“But please, let’s not now pile hypocrisy on top of our grotesque abdication of responsibility. No more hand-wringing. No further calls for “something to be done”. Nothing is going to be done. Because we don’t actually want it to be done. Yes, we want the horrors of Syria to disappear. We want Assad to disappear. But we want someone else to make them disappear for us, so we can go back to congratulating ourselves about how we stood tall for peace.”
- Dan Hodges
He raises the uncomfortable fact that, while non-interventionists can clearly state, with a lot of hard evidence to back them up, that intervening by military means can just make things worse, lead to a quagmire, etc, doing nothing also can have its costs. And he’s right to say that anyone who complains about Assad, and the other side, has no real credibility without at least stating what could or should have been done about it instead. Of course, if Western politicians say, “The situation is terrible, both if we get involved and if we don’t. Life is a bitch sometimes but there it is,” they are not going to be very popular.
Via Tim Worstall, this is far too good not to share:
Cuba for me is a bright flame in a dark world. I am fully aware that it is no utopia and that there are many shortages and imperfections but they have learnt many interesting lessons during the special period after the USSR collapse and so are building from a self sufficient standpoint. When one looks at the madness of the US and the EU where freeloader bankers run and ruin the economy, where corrupt central banks print more debt onto future generations and where all rationality and sustainability has left the room… Cuba is a beacon in front of all of this. I think the most humiliating lesson they have thought the world (And more importantly the US) is that you can provide free and excellent healthcare despite being bullied by exterior forces. Cuba is particularly interesting in the case of Greece with a similarly (but with no embargo!!!) crippled economy, they could really learn alot from Cuba who is also blighted by a heavy civil service.
I love the final sentence.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, since I have some good friends who are film critics, but I don’t think movie reviewing is a very high calling.”
Roger Simon, screenwriter and novelist. He’s writing about the Oscars, and the whole jamboree around films that seems to take place around this time of year. The focus of his article is about the film Lone Survivor, which he believes is likely to be overlooked on account of its celebration of US military bravery, which is unlikely to connect with the sort of folk that run Hollywood.
For what it’s worth, the films I have seen and enjoyed over the last 12 months or so in an actual cinema are Skyfall, Rush, Margin Call, Gravity and Les Miserables. Daniel Bruhl’s portrayal of Formula 1 racing driver in Rush is the best acting I have seen in years.
I wonder what Roger Simon makes of restaurant reviewing?
A recent essay by Heather Macdonald in City Journal is getting lots of attention. Her piece was on the narrowing horizons of those who seek to teach the humanities in our places of higher learning. She ruffled feathers, and wrote this zinger of a response to one of her critics. Here is an excerpt:
…in contrast to the narcissism of today’s identity studies, the humanist tradition was founded “on the all-consuming desire to engage with the genius and radical difference of the past.” The Renaissance humanists were attracted to Classical Rome precisely because it differed so much from their contemporary Rome, with its papal intrigues and corrupted Latin; they were acutely aware of historical change and developed the seminal methods of textual scholarship to overcome the effects of time on historical and literary sources. It is instead the contemporary identity theorist who lacks an appreciation for the specificity of the past, determined as he is to expound on his own or others’ victimhood rather than lose himself in a world that may not mirror his narrow obsessions.
And that surely is the point. Western civilisation was reinvigorated when the lessons and musings of the Ancients were rediscovered. So much so that the “Grand Tour” was considered part of an educated person’s life, albeit only one that the rich could then afford. True progressives should want, and have wanted, this sort of grand tour of the intellect to be made available to all. No educated person would pass through life ignorant of Cicero; Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius or Lucretius. Instead, however, some of today’s educators would happily Balkanize us all inside narrow, self-regarding “victim groups”. (This is not just a fault of the academic Left, by the way – there are variants of this on the hard right, as far as I can see, when such folk fret about the impact of “alien cultures”).
Tim Sandefur also has comments on this topic:
This is true in other arts, too. There’s good poetry, sculpture, painting, and music out there, but the artistic elite—indoctrinated in postmodernism and identity politics—largely ignore those who produce it, on the grounds that it appeals to the common man and is therefore “commercial” (i.e., capitalist; i.e., evil) or “irrelevant” because it does not express the identity-politics agenda that is acceptable within that elite. This might at first seem paradoxical, since the political roots of this movement are in Marxism, which claimed to reject class divisions and to create a universal-humanity state. But just as Marxist societies become rigidly hierarchical—with a privileged nomenklatura on top and the faceless mass of disposable proles below—so in the art world, there is an elite of aesthetic correctness…and the consumers and consumer-friendly artists who are ignored when they are not ridiculed. Marxism was and remains a disease of the elite. Based on contempt for bourgeois society and bourgeois virtues, it has never recognized that these virtues are actually the desires of all mankind. Beauty is the most fragile of bourgeois virtues. It is always thought the most disposable by leaders with more militant goals.
I corrected the name of the publication to City Journal. My goof.
“…you’d have to have a heart as cold and unmovable as Commonwealth Bay ice not to be howling with laughter at the exquisite symbolic perfection of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition ‘stuck in our own experiment’, as they put it. I confess I was hoping it might all drag on a bit longer and the cultists of the ecopalypse would find themselves drawing straws as to which of their number would be first on the roasting spit. On Douglas Mawson’s original voyage, he and his surviving comrade wound up having to eat their dogs. I’m not sure there were any on this expedition, so they’d probably have to make do with the Guardian reporters. Forced to wait a year to be rescued, Sir Douglas later recalled, ‘Several of my toes commenced to blacken and fester near the tips.’ Now there’s a man who’s serious about reducing his footprint.”
Big Climate is slowly being crushed by a hard, icy reality: if you’re heading off to university this year, there has been no global warming since before you were in kindergarten. That’s to say, the story of the early 21st century is that the climate declined to follow the climate ‘models’. (Full disclosure: I’m currently being sued by Dr Michael Mann, creator of the most famously alarming graph, the ‘hockey stick’.) You would think that might occasion a little circumspection. But instead the cultists up the ante: having evolved from ‘global warming’ to the more flexible ‘climate change’, they’re now moving on to ‘climate collapse’. Total collapse. No climate at all. No sun, no ice. No warm fronts, except for the heaving bosoms in Rajendra Pachauri’s bodice-rippers. Nothing except the graphs and charts of ‘settled science’. In the Antarctic wastes of your mind, it’s easier just to ice yourself in.
Mark Steyn, who, I am glad to see, is back at the Spectator. The whole article is glorious. I must admit when I first read about this group of folk who, no doubt hoping to confirm their AGW warnings, got trapped in the Antarctic ice in that region’s “summer”, I thought of the expression “Ship of Fools”. It has been used quite a lot. Talking of that title, there’s a great article under that title about a trip by Leftists to the Soviet Union by the great P J O’Rourke. Reprinted in his book, Republican Party Reptile.
“A decade or more ago, I used to have conversations with journalists who reflected that their industry’s business model was collapsing, but who somewhat sheepishly hoped the collapse wouldn’t come until they reached retirement age. Now I have the same kind of conversation with academics.”
- Glenn Reynolds, Mr Instapundit himself.
“With legal property, the advanced nations of the West had the key to modern development; their citizens now had the means to discover, with great facility and on an ongoing basis, the most potentially productive qualities of their resources. As Aristotle discovered 2,3000 years ago, what you can do with things increases infinitely when you focus your thinking on their potential.”
- Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital, page 50.
Tax evasion does not, of course, whatever Ritchie says, cost the world anything. We are still a closed system. That less money goes to governments does not mean that that money ceases to exist. It still gets spent or invested somewhere or other. Indeed, dependent upon what happens to that money, and how badly the government that didn’t get it would have spent it, tax evasion could, conceivably, result in an improvement in the human condition. But even leaving aside such an extreme (for example, someone takes the loot from tax evasion and invests it in a malaria vaccine, as opposed to the British Government which would have used £10 billion to build an NHS computer system that does nothing at all) it’s still true that tax evasion does not mean a loss for the world. Only a different distribution of the cash.
- Tim Worstall
The “Richie” he refers to is Richard Murphy, a self-styled campaigner against offshore financial centres, state-supporting socialist and champion of a fascistic-sounding concept, the “courageous state”.
One of his standard lines is attacking firms for obeying the letter of the law by registering in low-tax locations, such as, say, Luxembourg (a member of the European Union) and claiming that this is wicked, thereby demonstrating a strangely elastic concept of what is considered legitimate business practice. He is taken quite seriously on parts of the left, so I hear, and if we have another Labour-led government, he might be influential. Come to that, some of his ideas are even taken quite seriously by the Tories, so the partisan point should not be pressed too far.
“Sometimes life in the West seems hard. The trains don’t run on time, the rent is too damn high and One Direction are everywhere. Then a story comes comes out of North Korea that makes you think, “Holy crap, I’m glad I don’t live there…”"
- Tim Stanley
In my recent item about Nelson Mandela, one commenter, clearly enamoured of the apartheid system, claimed that East Asia, unlike Africa, is so much better off due in part to the superior IQs of its residents. Oh well, I am sure the lazer-like brainpower of North Korea is working out wonderfully. I mean, they all march along in perfect unison.
“Mandela was a great man. The obvious reason was his courage and persistence in fighting against Apartheid. The somewhat less-obvious reason was his willingness to forgive. I’m assuming, of course, that the movie Invictus was relatively accurate in that respect. I remember sitting through the movie and being on the edge of tears for almost the whole movie, so moved was I by his willingness to forgive. A little bonus: His favorite poem, “Invictus,” has been my favorite poem since middle school. In some ways just as impressive, if not more so, was his willingness to learn at a relatively old age. He was a long-time socialist but, by the time he got out of prison, much of the world had learned that socialism didn’t work. He became persuaded of that and, although, as president of South Africa, he expanded the welfare state, he did not make a large move in the direction of socialism. His willingness to reject his wife Winnie’s violent ways was also impressive.”
- David Henderson.
I am sure there will be lots of appraisals of his life in the days and years to come; I have seen a few, mostly respectful (and one or two that are less so). As far as I can tell, Henderson’s is about the most accurate I have seen so far, for it focuses on essentials. A great man indeed. May he rest in peace.
“The “rise of the four-car family”, as some media outlets are referring to it, exposes the hollowness of young adults’ claims that they can’t afford to move out. For here we have adults who clearly have pretty decent levels of disposable income – cars, after all, are quite expensive to buy and maintain – yet who insist on staying in the rooms they grew up in. So I don’t buy the newspaper claims that the rise of the four-car family is yet more evidence that Britain’s “cash-strapped youngsters cant’ afford to fly the nest”; it isn’t hardship that keeps loads of young adults at home, but cowardice, an unwillingness to do what just about every generation before them did: take a risk, leave home, suffer deprivations, live off Pot Noodles, and in the process gain something that money could never buy – a feeling of genuine moral autonomy.”
- Brendan O’ Neill
He’s got a strong point here (says yours truly who left home to live in student digs at the age of 18 and has never lived with his folks since apart from a period of one month during some professional training course I was on. In fact, when I stay with Dad for more than a few days I get cabin fever, love my father though I do).
I could not wait to leave home not because of any dislike of my parents, but because I just wanted my freedom even if that meant having to go without a few things. For some time I rented, and lived sometimes in shared accommodation with others that wasn’t always ideal, but it did mean that when it came to choosing to buy a house, my now-wife and I had a decent lump of capital saved up. I could have done this sooner in a less affluent part of London had I really wanted to do so, but the property market wasn’t right and renting made more sense. Getting a mortgage wasn’t the big deal for me that it seemed to be for a lot of my peers.
This may be a part of a process whereby people are putting off becoming “grown up” until later in their 20 and even 30s than used to be case. There are many drivers of this; official policy, after all, wants at least 50 per cent of school-leavers to go into higher education, when, arguably, that is too high and more should be getting into vocational training and work a bit sooner, and avoiding the drag of student debt. But O’Neill ought to also realise that affordable rental properties in places such as London, where much of the work is, is scarce, and much of the reason for that are our planning laws. It is a lot easier to boot out these adults from the nest when there is a realistic place for them to go.
In general, though, I think O’Neill is on the money and right to be scornful, although generalisations can be unfair on people who stay with their folks for entirely rational reasons (including looking after parents who might be infirm, etc). Quite what the longer-term impact on our society, even our politics, will be from a generation that did not fly the coop until its 30s is anyone’s guess. In the light of what Brian Micklethwait had to say recently about the ideas of Emmanuel Todd, it might be worth exploring the idea in more detail.
Recent comments by Boris Johnson about IQ and wealth inequalities have set alight debate.
There’s a double standard that has always confused me. Society is contemptuous of people who make their money using their looks – the celebrities and glamour models and reality TV show winners and so on – but impressed by people who make money using their brains. And yet the people who make money with their brains – whether they’re CEOs or scientists – are just as much winners of the genetic lottery as is any bosomy Page 3 girl or chisel-jawed Calvin Klein model. Why do we admire one, but mock the other?
Asks Tom Chivers.
My response is that there isn’t much difference; what I think is going on here is that people think looks are superficial, but brainpower isn’t, and that it is “deeper” in some way and therefore more deserving of respect. The question is a fair one: both our genetic inheritance in terms of brains and beauty are results of a biological and social lottery with some getting a lot and some getting little at all. The way to think about this in broader terms is that just as none of us in any sense “deserve” our looks, brains or muscles, so none of us do not “deserve” them, either. Also, if a person is born with great intelligence and this enables him to create wealth, he might not “deserve” it, but neither do those lucky enough to be born in a world containing this person, so they do not deserve the fruits of that wealth, nor do they have the right to seize it on some spurious redistributionist, Rawlsian grounds. (As in John Rawls, the egalitarian thinker who used the dodgy argument that lack of desert for inherited traits gave the State the right to seize the fruits of said, without pausing to think that the rest of humanity did not deserve that which had been seized, either.)
There can be no coherent notion of desert without the existence of a being who has the power to give out all these different qualities and abilities, and who has some sort of decision-making power that says A will get ravishing beauty, B will be ugly as sin but very clever, and Johnathan Pearce will be both fiendishly bright, good looking, and athletic (might as well get that out of the way). The premise, in other words, is wrong: “desert” has no meaning without such a belief. Existence, including what we got born with, just exists. (In other words, I think notions of desert in this sense are a hangover from belief in an all-powerful God or gods).
To put it another way, the whole edifice on which we choose to moan about the “unfairness” of different qualities of birth is built on sand. Far better, in fact, to focus on the notion that we all must have the freedom to rise as high as our abilities can take us, and to cultivate the moral and practical qualities to that end, and ensure governments get as far out of the way of this process as possible. And to remember that character, quite as much as how much brainpower you have, is important.