down. And back in 1988 I had encountered, for the first time, some of the philosophical ideas of individual liberty, and some of the people who promoted them. Moreover, I had lost all confidence in the political system and in democracy; I had not voted for any political party since 1987. What was my response to that moment? Instead of voting, I started writing. It has been a long, hard road to get here from there; but I still think I’m on the right track.
I’ll try to summarize the new view, as I now perceive it. Much of what I say here will be quoted or paraphrased from my earlier essays.
We are human beings. We are individuals. We have free will. We are moral agents. It is in our nature to be sociable, to behave convivially, and to “live and let live.” It is in our nature to form communities and societies, to build civilization, and to be creative. And we are naturally good, even though some among us fail to develop that part of our nature.
We use language, we can think abstractly, we can record our ideas for posterity. It is in our nature to take control of, and to leave our mark on, our surroundings. We can co-operate, and do business and trade. And we do best in an environment of free and honest competition.
Morally, we are all equal. What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa. Politically too, we are all equal; we are not George Orwell’s pigs. None of us has any innate right to rule over others. None of us deserves to be subjected to others. And each of us has rights – so called “human rights.” Importantly, they include property rights – because property is life. And we earn these rights by respecting the equal rights of others, and by accepting responsibility for the effects of our voluntary actions on others.
As to our relationship with the Earth, the planet is our home and our garden. It is in our nature to beautify our home; to make it warm, comfortable and convenient for us; to cultivate and tend our garden; and to strive to make our planet a better place for convivial human beings. It is our right to use the planet’s resources, as long as we use them wisely. It is in our nature to make our Earth a free place, a peaceful place, a just place, a beautiful place, a place we can be proud of. We know that things like clean air and wildlife are important; but the environment for convivial human beings is far more important. And we should never hold back human progress, or limit human freedom, for the sake of risks or alleged harms that are minor or unproven.
Even for those who have been through the Copernicus moment, the forces, which have bound human beings into communities for thousands of years, continue to operate. We are still bound by humanity and kinship, and by teamwork, trade and leadership. We have a new belief system; that is, that we focus on the individual human being as the centre of the political Universe. This belief system also inclines us towards tolerance of difference, for example in race or culture. Each of us may, or may not, also follow a religion or a secular philosophy; but none of us will try to force our particular religion or philosophy on to others.
We continue to feel proximity, a love for the land and people of our particular part of the world. We continue to share traits of culture, and customs and values, with people around us; though we are open to accepting ideas from other cultures, when they make sense to us as individuals. And we identify strongly with the values of the Enlightenment, of which respect for the individual is one of the most important.
But increasingly, we reject the idea (which I earlier called nation) that people are bound together by membership of a political state. We come to reject the state, its politicians and its politics, and those that benefit by hanging on to its coat-tails. We also come to reject the super-state projects, such as the European Union and the United Nations. Instead, we feel a new binding force, which I’ll call conviviality; the force which binds together convivial people. That is, those who in the main treat others peacefully, tolerantly, honestly and justly, and respect their rights.
Conviviality is not a matter of race, or received religion, or nationality, or place of origin, or of any other characteristic outside the individual’s control. Instead, it is a matter of conduct, and can be judged by observing individuals’ conduct. Thus, conviviality needs no secret Freemasons’ handshakes or the like. And when dealing with new people, convivials will tend to take a simple attitude of “trust, but verify.”
Convivial communities and convivial governance
A democracy relies on the assumption that the people in its territory form a society. That is, that they have a “general will,” and a shared set of desires as to the direction in which that society should go. And, therefore, they can and should be governed in that direction. This leads to the collectivist stupidities, which plague us all so much today. For example, political ideologies, the idea of “gross national product,” or collective targets or limits on pollution. Or the huge, unbridgeable gap between Brexiteers and Remainers in the UK, or Trump supporters and Trump haters in the USA.
But convivial people, since they respect the individual wills of others of their kind, cannot and do not have any such general will. The convivial people in a geographical area – for example, in the territory, or in a sub-territory, of a state – do not form a society. Instead, they are a community, bound together by conviviality, as well as by the other forces like culture and proximity.
For those in such a convivial community, the primary purpose of governance must be to defend themselves and their rights and freedoms against internal criminals or external attackers. For a community of convivial people has a collective right to defend itself, above and beyond individuals’ rights of self-defence. But it can have no other collective agendas. Such governance as it has, must do no more than adjudicate disputes, deliver objective justice to all, defend against external attack and internal violence, and organize the maintenance of the public areas within the community. I call this convivial governance.
Looking wider, there is an opportunity to build a world-wide community of all convivial human beings. This I call the convivial community. This community will be supported by a framework, which allows convivial people to live together in maximum freedom. For this framework I use either Frank van Dun’s name, convivial order, or Jason Alexander’s Civilization. It will be a de-centralized network of convivial governances, which in time will inevitably expand world-wide.
The convivial army
Since the Copernicus moment, my thinking has evolved in many different areas. But when I meet others of a similar mind-set, they seem to be moving along much the same lines. This is, I think, a symptom of becoming part of what in my last essay I dubbed “the convivial army.”
As you move in this direction, you experience, first, a strong disquiet at what is going on. Then you become angry about it; then, you feel a need to take action, and to seek out others of similar views. You feel a sense of separation from mainstream politics, and from those that take part in it. You see that their system is broken, and there’s no point trying to repair it. You come to see those, that promote, support or profit from the current system, as the criminals and psychopaths that they are. You start to feel contempt and loathing for them; and you come to understand that they are your enemies.
You resolve, in political matters, to find out the facts before you make a judgement. You compare and contrast the arguments on all sides. You stop believing anything government, politicians or the mainstream media say, unless you can verify it for yourself or from sources you can trust. You reject all their bullshit. You reject all forms of collective guilt, and you don’t accept any guilt for anything at all until you have examined the facts.
You come to see those that promote or support the globalist and green agenda as the terrorists they are. You see that, for no better reasons than a pack of lies and a bunch of unproven scares, they want to take a wrecking ball to our human industrial and capitalist civilization. And that they are traitors to, and deserve to be kicked out of, our civilization.
You start to ask yourself questions like: Why should honest people care about the dishonest? Why should productive people care about the lazy? Why should peaceful people care about the aggressive or the warlike? Why should sane people care about those that have let themselves be gripped by a collective political madness? And, why should the victims of bad policies feel any fellowship at all for those that have done and are doing these things to them?
You want to get back at your enemies for what they have done to you. You see that they have no concern at all for you, or for any other human individual. You see them as the bullies they are. You see that their conduct has been cowardly; morally equivalent to punching you hard on the nose, then running away. You want to see them brought to justice, and made to compensate you and the other good people they have harmed – several times over. The politicals must pay for their crimes! And you don’t care a damn how much the punishment hurts them. Even if not yourself religious, you may feel the aptness of these words of the prophet Obadiah: “As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.”
Moreover, you come to feel common cause with others who have suffered through bad politics. With those who have been saddled with swingeing and unnecessary interest burdens on student loans, for example. With the young people who, through no fault of their own, are unable to earn enough to get their careers off the ground, and to start to build up assets and equity. With the old people who can’t afford to heat their homes, because of policies that make energy unnecessarily expensive. With those in danger of losing their mobility because of anti-car policies.
You acquire a new confidence in, and love for, honest business and industry; and a loathing for those that would curtail or extinguish it. You think: Save Our Civilization! You resolve to do what you can to help the convivial army of people, who are seeking to save and to renew the rightful human way of life, the “economic means” of honest work and trade. And to re-Enlighten those whose minds have been scarred by the foul poisons, with which the politicals and their hangers-on have been blighting our environment for so long.
Turning Our World the Right Way Up
When, in time, I come to assemble these essays into some kind of coherent whole, I plan for the above to be the title of the collection. For the Copernicus moment is the one, which sets in motion the efforts of convivial people to turn our world the right way up. To dismantle the current, failed political systems, and to replace them by an order which works for good people.
In such a system, order will be maintained by convivial governance. Which, to mis-quote Abraham Lincoln, is governance of convivial persons, by convivial persons, for convivial persons. It will be like an umpire, not the vampire that political government is today. And like convivial people as individuals, it will strive to be peaceful, tolerant of difference, just, honest and respectful of rights.
Convivial governance will also be studied, meticulous, and objective in its judgements. It will require criminals and politicals to compensate their victims, and will punish them as they deserve. And it must keep to the very highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability.
How might such a system work in practice? And how do we get from here to there? It is to these weighty questions that, in the coming weeks and months, I plan to turn my attention.